During the entire journey to the capital of the Human Empire, Sungchul could observe the ironic sight of beautiful scenery being background to the pitiful lives of refugees. The refugees who had flocked from the east were not only gathered at the Tower of Recluse but crossed the eastern border and spread all throughout the neighboring countries. The number of refugees heading toward the Human Empire stood out because the Empire provided the most rations for them. It was the Emperor’s promise, and this was the best he could do. But winter was fast approaching. No matter how abundant the supplies in the Human Empire’s warehouses were, it would be difficult for them to feed and save those many refugees.
“The current Calamity has been set to motion entirely by the Enemy of the World. If he hadn’t interfered with the first Calamity so hastily, there would have been no Colossi and the world would have been at peace!”
A pathetically skinny man with a goatee gathered several refugees before him and passionately slandered Sungchul. Looking at his actions, he appeared to be an official holding a low-end position within the Empire. However, not only was he insulting Sungchul, he was doing so while underhandedly passing out food to the refugees.
“Even now, the Enemy of the World is vigilantly biding his time for the right moment and preparing a plan to lead all us humans to our extinction! He is a traitor to humans, an evil incarnate!”
As he continued to profane Sungchul, the official ordered each of the refugees trying to get their rations to say a piece.
“Come on now, say ‘the Enemy of the World is the Calamity itself!’ or there won’t be any rations for you.”
Bertelgia, who witnessed this scene, managed to say one thing as her body trembled.
“Wow… that’s real low blow.”
Sungchul was of the same opinion. For some unknown reason, Sungchul who saw this joined the line of refugees to receive rations together with them. Although he had no intention of enacting the old saying that ‘even a tiger will appear if you talk about it’, but the situation ended up that way.
Unfortunately, Sungchul wasn’t able to face the official who had been excitedly bad-mouthing him when the time came to receive his share of rations. The man was having a drink, while taking a break. Instead, red-hatted Homunculi were handing out the rations.
“Hurry up and take it and leave, please! Garbage refugee humans!”
Sungchul received his rations with the nostalgic voice of the Homunculus, but the appearance of the contents of the canteen weren’t normal. They looked more like vomit than food.
Sungchul glared at the Homunculus and spoke in anger.
“What do you mean what is this? It’s nutrient porridge filled with nutrients which even the gourmets of La Grange couldn’t spare their praises for, please!”
“I won’t spare another serving even if you pull some stupid trick, so scram please!”
Sungchul stepped away from the front of the cart, while listening to the Homunculus’ criticisms. His vision was solely focused on the rations. This unidentifiable food called the ‘nutrient porridge’ appeared to be made from ground meat and vegetables.
“Hm. This is the first time I have been so grateful that my body can no longer eat food.”
This was Bertelgia’s thought after seeing the nutrient porridge, but the others in the vicinity who had received the same nutrient porridge were eating it quite happily. In fact, they made a regretful face as they voraciously scraped off even the last drop and ate it.
This was one of the reasons for which Sungchul received the rations. The other half was to hear how the official from the Human Empire planned on mocking him. Just in time, the official finished up his drink and break and began to insult Sungchul once again with renewed vigor.
“…To list all the brutalities of the Enemy of the World, it is not enough with 7 days and 7 nights, but what I wish to tell you this time is about his act of obscenity.”
The spoonful of nutrient porridge Sungchul was about to raise froze. He turned his head to look toward the Human Empire official.
“The depraved man known as Sungchul Kim is an insatiable lecher who is said to leave no young woman of beauty untouched. According to trusted sources, the Enemy of the World imprisons hundreds of beauties from every region to commit depraved acts regardless of the hour in his residence. This atrocious news was only barely discovered from a certain anonymous woman who managed to escape the nightmarish harem Sungchul created.”
Sungchul who heard this laughed.
‘It can’t even stand.’
It was baseless slander. Sungchul shoved a spoonful of the nutrient porridge into his mouth with a bitter smile on his face.
Sungchul spat it out as soon as the spoon entered his mouth.
‘This is Homunculus meat. It’s Homunculus meat with ground stale grains and old vegetables with spotted poppy seed extract added to it.’
The secret to the flavor was the extract of the spotted poppy seed. It was a narcotic and a mild hallucinogen. It especially strongly stimulated the palate, causing any otherwise-unpalatable food to become edible. During his days in the rebellion, this product had been issued as a final resort to the soldiers in the depressing time they had to eat rotten food to sustain themselves. Naturally, it was an unforgettable flavor.
‘Their storehouses should still be overflowing with the goods harvested in the fall. But to leave those and distribute this instead, the Human Empire has truly fallen low.’
The name of the Human Empire originally carried the meaning that an Emperor chosen by the seven kings were to rule the country for the good of the common man. Here the ‘seven kings’ weren’t the key factor, since it included the kings of kingdoms that no longer existed and unreasonably included the opinions of kingdoms that had yet to express their intentions clearly.
The true reason the Human Empire received the support and devotion of the people was because the objective of its formation was for the good of all of humanity. It was an essential distinction that differentiated it from the Holy Kingdom of Ruteginea who committed all sorts of vile acts towards outsiders because they served a different king.
And from the beginning of its establishment, the Human Empire had worked to resolve the mounting problems of the continent without asking for any compensation or profit in order to imprint its core value onto the people of the continent.
Of course, it came at a heavy sacrifice. But this was the reason why that the Human Empire was able to be recognized as one of the most powerful nations of the continent instead of the Holy Kingdom of Ruteginea.
However, that was no longer the case. Nonchalantly distributing and feeding this inedible garbage to the people who have entrusted their wellbeing to the Empire was something unimaginable back during the time Sungchul had put his all for the Human Empire. If Sungchul had still been in active service, this would not have been forgiven; neither the ones who had made this food nor the ones who had ordered to have this made.
‘That bastard. Does he even know that his land is being run like this?’
Sungchul recalled the face of the Emperor. William Quinton Marlboro. The absolute man of steel. Besides that, no other word existed that could accurately describe the man. He was like a sculpture made in the image of a god who possessed a solemn appearance with an overwhelming charisma that poured out from his entire being.
His dignified voice, that seemed to bear the aura he exuded from his appearance, was even more impressive. Even a loudmouthed thug making a ruckus would turn his head once the Emperor opened his mouth to speak.
Sungchul was acquainted with him since their time in the Summoning Palace and Sungchul owed him a debt of life during that time in the Summoning Palace that felt like a mortal hell. The debt referred to here wasn’t from some mere incident where he saved Sungchul’s life in a sudden moment of danger. When Sunghul had been wandering aimlessly with his mind in tatters, he had grounded Sungchul and blew the will of life into him; he had become the teacher who taught him how to move forward.
Without him, the current Sungchul would also not be here. However, there were two critical conflicts between them and Sungchul and the Emperor had cut their ties and went their separate ways a long time ago. It was probably impossible to recover their relationship again. Sungchul knew this full well. The rage that felt like it would erupt out of his heart even at this moment fully proved that to still be true.
“What are you contemplating with such a serious face?”
Bertelgia asked bluntly toward Sungchul who sat blank expression.
“Something from the past.”
“Ah, the past? Well, I thought…”
Bertelgia trailed off in a disappointed tone of voice. Sungchul felt a sense of unease and asked in response.
As he asked, Bertelgia put on a dumb smile and spoke with a voice filled with mischief.
“What was it? I thought you were thinking about the harem you left behind!”
“As if I have such a thing!”
As he thought about the past, anger suddenly surged from within. He had no intention of creating any problems right beside the capital of the Human Empire, but, as a rule, gathering intel was also necessary. That is how a spark of rage toward the Emperor spattered onto the diligently working official from the empire.
It began with Sungchul’s favorite method: stalking. He followed the cart distributing the nutrient porridge. As it was within the vicinity of the capital, the entire security was simply composed of two elderly crooked backed soldiers. And even they left once the cart entered the area without the refugees.
The cart entered a forest thick with ash trees, and as it passed the entrance of the forest, the strange aroma of the nutrient porridge wafted out. There was a small hut at the entrance of the forest, and the cart stopped before it. The pathetically skinny official got off the cart and entered the hut.
“Hey! Are the preparation for the rations going well?”
There was a signpost stuck at the entrance of the hut.
– House of Aunty Homunculus.
– Care and love to the abandoned Homunculus
– Donation of Homunculi no longer in use are welcome.
A well built middle-aged woman was stirring a massive cauldron with a ladle. The attire was that of a woman but looking at the muscular upper arms and broad shoulders, she appeared to be a man.
Bertelgia, who had an exceptional talent in recognizing unusual people, made a strange noise. Sungchul also judged that the man was not normal and soon he was proven correct as the man’s identity was revealed. The suspicious storehouse beside the hut was filled with live wild Homunculi.
“I’m telling you to let me out of here, please!”
“I’m begging you so let me out, please!”
The Homunculi clamoured as soon as the door of the storehouse was opened. The muscled man grabbed a few of the Homunculi and entered the hut before shoving them live into the boiling cauldron. The pathetically skinny official watched this while clicking his tongue.
“No matter how trash-like their lives are, watching them die like this is a bit unsettling.”
He said as such and handed a few silver coins to the muscled man.
That was the only thing the strange man said. The official who had handed over the coins got back onto his cart. Sungchul’s true work began from this point. He easily captured the unguarded official within the forest.
“W-what?! What are you doing? Do you even know who I am?”
Sungchul quietly pulled out Fal Garaz from the Soul Storage and showed it to the violently resisting official. The face of the official who recognized it grew pale.
Sungchul hung him from a tree and spoke calmly.
“Earlier you said that you could insult me for 7 days and 7 nights, right?”
“Go ahead. I’ll listen for a week.”
Thankfully, it was easy to intimidate him. Sungchul was able to get more information than he had initially thought from the official. According to his words, La Grange was currently on lockdown. Under the orders of the Emperor, all doors were firmly bolted shut and only those with the Emperor’s permit could move in and out of the city. Sungchul asked why this was the case, but the official was not aware of the reason. Rather, he only vaguely suspected that something strange was going on internally within La Grange.
All that was left was to take care of the official. Sungchul briefly considered how he should do so. The simplest method was to kill him to remove a potential leak of information. But for some reason, he felt like employing a different method instead. He let the official go.
“If any rumors of me spreads within the capital, I’ll assume you were the culprit.”
He followed up with a cliche threat. Bertelgia even did her part.
“If you don’t want to bathe with those Homunculi in the cauldron, you better keep your mouth shut!”
Around the time they were about to leave the forest, Bertelgia unexpectedly asked.
“But is it really ok? To just let him go like that.”
At this point, Bertelgia was very accustomed to Sungchul’s methods. Sungchul lightly shook his head.
“It doesn’t matter whether news of me spreads. As long as the entrance is blocked, it won’t matter much anyway.”
“Then how are you going to enter the city?”
Sungchul stared into the empty space with indifferent eyes at her question before replying in a calm voice.
“There is one path. A very special path.”
“A special path? What kind of path?”
“It is a path I wanted to go through before, but I wasn’t able to in the end.”
Sungchul gave a lonely smile and headed toward the backside of the capital. That place was a river seething with a foul stench. Sungchul glared at the large gap connecting the river to the castle walls. Sungchul was fully aware of what kind of place this was. It was the entrance of the Great Sewers, the place where all of the sewage of the city of La Grange flowed out.