Streets of Ruteginea. There was a lone man walking slowly eastwards upon the ancient road connecting La Grange with the eastern region with a single book loitering in the air around him. This man was none other than Sungchul. He had taken up wandering once again with no destination in mind.
He had failed in getting almost any information he was looking for. He knew just one thing and it was only regarding Vestiare’s new territory, Ixion. The location of the other three heroes were unknown.
Despite this, Sungchul felt relieved. Although she ended up dying, he was able to watch over Largo’s final moments as well as confirm Kimchi and his wife’s safety. More than anything, his reunion with the Emperor made him feel many different things. The one who gave the order for the bombardment of Section 8 wasn’t the Emperor and he faced the abrupt wrath of Sungchul despite not knowing anything. He also didn’t make excuses either.
He turned the mistakes of his foolish subordinate into his own. Regarding this point, he was no different than he was in the past. He might have even managed to warm his image in Sungchul’s mind. Minor aspects of the conversation they had afterwards reaffirmed Sungchul’s age-old feelings. The clear difference in strength during their battle only brought bitterness to Sungchul. Through that result, Sungchul could clearly see that the Emperor had also been abandoned in solitude within a desert not filled with sand and rocks, but rather people who could no longer trust.
‘William. For what reason do you still hold that position?’
He was confident that there was something hidden beneath what he could see on the surface, and it could be that there was something going on that Sungchul could not even imagine. However, he would no longer hesitate going forward as the path he had to walk in the future was much more clear now.
“I guess it doesn’t snow in this place? It should be in the thick of winter now.”
Bertelgia spoke with her pages fluttering in the air. As she said, not a single flake of snow could be seen. Only the naked branches without a single leaf upon them had the proper appearance of the season.
“It has been a long time since it stopped snowing in La Grange.
“Is that right?”
“It’s because it’s a warm region here, but I’ve heard that it had once snowed due to a cold snap about 100 years ago. Although, thousands of slaves had frozen to death due to it.”
“Hm. Do you think what that Emperor guy said is true?”
Sungchul looked at Bertelgia with a bit of incredulity, so she spoke on.
If we believe what that person said, he’s… what do they call them…figure…?”
“Anyways! He said that he’s more of a figurehead. The actual person in charge is that Wandering King or whatever he’s called.”
The man named Minamoto that he had met on the battlefield some time in the past had said something along the same lines that Ruteginea had the strength to suppress the rebel army on that final battle. He had let the words slip by at that as it was common knowledge that combat strength of the rebel army was inferior to the Ruteginean army. But the words held different weight coming from the Emperor’s mouth compared to Minamoto’s. He said the words “absolutely inferior”. Enough to lose all 100 times had they fought 100 times.
“There’s no need to think too deep into that part.”
Sungchul spoke calmly. It was all in the past. It wasn’t wise to look back to the past when he didn’t have enough time for the present. He believed so he thought back on the objectives he had yet to accomplish.
‘I should first eliminate Vestiare, then suppress the rest of the Seven Heroes. Next, I will face the upcoming Calamity.’
As he was setting his goals, Bertelgia pouted her lips to his side.
“Um, in any case… who is that Ryze Himerr person?”
Sungchul briefly had a complicated look on his face by the sensitive topic, but regained his passive expression before cutting her off in a stiff manner.
“Y-you don’t need to know about that.”
“She’s a woman, right?”
She moved close to Sungchul’s face and spoke in a quiet voice. Sungchul cut her off once again.
“I said you don’t need to know.”
Bertelgia continued to make a strange sound as she lingered from a distance that almost seemed to touch him.
“Looks like someone was rejected.”
“Do you want to go back to Storage?”
Sungchul couldn’t take it any longer, and when he threatened her, Bertelgia flew back in a panic with mischief laced in her voice.
“It’s a joke. A joke. It’s actually fun to tease you. If I knew this earlier, I would’ve messed with you sooner.”
Bertelgia was increasingly becoming an unbearable character. Sungchul was slowly growing to admit that she was more troublesome than his average enemy.
‘This kid. Should I really stuff her into Storage? But if I do, she’ll just get pouty and won’t listen to me.’
It might even cause the Soul Gems to go on strike. He couldn’t communicate with them, but he could understand the thought process of the Carbuncles. They listened to Sungchul based on the condition that Bertelgia was by his side. It was the consequence of being lazy and having left things to Bertelgia.
The story might be different had he chosen to no longer use the Soul Storage, but he couldn’t give them up as his eyes were already woke to the convenience and the greatness that were the Soul Gems.
When dusk had set, it was Sungchul’s new hobby to walk around with several Faerie Fire on his back, but Bertelgia generally disliked whatever Sungchul enjoyed.
“Ugh… it’s so distracting.”
“It’ll be less distracting within the Soul Storage.”
“I hate the Storage! I already didn’t like it there, but since you put that crazy necromancer’s box in there, I hate it even more!”
As she said, Sungchul had looted the box that Phoebe Canvas had used to carry around the heads of others. It was because it possessed the ability to preserve a person’s head in a fresh state as though it were still alive.
Sungchul had planned to clean it out and use it as a form of lunchbox, but Bertelgia was also repulsed by that idea.
“In any case, we’re camping out again? I’m really tired of camping out. I miss the warm glow of a hearth and the scent of people.”
Bertelgia wove between the Faerie Light floating about as she complained. Sungchul was thinking along a similar line. It had been nearly a week since he left La Grange, and as he walked the Ruteginean road that was void of people, he had yet to see any sign of civilization. He had seen several cities, but they were all in a ruined state by the rampage of the Colossi. There was no reason for him to enter the ruined homes infested with bandits seeing as all the law-abiding citizens had fled. It wasn’t all that bad sleeping in a sleeping bag, but not being able to eat a decent meal was hurting him.
‘Now that I think about it, food by that elf bastard, Paparupa, was the last decent meal I’ve eaten.’
There was nothing but wasteland left as refugees emptied all of the fields as they fled. These weren’t ideal conditions to cook. More than anything, he needed some time to recharge.
“Now, let’s see.’
Sungchul sat on a tree stump and began to recollect where regions of civilization might be. He realized that Fly was a great magic that allowed him to look down upon where he stopped in order to check how far along he had come as it would be much easier to get a sense of where he was from a high vantage point. The visibility would be low as dusk had long since set, but as the sun was still setting in the west, Sungchul believed that he would be able to discern signs of human civilization without much difficulty.
He noticed that a thick forest was positioned toward the side of the Ruteginean road that stretched on toward the east. Sungchul who saw the forest recalled a part of his past that he didn’t wish to remember.
‘Mm… It just had to be near that forest.’
Sungchul had an ill-fated relationship with that specific forest.
“Wouldn’t that forest be filled with the ‘ingredients’ that you love so much?’
Bertelgia who flew up beside Sungchul a bit late discovered the forest and made a suggestion. Sungchul roughly grabbed Bertelgia and descended while shaking his head.
“Don’t go to a forest like that.”
“There’s someone who’s not so nice over living over there.”
“Who? Worse than the bastard, Emperor?”
“Stop calling him a bastard.”
“Then who lives there? Old Lady Homunculus?”
“Don’t you know that the forest is called?
As he asked, they both landed on the ground. Bertelgia asked questions.
“What do they call it?”
Sungchul spoke with discomfort.
“The Haunted Forest.”
A fearsome witch lived in that place. A witch that had a fateful meeting with Sungchul. That witch had placed a certain curse onto Sungchul and it boldly occupied a place within his Status Window.
An ordinary curse by Witch Adelwight of the Haunted Forest (Strength -5 / Erectile Dysfunction)
He let out a shallow sigh after having seen the age-old curse appear on his Status Screen after so long. At the same time in a certain place of the forest, a woman wearing a hat with a pointed brim let out a strange laughter as she peered into a crystal ball. The image of Sungchul high in the sky observing the area below was perfectly captured within it. A faint smile formed at the mouth of the woman after having confirmed the person’s identity.
“Oh, my. Look who it is?”
The witch’s eyes shined bright.
“Adelwight? Hm. That’s not a very witch-like name.”
Appetite was more fearsome than fear itself. Sungchul was now entering the edge of the Haunted Forest with Bertelgia. He was planning on obtaining some ingredients for a brief moment before leaving, but Sungchul knew full well that the Witch of the Forest was not someone to underestimate. He spoke to Bertelgia with something akin to a warning.
“She’s a crazy woman that even the infamous Ruteginea gave up on. She’s a very dangerous person.”
Adelwight, the Witch of the Forest, was not a very well-known figure. While some might know the Governor Hornekco the Merchant King who took up the final seat of the 13 Continental Champions, people who knew the name of Adelwight were few in between. However those that looked into her even a little bit would not be able to keep from being appalled as her name is even listed clearly on the oldest record that exists today. Of course, there was no one that believed that Adelwight that lived today was the same as the Adelwight recorded 2000 years ago as it wasn’t uncommon for witches to inherit names of another witch, but even still, that still didn’t mean the current Adelwight was someone to take lightly.
She held the entire forest with her incomprehensible magic and the power of her fearsome curses that kept her enemies from daring to even think about opposing her. There was a clear record even to this day of a Ruteginean lord who tried to claim the Haunted Forest and ended up pitifully whittling away as a eunuch.
“Anyways, it’s better to be quiet from this point. That woman’s ears are very sharp.”
However, his words didn’t have much persuasive power as it came from a man with 3 Faerie Light dangling conspicuously from his back. Bertelgia replied half-heartedly.
Ingredients that Sungchul was looking for were everywhere Sungchul looked within this forest surrounded in darkness. Sungchul discovered a stream of fresh water with crawfish and minnows along with mushrooms under some leaves. Sungchul wandered around a bit more to discover a King Mountain Chicken. These were all but extinct in all areas where men have tread upon due to their large size and outstanding flavor, but they boldly acted as a boss in dangerous areas such as areas surrounding the Summoning Palace or the Haunted Forest.
Sungchul easily captured the chicken who had unfurled its wings and dancing about threateningly and got his hands on a few of its eggs. Sungchul pulled out one of the warm eggs and emptied it into his mouth and relished its crisp flavor.
“Uwek. You eat that raw?”
Bertelgia looked disgusted once again. On the other hand, Sungchul was glad to have stopped by the Haunted Forest and was planning on leaving as he had only stopped by to acquire ingredients, not cook. The Witch of the Forest was an immensely dangerous person and it would do him no good to be spotted.
Sungchul who was in a hurry to leave the forest ended up being caught by the eyes of the witch. The culprits were the Faerie Lights he enjoyed so much as the 3 orbs of light spinning wildly were easy targets.
“Just where are you going so sneakily like a thieving cat?”
A witch on a broom quickly crossed by Sungchul like the wind before landing lightly on a tree branch high above to look down upon him.
“If you’re here after so long, you should stop by our home.”
Adelwight, the Witch of the Forest, had appeared. Two small shadows followed behind her.
“Uwah. It is the great Commander in Chief, it is!”
“It has been a while. It has!”
They were similar in size to the Homunculus, but these two had an unmistakably cute and lovable appearance that were incomparable. Actual fairies appeared.