Honored guests in the corner of the banquet hall from the Dwarf Kingdom spat out profanities as they watched.
The Emperor didn’t feel even the least bit tense from the amount of hostility pouring out from Sungchul. In contrast, he looked a bit more relaxed as he pulled something out of his Soul Storage. It was a single dagger. It was the dagger that Sungchul had told the magic shop owner from Airfruit to show the Emperor. It appeared like an ordinary weapon on the outside, but there were circumstances behind the weapon that was more than it appeared.
“If I hadn’t stopped you then, you’d have lost your life to this dagger.”
“I have more than paid for that debt through the labor I’ve performed in the past.”
Sungchul replied curtly, and spoke on.
“How much more did I have to give up for that reason?”
He spoke in a roar similar to that of a lion’s. The Emperor only stared at him without changing his expression before speaking again.
“Ryze chose a different man than you as her husband out of her own volition. It is not something to blame me for.”
“Did you perhaps think that I wasn’t aware of you pressuring her?”
“Is that right? It was my mistake in that case. I’ll apologize.”
The Emperor paused a moment before making an odd expression and speaking again.
“If you had loved her so, why haven’t you forgiven her?”
When Sungchul asked, the Emperor replied expectantly.
“I’ve heard through the grapevine that you refused to see her more than a dozen times. Everyone seems to say that the Commander in Chief is a rather petty person.”
“Not only that, you’ve driven her family to ruin and ignored them while knowing that they were going to starve to death in poverty.
“Shut your mouth.”
Sungchul’s tone changed. Those inside that heard his blasphemous outburst grew restless.
“T-that bastard, how dare he speak like that to the Emperor…!”
“It looks like he lost all sensibilities after having become the Enemy of the world.”
Bertelgia who was in his grasp could feel his emotions growing violent. It wasn’t the dark anger which she feared, but rather a fiery rage thrashing with life.
‘This man. It’s the first time he’s become so excited aside from when he isn’t cooking.’
Sungchul’s words didn’t stop there. He took a breath and spoke again.
“And her daughter was brought to the brink of death due to your choice.”
“Isn’t she another man’s child without a drop of blood to connect her to you?”
The Emperor had spoken. Sungchul grit teeth. He had reached the limits of his patience. He brought Fal Garaz down onto the garden.
The massive Floating Palace trembled once. The ones watching shook in fear. As the crowd grew riled, Sungchul spoke again.
“I considered her mine.”
The Emperor only laughed bittered at those words before pulling something out from his pocket. It was a plain silk handkerchief covered in a lavender scent. Sungchul noticed it and hesitated, and the Emperor didn’t miss that opportunity to speak again.
“My long-time friend. My own child has also died.”
His words were true. Sungchul could recall that final human figure of the Emperor requesting a drink with teary eyes after having lost his child.
“Do not call me friend again.”
Sungchul emphasized his words.
“So that’s how it has become.”
The Emperor let out sigh with disinterest before pulling out a weapon of his own from Soul Storage. It was a two-handed sword radiated a chill akin to the moon as opposed to his armor that shined like the sun: Lucrity. It was an invincible sword that symbolized his authority and martial prowess as Emperor. It was also a brother sword made by the same smith that had made Krumbui.
“We meet again after so long, Commander in Chief. How is my brother?”
Lucrity spoke, but Sungchul did not respond. Instead, he raised Fal Garaz.
“How long has it been since we fought last? Has it been 15 years?”
He nodded at the Emperor’s question.
“At least that long.”
“I was victorious at that time.”
“It’ll be different this time.”
A strange light surrounded the Emperor’s body. The blessings and Soul Contracts he had received were being activated as the battle began. Sungchul who saw this thought to himself.
‘Is it the Cloak of the Sun?’
Legendary Grade Soul Contract: Cloak of the Sun. The Soul Contract he had managed to obtain solely by chance came to symbolize the Emperor himself. It granted him powerful defensive stats and magic resistance, but also had a fearsome defensive effect of burning away everything it touched. Sungchul was unable to penetrate the Cloak of the Sun in the past, but things were different now.
Sungchul moved. He felt the Emperor’s figure grow dramatically larger and lightly swung Fal Garaz. The Emperor disappeared even before the hammer could reach him.
‘He’s fast as expected.’
The Emperor was a warrior that focused more heavily on dexterity and technical skill than strength. His dexterity was enough to have been considered to have reached the peak of Transcended even in the distant past. But now, Sungchul could clearly see his movements. He once struggled keeping up with the Emperor’s shadow while feebly reaching for the Cloak of the Sun, but was now directly pursuing the dodging Emperor effortlessly.
Shock rose to the Emperor’s eyes. He was now realizing Sungchul’s immense growth. The Emperor swung Lucrity in order to keep his initiative from being suppressed. The chilling blade shining with moonlight flew by aiming for Sungchul’s neck, but Sungchul merely lifted Fal Garaz straight up to block the sword’s impact.
It was a sharp attack, but the strength held within it was too weak. Sungchul could feel the transience of time.
‘Was the Emperor’s blade always so weak?’
Sungchul put in a bit of his strength to deflect the sword. It was a bit of strength, but the Emperor momentarily lost his balance and fled toward the side hastily. Emperor who had gained a bit of distance held his hand out toward Sungchul and cast a spell.
He was also an expert in the School of Pyromancy with the magic power of a Great Magician while also being a dextrous swordsman. A ball of fire radiating fierce heat flew toward Sungchul.
Sungchul watched the ball of fire fly for a moment before deploying the formation that he had learned in the past. He deployed in total of 4 runes: Magic Barrier – Condition – Reinforcement – Restriction in order. He chose the moment of impact for the condition for the Condition rune, reinforced the incantation with the Reinforcement rune, and set the effect to amplify physical attacks for the Restriction rune in order to amplify the effects of the incantation even further.
The ball of fire accurately struck the incantation and caused an explosion. It was a large enough explosion to cause all those watching to avert their gaze, but it couldn’t singe even a scrap of Sungchul’s clothing.
‘It’s quite useful.’
Sungchul collected the formations while reflecting on the experience. Now that it has become like this, the one who was driven to a corner was the Emperor this time.
‘I’ve heard rumors, but he had grown this powerful? His abilities as a warrior are one thing, but even his skills as a magician?!’
The Emperor had a hunch that he who had always been one level above Sungchul was no longer a match for him. His hunch grew stronger with each bout until a blow was allowed onto his body.
The Cloak of the Sun that surrounded his body was shattered and the Emperor was smashed into a fountain. The audience who was watching this scene was rumbling until hundreds of airship that had suddenly surrounded the Floating Palace at some point trained every weapon they had available toward Sungchul.
Sungchul stood tall and didn’t budge. Finally, the Emperor who collapsed onto the fountain raised his body. He was in laughable shape. His crown had fallen off and blood freely flowed from his pale lips.
“I have something to say.”
The Emperor spoke. Their relationship had soured, but they once had a relationship where each could understand each other’s intentions with a single gaze. Sungchul could see that what he had to say was not trivial so he put Fal Garaz away.
“You’ve become strong, Commander in Chief.”
The Emperor’s sword spoke. The Emperor himself walked into his own palace with wobbly steps while Sungchul followed behind in silence. The two men stood within the empty palace with no one else beside them.
The Emperor sat onto the throne as though he was collapsing onto it.
“What do you have to say?”
Sungchul spoke first, but the Emperor only coughed up blood. After he coughed up enough blood, he glared at Sungchul and spoke in a low voice.
“It’s hard to believe, but…”
“The reign of Ruteginea has not yet ended.”
“What are you talking about?”
Sungchul pressed him, and the Emperor lowered his head and answered in a low voice.
“We were fated to lose that battle on that day. I’m not talking about possibilities, but I’m talking about a guaranteed defeat.”
“So you’re saying is…”
“I saw it. The true might of the one they call the Idle King.”
“The Wandering King…?”
“It’s not all that important to you. To someone like you who yearn for one’s own truth and walk resolutely toward it…”
The Emperor rose with much difficulty.
“He will come to talk to you as well, but remember this: he is also someone who has chosen to stand against the Calamity and fight against it like you.”
The Emperor who was supporting himself with great effort collapsed onto the chair once again. He closed his eyes. He wasn’t dead, but he wouldn’t be able to move for a while.
Sungchul suddenly realized that there were the gazes of many people surrounding him.
Nothing more could be learned from this simple interrogation. Sungchul left the throne and the Emperor.
When he opened the door, thousands of soldiers were gathered in formation armed to the tooth and nail blocking his path. Dmitri was at their head looking quite fearful.
“Com… Commander in Chief, what have you done to the Emperor?”
“Do not fear. He is alive.”
Sungchul slowly walked forward, and no one dared to stop his path. Sungchul walked casually toward the end of the Floating Palace before leaping off to descend. The garden that had been silent regained life and began to move once he disappeared.
“Medic! Heal the Emperor!”
Sungchul who could hear the clamor behind him turned back. Fireworks had stopped. The celebration of La Grange had finally ended.
A man was groaning within a crashed airship.
Arquebus was still alive within his crashed airship, but he had lost all of his subordinates while he himself was moderately wounded. Ironically, he had crashed within the area he reviled the most: Section 8.
“S-someone help me… anybody!”
He called out to the citizens of Section 8 whom he had looked upon with such scorn.
“S-someone help me! G-gold. I’ll give you gold. No, I’ll gift you a residence in Section 4 with an appropriate job to boot! I am Arquebus Kusenophon. Anything I say within this city will come to pass!”
Regardless of how much he screamed, no one appeared before him. It was by his order that the people of this Section were burned away. All those that survived had long since fled. He was receiving his karmic retribution.
It was then that a vague figure appeared from the darkness. It was Ahmuge.
She was walking toward him without any expression on her face. Arquebus who discovered her wore a bright smile as though he had discovered the messiah himself.
“Look who it is. A-ahmuge! If it isn’t Ahmuge? Our very own prophetess! Soothsayer! The beautiful rose of the night of our Empire!”
He requested her help after spouting every and all compliments that came to his lips, but her attitude was strange. He found the atmosphere around her too cold, almost to abnormal levels. Like a blade under the moonlight.
“How much have you reported on my foresight?”
Ahmuge asked with a chilling voice.
Ahmuge pointed toward the area that had fall into complete ruin at his question. He finally realized what her intentions were.
‘This damned fox bitch. She’s trying to shut me up so that she can keep squirming to survive.’
He controlled his expression even in such great pain before opening his mouth to speak.
“I haven’t reported anything. I’m the only one that knows of your foresight. That’s right. The responsibilities for the incident this time falls completely on me as well. It is only right that it only falls on me in any case.”
“… Is that right?”
Ahmuge continued to radiate a chilling aura as she approached him. A sharp dagger was in her hand.
Arquebus hurried to change her mind.
“You’re going to kill me? Me, Arquebus Kusenofone. No, Arquebus Ghadarva in the middle of the Imperial City of La Grange?”
“Ghadarva? I guess the rumors were true after all. That you were a descendant of Rutegenia’s fallen nobility.”
“Fallen? Nonesense. This nation is still under the rule of Rutegenia. Even the Emperor who you serve is merely a servant of the true King.”
He snorted in laughter. Pride that couldn’t be hidden away was plastered on his face.
Ahmuge’s dagger rose high into the air, and when it did, Arquebus raised his voice.
“How many do you think is watching you? Those that are witnessing this will spread your infamy even if you kill me to silence me.”
Ahmuge smirked and looked around. Not a single presence could be felt within the ruins. Only the bodies of the scorched corpses were remaining.
Arquebus’ faces crumbled. His own misdeed had sealed his own fate. The dagger skewered his throat without hesitation.
Arquebus Ghandarva died in this manner calling out to the very people who had detested so much. Ahmuge who had killed him stood up and looked toward the distant sky.
Her voice intermingled with complicated emotions leaked out faintly from her lips. It was the first time that she had doubted herself. She doubted whether what she had been told was really true.
Sujin walked through the ruins with heavy steps and disappeared off a distant road. Dawn had already arrived from the east. New year was approaching.