Kimchi’s house was in a shabby multi-house building that was commonly seen within Section Eight. Once Sungchul saw the broken entranceway, kitchen filled with scorch marks, and living room sectioned off with a curtain instead of a door, he mistakenly felt that the concept of poverty had physically manifested itself. Sungchul stared at the black clump of metal whose purpose he couldn’t determine on the blackened kitchen floor.
‘This was beyond imagination.’
Despite an appearance like that of a hobo, Sungchul had lived a very luxurious life. He only ate the best food, and contrary to how they appeared, his socks and underwear were made of the highest quality silk, purchased in bulk and kept in his Soul Storage. Although the space Sungchul was staying in was quite humble, it couldn’t be compared to Kimchi’s home as Sungchul’s home was part of a glamorous residence of Anglo-Saxon Boy. At the very least, it might be a corner room, but even the quality of the basic finishing material was different. In any case, he could hear the sound of a woman coughing who had detected their presence as they entered. A young woman pushed aside the curtain that separated the front entrance and the living room and finally showed herself.
“Oppa, you’ve arrived?”
It was quite the pretty face. Sungchul could feel faint surprise at the moment he saw her.
‘That woman is…’
The one who was most surprised was the woman.
“Y-you’re the… from the Summoning Palace…”
Kimchi’s wife was actually Sunghae Bae. The nominee who had held Sungchul in great contempt from the Summoning Palace. Sungchul still remembered it well. With just her pretty face, she had behaved like a queen bee among the chosen from the Summoning Palace. However that was before her childish and selfish actions led to her being isolated, and eventually led to her having to request help from Sungchul, whom she had hated the most.
However, it was a strange thing. To be selected within the Palace meant she had powerful connections within the Other World, but even one of the selected had ended up leading a pitiful life within the Human Sewers. Sungchul eventually guessed the reason.
‘Now that I think about it, this woman had connections within the Order of the Blood Iron Knights.’
The Order of the Blood Iron Knights, who defended the Demon Realm Battlefront, were annihilated along with the 6th Continental Champion, Martin Breggas. In some ways, it might be a miracle that she was able to continue living within the Human Sewers. Sungchul felt he now knew a little bit about Kimchi’s identity which had been surrounded by a veil of mystery.
‘He must have been a Blood Iron Knight. Most likely, he was part of the minority that opposed Sungtek’s decision seeing as he isn’t a demon, but it couldn’t be easy using his real name as a former knight of an order that had lost its reputation.
The Order of the Blood Iron Knights held hands with the devils. Martin Breggas and his underhanded schemes had been the true cause of the incident, but as always, people only saw the results.
As Sungchul remained silent, Sunghae had already put the awkwardness behind her and moved to prepare a meal.
“Now, let’s go on in. It’s a humble place, but this is still a home where people live.
Sungchul entered the living room where the two young couple lived together. Inside was nicer than the kitchen and front entrance, but hints of poverty were everywhere. Sungchul entered the room and sat awkwardly, as Sunghae quickly brought out some alcohol and food soon after. It appeared to be pan-fried mystery grass pancakes seasoned with vegetables in a simple manner, along with rice wine made with wheat. The food tasted god awful.
[The score of this food is…. 3 points!]
[Did they consider this as food when they served it?]
It had been a while since Sungchul was in agreement with the Chef Class’s critique. On the other hand, the alcohol was tolerable. Sungchul set his chopsticks down and sipped on the alcohol.
Kimchi who noticed this made a comment.
“Isn’t the wine decent? I summoned up courage to buy it.”
“Did you make it yourself?”
Kimchi shook his head at Sungchul’s question.
“There is a market operated by people from Korea. I bought it there.”
Sungchul nodded, and his thoughts continued from before.
‘Those from the Order of the Blood Iron Knights must have filtered down here.’
The territory that had been ruled by the Order of the Blood Iron Knights was now unoccupied by anyone. It is said that the majority of the knight’s order had died during the battle with Martin, but nothing was known about their families or people that lived there.
That many people could not have all died, so Sungchul had believed they had left for somewhere else. A few must have ended up flowing down to the Human Sewers.
‘To think that the Order of the Blood Iron Knights, who once looked down on the Human Empire, have fallen this far.’
Everyone was unanimous in this one belief: If the leader of the Order of the Blood Iron Knights, Sungtek Cho, had not tried to resolve the Calamity on his own by causing conflict with the Devils, then the Order would still be a major force in the northern region. Sungtek had not been included within the 13 Continental Champions, but it would be a grave error to say he was lacking in comparison to them. Sungtek had declined the position on his own, as it meant entering the fold under what was mostly controlled by the Human Empire.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be the wrong move. The Order finally declined after relentless isolation, and those left behind led impoverished lives. The ones that had wanted to hoard the glory of standing against the Calamity only ended up giving strength to the infrastructure represented by the World Parliament and the 13 Continental Champions.
As they continued tipping their wine bottles wordlessly, Sunghae entered the room. She pushed the curtain aside before peeking at Sungchul, finding a place beside Kimchi, and whispering something in his ear. Kimchi smiled wide before turning back to Sunghae.
“You want to eat that again? Fine. I’ll go buy it.”
He must have been weak to alcohol as the fairly drunk Kimchi was smiling giddily as he rose. He told Sungchul to wait a moment before leaving the room. Kimchi didn’t know it himself, but he was using rather quick movements as though he was flying out. In the end, only Sungchul and Sunghae left in the room.
“Truthfully, I’m a bit taken back… sir.”
Sunghae spoke first, but her eyes were looking elsewhere. She was obviously uncomfortable.
“I don’t mind if you speak comfortably.”
Sungchul spoke calmly while Sunghae rolled her eyes before looking at him again.
“It looked like you were going to make something of yourself when I saw you at the Summoning Palace, but you also ended up here? I heard you’re a Tahm Tahm trainer?”
She held back her laughter as she chewed on a meat jerky on the table.
“Tahm Tahm… Ahram Park… Alamo…”
With a tone of nostalgia, she spoke names that had once been a source of terror in the past.
“I thought it would be a flowering rose after graduating from that place. I thought I would be able to cast away my pitiful life. Live a new life as I stepped into the Golden City.”
“How did you end up flowing down here?”
He suspected most of the story, but Sungchul asked while feigning ignorance. Sunghae groaned a bit before pouring some of the rice wine that Kimchi had been drinking, and downing it in one shot.
“The Order of the Blood Iron Knights collapsed. All because of Breggas or some bitch by that name. Beginning with the head captain, the knights forged a contract with the devils, and even my uncle, who I relied on, died in the scuffle… and well, I ended up here.”
“You’ve still managed to avoid the worst of it.”
Sungchul looked outside as he spoke. He thought of Kimchi. Sunghae seemed to have read between the lines as she signed as she spoke.
“He’s a good man.”
Her one sentence contained complicated emotions in a depressed voice.
Sungchul didn’t speak anymore. The awkward silence trudged on heavily. Sunghae seemed to have felt the heavy atmosphere, and eventually shifted the topic of the conversation.
“Do you remember Woojung Kim?”
“Woojung? Who was that?”
“The person that fought with us during the Pac Man Rule.”
“He became quite popular within the city. His puppet shows are pretty amazing. He’s not even a puppet mage, but the fact that a human could put on a puppet show with just a few strings seems to have worked out”
“He usually goes around sections Six and Seven putting on shows, so go see him if you get the chance.”
“If I get a chance.”
Both experienced the same thing, but the memory’s impact was different for them. Everything Sunghae had experienced within the Summoning Palace had been etched clearly into her mind, but it was a blurry lump close to the edge of imagination for Sungchul. As such, he could only respond in this lukewarm manner.
‘This Kimchi bastard, why won’t he hurry up.’
As Sungchul was feeling bored, Sunghae shouted in a short burst as though something just popped in her mind.
“Oh, right. I saw that woman.”
“I’m talking about Ahmuge. Ahmuge. That woman really got far in this world. I don’t know who she managed to get her claws into with her plain face, but I saw her get off a fancy airship with a young general.”
Sungchul’s face grew stiff. Sunghae, who noticed, looked surprised.
“Weren’t you two close?
Sungchul took a deep drink at her question and spoke calmly.
“… The only things close to me are death and solitude.”
When he said as such, Bertelgia suddenly shook violently from her pocket. Sungchul was surprised by her sudden vibration, but he was also aware why she took such action.
It was as he thought. Bertelgia got goosebumps hearing what he said. Sungchul’s face blushed a bit, and Sunghae who noticed this as well couldn’t keep from laughing.
“You somehow didn’t changed a bit.”
“People don’t change so easily.”
Sungchul rose from his seat.
“Leaving already? My husband isn’t back yet.”
Sunghae looked a bit surprised and rose with him. Sungchul held up his hand and spoke reassuringly.
“It’s not something for a guest to do, but seeing as we ran into each other after such a long time, it’s karma of sorts. So I want to show off my skill for once.”
In reality, it was because the air in the room was too heavy for him. Sungchul flapped his coat open as he stated his excuse, but his coat didn’t open. Bertelgia had popped out of her pocket at some point, and held his coat jacket with her covers so that it wouldn’t flutter open.
‘Why is this kid being so grumpy?’
Sungchul who had missed the natural timing, just passed through the curtain to enter the humble kitchen. Sungchul whispered to Bertelgia within the kitchen.
“Why are you doing this, Bertelgia?”
Bertelgia replied obtusely, and slipped back into her pocket.
‘This kid.. Is she in puberty?’
Sungchul thought as much before bringing out a sack from his Soul Storage. It was filled with various spices stolen from the Imperial Botanical Garden. Sungchul pulled a few things out before looking toward the ingredients laid out in the kitchen. A bit of flour, a bit of rice, stale bread, and an unidentifiable dried fish. The only fresh vegetables was dirt covered chives in a basket.
The ingredients were abysmal, but despite their impoverished conditions, it was at least good that there were the bare necessities to scrape together a meal.
Sungchul took rice and powder of fox tongue, and soaked it in water before going outside. Just in time, Kimchi was approaching the home with a bunch of something. Looking at his hands, he must have visited a confectionary store.
“Ey! Zookeeper friend, where are you going?”
Kimchi spoke with wide eyes.
“Didn’t I say before? I cook much better than Largo. I just wanted to show off my skills.”
“Oh yea? But making a guest cook is…”
“It’s fine to leave it to me. In any case, what’s with the snacks?”
“Ah, my wife doesn’t have much of an appetite these days. She avoids rice like the plague, so I bought these. I can’t do anything else other than this for now so…”
A darkness crept up Kimchi’s face as he spoke. Sungchul, who saw this, spoke reassuringly.
“Don’t eat that before my food is done, or you’ll regret it.”
Extravagant fragrances began to spread from the impoverished home. The smell was so amazing that people passing by began to stand around the house to sniff the air.
Sungchul held the searing hot iron pan with thick gloves as he brought it into the room under the young couple’s gaze. Sunghae and Kimchi waited with bated breath for the lid to be opened as they smelled the exotic captivating fragrance leaking from within the pan. Finally, Sungchul opened the lid without flair. Golden rice opened up like a harvest field underneath chicken, pig, shrimp, and various other prepared meats of the land, sea, and air.
“Is this a paella?”
Sunghae recognized the dish in a single glance. Sungchul silently nodded. Sunghae held the spoon with curiosity as she scooped some of Sungchul’s dish into her mouth. The sound of Kimchi swallowing his drool resonated within the cramped room.
Sunghae’s eyes shined, and Sungchul only watched her reaction with a neutral expression.
“You also put in some saffron?”
She threw out a question after another tasting. Sungchul nodded once again.
“A relative of the saffron.”
“But how did you get such a precious spice?”
“I’ll leave the answer to your imagination.”
It had been an unplanned event, but he still couldn’t admit with his own mouth to having emptied the Imperial Botanical Gardens. Sungchul turned to speak to Kimchi who was just holding his spoon in his hand while holding back his drool.
“What are you doing not eating?”
“I’ll eat after my wife has her fill.”
“I’ll make some more if we’re lacking, so don’t refuse and have at it.”
Sungchul scooped some of his own dish with a large spoon and carefully scrutinized it.
[The score of this dish is… 81 points!]
A faint smile rose onto Sungchul’s lips.
After their meal, Sungchul and Kimchi stepped out of the house to watch the setting sun. Kimchi held a cigarette in his mouth and spoke.
“I wanted to serve you, but ended up getting served again.”
“Don’t mind it.”
“I just can’t figure you out. Actually, the real reason I called you here was to say goodbye.”
Kimchi looked at the setting sun while speaking with sorrow.
Within a Carbuncle’s Dream through the Fog Guide, the 4th Carbuncle with the name CarCarBung laid out a clump of wool in front of Sungchul’s group and requested them to knit it before him. Sungchul knew how to sew, but he didn’t know how to knit. Of course, he utilized the usual method.
“Bertelgia, it’s time to earn your keep.”
Bertelgia was naturally left with this Carbuncle’s task as well. Thankfully, although Bertelgia was lost for a bit before getting accustomed to the knitting, she began to knit in earnest on an armchair in contrast to Sungchul. Sungchul looked toward the exotic scenery while Bertelgia labored away, sitting in a rocking chair and slowly closed his eyes. As he sat down to rest, what Kimchi had just said naturally popped into his mind. A small sigh escaped his lips. Kimchi and Sunghae were driven to the worst of conditions. If left like this, a pitiful end was all that waited for them. They were people unrelated to him, but he couldn’t help but feel sorry for them in the corner of his mind.
Bertelgia who was busily knitting with her hands suddenly spoke.
“You sure it’s ok to just do nothing but watch them? It’s not like you don’t know them at all, and it looked like you had some connection with them, though briefly.”
She put down her needles and asked, but when she did, the Carbuncle watching her placed its cute paw on top of her feet. It meant for her to keep going.
Bertelgia bit her lower lip slightly as she glared at the Carbuncle, but continued to knit again while peeking toward Sungchul.
He didn’t have any particular expression as usual, but he seemed to be in deep thought. Bertelgia recognized this, and spoke with a smile.
“Why don’t you earn your keep as well?”
“My keep, eh?”
As though reveling in the words he would always use he began to rub his chin and fell into deep thought.