Before entering the Great Sewers, Sungchul pulled out another set of clothes from his Soul Storage. They were the shabby casual wear worn by the people of this world along with a shabby coat made of leather.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen you change clothes.” Bertelgia, on noticed his changed appearance, made a sudden comment.
“I don’t want the stench to cling onto the clothes I usually wear.”
“So you’re saying that you’re going to wear those beggar’s rags again?”
“It’s hard to find clothes I like.”
After changing, Sungchul carefully placed the clothes he had been wearing into his Soul Storage and headed down the sloping path that led toward the entrance of the Great Sewers. Because of the awful stench that grew stronger as they drew closer, Sungchul had to cover his nose and mouth with a cloth soaked in clean water. Although the nose is said to be an organ that easily becomes numb to stimulation, prolonged inhalation of such stench leads to loss of appetite.
As he neared the entrance, it came as a great surprise to find scattered traces here and there of people living there. The people within the tunnel heard Sungchul approach as he stopped on the bank of contaminated river and slowly began to crawl out. Sungchul paused and took a moment to look at them.
‘Are they refugees? No, they don’t look like they are.’
From their appearance, they seemed to have lived in these squallor conditions for quite a long time as they no longer looked human but appeared more like human-shaped husks. Sungchul passed by them and walked to the entrance.
“Ugh… just what are those people?”
Bertelgia shuddered as she asked, and Sungchul replied with an indifferent voice.
“Since long in the past, murderers, deformed children, those twisted with curses, thieves, vagrants, and other creatures that you don’t even want to know about have been pouring in the Great Sewers of La Grange.”
“So they’re people who can’t live in the light of day.”
“I thought it had been cleaned out to some extent since the Empire stepped in, but it seems even the dominion of the Emperor can’t reach the underground of La Grange.”
The people living beside the sewers were scouring the contaminated waters with a long pole from across the river. Soon a bout of cheers soon burst out from that side. They must have discovered a corpse that had floated out from the city.
Bertelgia did not like this place at all.
Once Sungchul stepped into the large hole that led into the Great Sewers, dense darkness welcomed him. Sungchul lit a torch with a yellow lighter he had plundered from the Summoning Palace and walked into the reeking darkness without hesitation. He could hear hair-raising small sounds above and around him.
Sungchul shined the torch onto the wall’s surface to find it swarming with abhorrent insects; ones with exceedingly long feelers, numerous legs, or no legs at all.
Eventually, a scream escaped Bertelgia’s mouth. Sungchul held Bertelgia who was now shaking her body intensely with a firm grip to calm her before leaving that awful area in haste. He entered an area lit up faintly with a torch once he continued on forward. Sewers made of granite bricks and walls covered in lichen was revealed faintly under the light of the torch. They arrived at the final section of the sewers. The insects Bertelgia was so terrified of were almost completely gone.
Once the panic subsided to some degree, She managed to ask a question in a voice still laced with terror.
“Does that guy called Pablone or Fabre like even those things?”
“Most likely even Fabre avoids those kinds of creatures.”
The entrance out of the Sewers was impeded by thick metal bars. A sidedoor where people could enter and exit existed, but it appeared to have become rusted and deformed over the course of time until it lost its functionality. Sungchul forcefully kicked the door. The door flew off a distance before rolling on the ground with a loud crashing noise while a ringing sound rang across the surface of the flowing filthy water.
“Aren’t you just a bit too excited?”
“I adjusted my strength as well as I could, but it looks like the door was weaker than I thought.”
If someone had been nearby, they would have heard the noise. However, Sungchul was largely unconcerned. He wasn’t sneaking into La Grange because he couldn’t find an entry, but rather to avoid needless casualties.
What happened next wasn’t due to the sound, but a problem that occurred elsewhere. Sungchul had ended up lost within the maze that was greater and more complex than what he had imagined which reeked a foul stench. Bertelgia who had thought very little of entering the Sewers in the first place became irate.
“You wanted to come in here without even knowing the way?”
“I thought I’d see a familiar path if I just continued forward, but this city was built so long ago that it’s not going as well I was thought.”
Sungchul honestly admitted to his mistake. The bigger problem was that he had also lost track of the way back, and his favorite method of smashing the walls to make a path can’t be employed either. It was possible that a part of the city might collapse if he destroyed the walls willy nilly.
At this point, Sungchul’s only method of escape was to poke a hole through the ceiling to exit. Thankfully, this method could be done much more easily than before as he now had learned a flight magic: Fly.
‘If I knew this was going to happen, I should have forced my way in.’
He began to cast fly with such thoughts when he felt a presence from the other end of the dark passageway of the sewers. Careful and small footsteps. They were the footsteps of a bandit, and they were heading in this direction. They had seen the rustling flames of the torch from afar and were making their way toward it.
Sungchul paused and waited for the strangers to arrive. A man holding a torch soon revealed himself. He appeared to be in his mid-twenties and appeared quite cute for his age, but the sizeable scar across his cheek left a complicated impression. This man who reeked of banditry carried two daggers around his waist.
“What? They told me they heard some strange noises, but it’s just some normal person.”
He peered at Sungchul with a blank expression before speaking with a light tone. Sungchul asked him,
“What are you doing around here?”
The people that Sungchul hated the most were mages, assassins, and many others. Bandits were among this list. He didn’t like their dirty tactics of tiptoeing around like cats looking for opportunities. The bandit made a leisurely smile as though he had learned everything he wanted to know from Sungchul’s question and raised his hand as if to show he had no intention to fight.
“What do you mean what am I doing? I’m just another good-for-nothing soul wandering the stinky sewers. On that matter, what are you doing here?”
Sungchul shut his mouth and thought for a moment.
‘They say that even dog shit is hard to find when you need it to make medicine. Doesn’t that mean that even dog shit can become the cure?
Sungchul glared at the bandit and spoke honestly once he finished organizing his thoughts.
The young bandit who heard this exploded in laughter.
“Such a funny guy, even though you look stiff like a square.”
Regardless of anything else, the bandit appeared to be quite observant as he quickly changed attitude and switched the topic once the expressionless Sungchul began to simmer with anger.
“They say nothing is free in life, but it’s not right for a citizen of the Human Empire to do nothing when they see a person in trouble! I’ll show a rare bit of humanity and help you out.”
The bandit turned around and led the way. Sungchul didn’t like the bandit, but decided to play along and followed behind him.. It was a small gamble that Sungchul enjoyed doing once in a while.
Unfortunately, Sungchul’s first gamble in a long time soon fell through. The bandit had led him to a den of bandits filled with all sorts of villains. Their hostile glares made Sungchul feel as if his face was continuously being raked by speartips.
“Don’t be so nervous. My friends here are ex-convicts and some murderers, but once you get to know them, they’re all quite good people.”
Being at one’s home turf gives one confidence. So, even this young bandit was in high spirits once he arrived at the den. As expected, shortly, two men appeared in front of Sungchul and blocked his path. One was large and the other was small, but the smaller bandit supplemented his inferior physique with the tattoo of a murderer on his forehead.. The tattooed man spoke with a husky voice.
“Give us everything you have.”
It was uncertain whether they were good or not, but Sungchul thought that they were quite the honest people. He peered over at the young bandit smirking from behind the two ugly bandits. Once their eyes met, the young bandit shrugged his shoulders and made an impish expression.
Sungchul pulled out 3 silver coins from his possessions and held it out toward the men.
“Is this it?”
They were unsatisfied, so Sungchul pulled out another silver coin and held it out to them.
“Is this it?”
They asked again, and Sungchul held out two more silver coins.
“What are you doing? If you’re going to pull them out, take them out all at once.”
At this, Sungchul lastly pulled out another single coin from his possession. The bandits roughly collected the silver coins and smirked at each other. They were finally satisfied. As he saw this, Sungchul thought to himself.
‘These friends aren’t excessively greedy.’
They would live long lives. They tossed over a single silver coin toward the young bandit and left the place. The smile totally vanished from the young bandit’s lips.
“Hey, Seniors! My take seems a bit small. Are you sure there wasn’t a mistake in your calculations?”
He followed closely after the rough looking bandits, and his reward was a fierce beating. The young bandit was met with a heavy punch that broke his nose and bleeding. The bandit sat looking angry and stared dumbly for a bit before heading down the dark tunnel. Sungchul followed after the young bandit. Other bandits had watched Sungchul be extorted thoroughly and paid him no mind.
The young bandit sat atop a beer cask set before a passageway with flowing sewage, silently staring off into space as he listened to the water droplets.
Sungchul called out to the young bandit. The young bandit peeked over toward Sungchul before turning away again. Sungchul called out again.
“This isn’t what you promised.”
“The one who gets tricked is the idiot.”
The young bandit spoke with a smirk. Sungchul stared at him piercingly before pulling out another silver coin from his possessions. The young bandit’s eyes glinted as he saw this and watched with interest. He quickly extended his hand to snatch the coin away. His movement was rather quick, but it was child’s play in Sungchul’s eyes. Sungchul easily evaded the bandit’s hands reaching out for the coin and spoke in a calm voice.
“Tell me how to get outside, and I’ll give you this coin.”
“Hey, have you been tricked all your life? Just give me the coin and I’ll lead you.”
“I thought you said that the one who gets tricked is the idiot?”
The bandit’s brows creased as though Sungchul’s words had hit their mark before raising his body from above the beer casks.
“Follow me. Where do you want to go? Outside of the Sewers? Or maybe inside La Grange?”
“Of course inside La Grange.”
“Inside La Grange? That’s considerably dangerous. If you insist, it won’t be enough with a single silver coin.”
“Are 2 coins enough?”
“3 coins. I’ll lead you inside the city for 3 coins.”
The young bandit might have thought he was haggling with Sungchul for a better deal, but to Sungchul, they were all immeasurably cheap. Sungchul nodded before leaving the bandit to lead the way, and when he did, the bandit finally said his name.
“I’m Fast Hands Bobbin.”
Sungchul did not reveal his own name. And that was how the journey toward La Grange resumed again. Sungchul asked Bobbin about their current location.
“Is this below La Grange?”
Bobbin shook his head. “Not exactly. This is below the old section of the city.”
“The old section?”
“They’re old roads that existed back in the days of the Holy Kingdom of Rutheginea. People new to La Grange might not be aware of this, but no one lives in the old section anymore.”
“Is that so?”
Sungchul looked surprised as there had been a fair number of people living within the old section 8 years ago before he left the capital. The large majority were poor people with nowhere else to go, but even the old aristocracy of the former kingdom had taken root there.
“The Emperor declared a purge upon the region. Cults were running rampant around those parts, so they just completely chased everyone away so that no one could live there.”
“Then where did all those people who lived there go?”
Sungchul’s question was soon answered. Within a dark clearing where not even a speck of sunlight could peek through, there was a village of people amidst the filthy stench. That place that was mostly made up of sick and elderly who had such a thick aura of helplessness that not even despair could squeeze through.
‘If it’s like this, it’s no different from the past.’
An event in the past more than 10 years ago passed by Sungchul’s eyes.
“Now, from here on just keep walking forward in this direction and you’ll be met with a tunnel that leads to the capital.”
After a bit more marching, Bobbin looked at the dark tunnel with nervous eyes before speaking. Sungchul held out all the silver he had promised toward Bobbin. Bobbin grabbed the coins and grinned.
“Sorry for tricking you earlier! I only did it because my seniors made me.”
“Don’t concern yourself.”
“Quite a cool customer. I’ll tell you one more thing as compensation.”
Bobbin narrowed his blue eyes filled with fear and peered into the tunnel.
“I shouldn’t be saying this after having brought you here, but honestly speaking, it might not be so good to go any further.”
“Is there a reason?”
“There’s a monster living here. Just ahead.”
“Even I don’t know what exactly it is. There are rumors that the Emperor let it loose, but the important thing is that no one has met the creature and lived to tell the tale.”
Bobbin spoke while trembling as though just speaking about the monster was enough to cause terror. Of course, none of this concerned Sungchul.
“Don’t blame me if you die. I warned you.”
Sungchul heard the young bandit’s warning, but stepped forward without a moment’s hesitation. Soon, metal grating that separated boundaries appeared within the darkness. It appeared sturdy and well maintained which was starkly different from the one at the entrance. Sungchul eyed the metal gate blocking his path.
[ Access forbidden except for Imperial Sewer management personnel.]
Strange and dismal cries faintly echoed from beyond the metal gates. Surprisingly, he had heard the sound before. The image of the soldiers with the strange forms he had seen on Aquiroa’s airship came to mind.
‘Were those monsters the Soldiers of Salvation?’
He wasn’t certain, but there would be value in confirming it. Sungchul shoved the door open and walked into the darkness.