The musty stench together with the strange cries heard from the distance would cause even one with a heart of steel to feel fear.
But of course, to Sungchul, this sound was no different from that of a neighbor’s dog barking in the middle of the night.
Rather, of more concern was the stench of rotting flesh intermingling with the foul air. At first, Sungchul thought an unfortunate corpse was rotting away in the sewers without even a grave but, as he continued forward, the smell of rotten corpses become more concentrated. It wasn’t just one or two corpses. Sungchul remembered the terrible stench that blew across the battlefield after a battle one summer day. His prediction soon became reality. He discovered the corpses stuck within the sewers decomposing into a hideous mass. About 5 in total. Sungchul first thought they were wandering vagrants, but they also appeared to be of decently high status judging by their attire. Sungchul discovered a glittering jewel ring on a rotting finger within the dirty water.
“Ugh… Can we just get out of here quicky? I never want to see those kind of things.”
Bertelgia had grown accustomed to gruesome scenes, but still it appeared that rotting corpses were hard to deal with.
Sungchul grabbed a dirty pole lying around in a corner and began to rummage through the corpses. A necklace made of gold clinked from one of the corpses.
‘They didn’t die for money.’
Sungchul left the corpse behind and kept on moving forward again. It didn’t take long before there was another pile of corpses. However, this time they were piled on the tunnel instead of the waterway. Like before, they appeared to have been people of high standing, but the corpses this time were completely plundered of their valuables. But since the conditions of the corpses were much better than those before, Sungchul took the time to examine them. It was clearly a homicide. They were all murdered with blades or blunt instruments. Sungchul succeeded in determining the background of a corpse after examining the crest/writing adorning its coat.
‘They’re the nobles from the smaller nations of the eastern region of the continent.’
Unlike the western and central regions of the continent where single powerful nations had established themselves, within the eastern region of the continent were prosperous smaller nations and city-states that had continued to thrive for countless ages. The eastern region was reputed throughout the continent as a splendid place to live for its vibrant trade and high-level culture but, after the appearance of the Colossi, this paradise of the Other World devolved into ruins. All the refugees that had taken up the entirety of the Tower of Recluse to the city of La Grange were entirely people from the east. A thought flashed across Sungchul’s mind.
However, he let that particular train of thought go as there wasn’t enough proof to formulate a concrete conclusion. But, as he continued to discover more corpses of eastern nobles one after another as he walked down the tunnel, Sungchul had an unsettling premonition that his assumptions might be correct.
‘Could it be… did they execute the nobles from the east en masse?’
Sungchul recalled what he heard at the outskirts of the city; the capital city of La Grange was put into complete lockdown. He had vaguely thought that there must have been some unusual reason for it, but seeing the corpses, he had a suspicion that he knew what that reason might be.
‘I’m having a bad feeling about this.’
The Emperor was a man moved by his rational thoughts rather than his heart. He wasn’t indiscriminate in his methods like Ruteginea, but he was one that could give a cold blooded order if there was a need for it. There most definitely must have been some reason for the mass execution of the eastern nobles. It could never have been a heartwarming reason considering the path that the Emperor had treaded up to now. Sungchul’s pace naturally quickened. The corresponding cry of the Soldier of Salvation grew much closer.
At one corner of the pile of corpses, one could see the Soldiers of Salvation. There were 3 in total. The creatures were squatting their bluish jelly-like bodies in front of the corpses like children and digging into the flesh. The Soldiers seemed to have noticed Sungchul’s presence and twitched their massive bodies and turned their heads toward his direction.
“Ugh… their ears are sharp too. I really hate those guys.”
Krombui finally made an appearance in Sungchu’s hand. The reason he didn’t use Fal Garaz was because this place being what it was, the weapon could be dirtied by the filthy water. Unlike Krombui which possessed its own sentience, Fal Garaz was nothing more than a simple object. But Sungchul didn’t wish to use the divine weapon he had borrowed momentarily from the dwarves within the sewers.
“Hey, friend. Why have you called upon this washed-up relic once again?”
Krombui spoke with a husky voice as soon as he was pulled out from the Soul Storage.
“I don’t like this guy either!” Bertelgia shouted the moment she laid eyes on the sword.
“He talks too much when all he’s got is a sharp blade!”
Krombui wasn’t one to back down and retorted in kind.
“What? Is that the talking book from before? You’re still whining like a little child!”
Not only did she have a bad impression of him, he went as far as to insult her; Bertelgia could no longer contain herself. She burst into anger.
“Who are you calling a kid? How old are you? Huh? Are you more than a thousand? Are you?”
“Of course, I’m easily over a thousand!”
Sungchul observed the internal conflict between the objects and sighed to himself.
‘This isn’t some bickering in a retirement home…’
He gripped both Bertelgia and Kombui and calmed them down before glaring at the enemy ahead of him.
“FIght later. Let’s take care of those things first.”
“What are you going to do if I don’t want to?”
Krombui’s blade dulled. Sungchul who noticed this replied in a calm voice.
“Is it that you’re not confident in being able to cut through those guys?”
Sungchul held Krombui and pointed toward the Soldiers of Salvation. The sword flickered in a strange light.
“What are those things? They’re not human or jelly. They look like those meat golems from Rutheginea, and they’re just as unsettling.”
“Can you cut through them?”
“I’ll give it a go.”
Krombui’s sharp edge returned once more.
“In any case, this is a place I have some memory of. Where was this? Ah, right here. The place where a princess eloped with… ugh!”
He could not finish his sentence as Sungchul tightly gripped his handle as if to break it apart.
“I was kidding! Just kidding! Let’s just hurry up and cut those guys down!”
Sungchul nodded and walked toward the Soldiers of Salvation that were tearing through the corpses. The Soldiers heard Sungchul approaching, but continued to eat their fill. It might have been because they had only faced opponents weaker than them up to this point, but they appeared to not mind Sungchul in the slightest. In reality, the Soldiers of Salvation were plenty powerful in their own right as they possessed the physical prowess of a knight that could be considered Superhuman and the regenerative ability to negate most physical or magic attacks.
Added to that, they were 3 meters tall and their irregular attacks brought on by their long reach increased their effectiveness beyond the limits of their stats. One Soldier of Salvation might even possess more combat potential than a single knight who were notoriously difficult to train. Since there were three of those things gathered together, it wasn’t unreasonable that they didn’t show much reaction to most threats.
However, they were unlucky this time. Only once Sungchul had approached right in front of their noses did the creatures finally raise their bodies and roll their zippers-like eyes to glare at him. The creatures could not speak, but they made mocking noises. It was a strange sound similar to a deflated accordion.
Krombui targeted those creatures and drew a line in the air.
It appeared to be an ordinary strike at a glance, but the Soldiers of Salvation could not evade Sungchul’s swing. One of the creatures was cut through with the blade and split in two. The Soldiers finally realized that their opponent was one not to be underestimated, but Krombui’s movements were one step ahead of them. The Soldiers were cut apart and fell beside the corpses. The mercilessly sliced heads glared at Sungchul and shouted in indecipherable noises. Once Sungchul’s military boots stomped on their skulls, silence returned to the sewers.
Sungchul watched the dark aura of Calamity disappear into the sky from the deceased corpses of the Soldiers of Salvation like a puff of smoke with his two eyes.
‘The Floating Fortress. It may need a visit there at some point.’
It would have to be some point after he felled the Seven Heroes. Sungchul continued forward, but the road grew bumpier as he drew closer to his destination.
Sungchul continued to walk forward while facing an unending wave of corpses that blocked his path. As he continued on, sunlight finally glimmered above his head. It was the sunlight shining onto the city of La Grange. He could hear the faint sound of murmurs and the rolling carriage wheels and see the shadows made by those who moved between the gaps. Sungchul sensed that his destination was not far, but the road grew bumpier as he drew closer.
Cries of Soldiers of Salvation could be heard from all directions. Sungchul held his breath and began to discern their numbers through their cries.
‘They appear to be in the dozens.’
It looked as though the ones Sungchul killed were simply sentries. The Soldiers of Salvation had completely overtaken the underground waterway of La Grange. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that there should be a mob of them guarding every important point and alleyway.
‘Why are these creatures guarding the sewers of the city? The Floating Fortress and the Human Empire have allied, but they should be strictly separate forces.’
Even at the time Sungchul was putting his all for the Empire, their relationship wasn’t so great. After Imperial Commander in Chief Sungchul had managed to create the World Parliament through great effort by laboring east and west, the Emperor and Aquiroa were in a deadlock regarding under whose authority it would rest. The Emperor had a greater foundation of influence than anyone else, but other nations persistently tried to keep him in check. Aquiroa had a weaker foundation, but she waved the banner of neutrality in order to gain the support of various nations. Any among the sovereignty was well aware of their battle over this authority.
As a matter of course, they took on appearances of cooperation and set aside their personal feelings for important matters such as continental peace or the Calamity. And while it was true that the Emperor had allowed talented magicians from the Floating Archipelago into the palace, they weren’t intimate enough to allow unidentifiable monsters to roam about the underground of the capital.
It should not have escaped the Emperor’s notice that these creatures could overtake the entire city during his absence if Aquiroa had a change of heart, and yet these creatures were currently residing within the sewers of the city. It was undeniable that the relationship between the two must have strengthened to a point beyond Sungchul’s imagination.
In any case, the appearance of the overwhelming number of Soldiers of Salvation had led Sungchul to stop for a moment. It seemed like the best option was to erase his presence and proceed by killing them one group at a time, but these creatures had better senses than an ordinary person. The plan was simple enough, but if they happened to call out to their companions in the process, he would be stuck in an unpleasant situation.
It wouldn’t be difficult fighting a few dozen of these creatures, but he wasn’t confident that he could do it quietly. Most definitely, the impact of battle would spread above their heads to the center of the city. If that came to pass, he would have missed the point of coming here even having been mugged by mere local bandits.
‘What should I do?’
Sungchul was contemplating on these points when Krombui interrupted with his unique husky voice filled with mischief.
“What are you thinking so hard about? Let’s just keep on moving forward. The blood of these creatures have quite a unique flavor.”
“I’m trying to proceed quietly, Krombui.”
Sungchul replied as such before looking around the sewers. He had become familiar with the area, but he still wasn’t positive.
‘I definitely have a memory of this place… Is it because of the flow of time? It’s quite faded.’
When Sungchul grew silent again, Krombui chuckled and spoke again.
“Can’t we just take the usual path?”
“What do you mean?”
Krombui replied in a very meaningful voice at Sungchul’s question.
“The path in which you had let me drink plenty of high quality blood.”
Sungchul’s pupils contracted once he heard those words. His numb heart was shaken by a whirlwind of emotions that couldn’t be expressed in a single word.
“Do you still remember the path?”
Krombui shined his blade instead of replying to Sungchul.
“I think this sword is broken.”
Bertelgia pouted, but Sungchul followed Krombui’s word on this point.
Krombui lead Sungchul without a moment of hesitation as though he still had the entire area memorized. There were moments where they were almost discovered by the Soldiers of Salvation, but Sungchul passed through without much difficulty and was soon met with a wall.
“It’s here. Don’t you remember?
Krombui asked finally, and Bertelgia continued to taunt him.
“What do you mean? It’s a complete dead end! How can someone so young have a memory so poor!”
As the two objects continued their verbal battle, Sungchul looked toward the dead end without any expression on his face. Unlike the other parts of the walls that held evidence of the passage of time, this wall appeared to be freshly plastered.
Sungchul held his hand against the cracks and applied an appropriate amount of strength, and when he did, the wall collapsed and revealed a new path. It was a new path that held a crimson hue instead of the greenish tint in the rest of the sewers. Sungchul felt something like an impact at the back of his head once he saw this path.
Sungchul gulped while in a trance. Bertelgia who was in her pocket, could feel that the palpitation of his heart was different than usual.
At this moment, Sungchul was looking at the same place that the others were looking at, but a different scene was unfolding before his eyes. More than 10 years in the past, within this crimson tunnel that flowed with the blood spilled in the colosseum, Sword Slave Sungchul had ventured to escape together with the princess of the Holy Kingdom of Rutheginea: Laiz Highmerr. Sungchul walked between the stone walls soaked in blood and felt his dim memories of the path be reformed anew.
Steeped in sadness and regret, he arrived at the end of the crimson tunnel. A crude wall made of wooden planks blocked his path. Sungchul tore them off and continued onwards. The familiar scenery of the colosseum that was marked with blood, death, and glory awaited him like destiny.