It was the first bath in a while. He wasn’t able to shower properly in La Grange. There were public baths in the city, but the quality of the facilities were lacking and they were crowded by unsavory people. Sunghul could still remember the gazes of the denizens of Section 8 peeking over now and again. It was probably an insignificant action by them, but each gaze stung him. It was because he was a limp man.
Sungchul blankly stared at the Golden Duck floating in the tub before rising from the bath. He walked alone, wearing the over-decorated sparkly nightgown the Witch had prepared, and smelled a delicious fragrance.
“Oh my, you’re still looking quite majestic and manly.”
Adelwight, the Witch of the Forest was sitting with her fairies around a table. Each of the fairies wearing white and plum colored clothes greeted Sungchul with hand gestures and smiles while Bertelgia was sitting between those fairies with a never-before-seen golden trim. Once she noticed Sungchul, she greeted him with an arrogant air.
“Hurry and sit. Why were you trying to leave without stopping by this wonderful place? Have you perhaps sinned against these virtuous and brilliant people?”
Sungchul silently sat at the table. The table was overflowing with a banquet prepared by the Witch. He grabbed a smoked leg of the King Chicken he had caught just moments ago and stuffed it into his mouth.
[ Score of this dish is… 91 points! ]
[ Only one who has reached this level gains the right to see me, the King of Flavor! ]
A score reaching the 90s. It was something that Sungchul had never achieved before. Adelwight giggled as she stroked the broach attached to her torso with her fingertips. The broach was gleaning with a diamond light.
Unlike his appetite, Sungchul’s expression soured.
‘I really shouldn’t have stopped by this place.’
Adelwight was someone whose age couldn’t be discerned by age. She might appear like a girl in her late teens or some wealthy wife past her 40s radiating mature beauty from another perspective. And it was correct to say that her appearance changed from moment to moment.
She had two small companions. They weren’t Homunculus, but true fairies. The names of these precious fairies known to only live within the Fae World were Kaff and Luro. They each had bright and cheerful personalities. They held a particular interest toward the Homunculi that were known to be copied from their kind.
“There is a person called Old Lady Homunculus beside La Grange, and don’t get me started on him. That strange person captures wild Homunculus and simmers them in a pot to make soup, wouldn’t you know?
Bertelgia was sitting between the two fairies and acting like their leader.
“Wow, That is very scary, that is!”
“How does Old Lady Homunculus look, just how?”
Sungchul silently filled his belly while Bertelgia showed off one of her talents which was her drawing. Adelwight’s gaze was uncomfortable, but it could wait until after the meal. She began to speak once it was time for tea.
“How are things on your end? Still bearable with things so limp?”
“… It’s so-so.”
It had been more than 20 years since he had first known her. He had unfortunately stepped into the Haunted Forest when he was still an amature and met the infamous witch even before he had graduated from newbie status.
Thankfully, the rumored witch wasn’t as wicked as the rumors claimed. It was even Sungchul himself who had requested her to cast the curse of impotence on him.
“Hm? Now that I think about it, how did you meet Miss Witch? Is the Enemy of the World something like… t-t-t-that?”
Bertelgia who had been drawing a portrait of Old Lady Homunculus piped up with a question. It quickly became a troublesome situation, so Sungchul purposely dropped his fork to change the topic.
However, his efforts were to no avail.
“Ah, that? He was wandering around aimlessly after he was rejected by the woman he loved before getting caught up by some vixen…”
Sungchul coughed aggressively, but when he did, Adelwight smirked with a finger over her lips and winked to Bertelgia.
“Well, there were circumstances, Miss Book.”
“Oh my, Miss Witch seems to be aware that I’m a lady?”
“Of course. I’ve met someone similar…”
“Ah, my mistake. Actually I’ve peeked into you a bit with my magic. It’s not that important anyways, right?”
Adelwight let out a laugh before turning her gaze back to Sungchul.
“If you want, I’ll undo it. That curse.”
Sungchul seemed to contemplate on it which was unlike him. Bertelgia, who had been quite still, resumed drawing again. Soon, the hideous man named Old Lady Homunculus appeared within her pages. The Fairies who saw it shouted in surprise.
“Looks very scary, he does!”
“I’m afraid that he’ll appear in my dreams, I am~!”
Time continued to flow within the chaos, but Sungchul eventually made up his mind.
“Mm. I don’t think I’ll need it at the moment.”
Truthfully, he felt that he had no real use for it. He thought for a moment.
‘Now that I think of it, aren’t I pretty much a monk at this point? Whoever manages to kill me might find a sarira or two in my body.’
(Ashes of Buddhist equivalent of saints are said to contain crystals of unknown origin called sarira)
On the other hand, Adelwight who heard his answer tilted her head quizzically.
“Why? Haven’t you met anyone that you like yet?”
“There’s no way I could meet someone. You shouldn’t be clueless as to what kind of situation I’m currently in?”
“I know that you’re called the Enemy of the World.”
Adelwight raised her hand and snapped her fingers, and when she did, the fairies rose from their fairy-sized seats and softly landed on their feet. Fairies gestured toward Bertelgia and called out to her.
“Miss Witch seems to have something important to say to the Commander in Chief, she does.”
“We can spend a joyous time amongst ourselves in our room, we can.”
Bertelgia looked like she wanted to stay, but she felt the strange atmosphere flowing between the witch and Sungchul and decided to follow the fairies. Once Bertelgia and her gang disappeared, Adelwight made a graceful gesture in the air with her hand. The banquet on the table disappeared only to be replaced by warm tea and refreshments. The kettle filled with warm tea moved by itself as though it had gained life and poured out some fragrant tea into their cups.
“Are you trying to make the trade you made back then again?”
Adelwight smiled and nodded.
“Yep. I’ve already been rejected 13 times, but I’ll put up the offer once again.
She calmed her voice and spoke with eyes that seemed to spark with starlight.
This forest is blessed by the blessings of both the Ancient God and the God of Order. Even the Calamities of the outside world cannot harm those that live within the forest, so how about you forget about the Calamity of the outside world and live with me?”
It was a difficult proposition to refuse even for a man with the title of ‘The Hero of Chaotic Times’. Living alone with a beautiful, smart, and generous witch within a garden just for them. However, Sungchul knew Adelwight better than anyone else. She was no ordinary person. She lived an unending life through a cycle of death and rebirth like a phoenix. Not only that, she cannot be contained by such emotions as love. As someone who has lived a life in perpetuity, everything was something that she had repeatedly experienced to the point of repulsion. Love was no exception. Fleeting interest could more or less be disguised as love, but all of it was difficult for Sungchul to accept. So his answer remained unchanged.
“I’m sorry, but I’ll have to refuse.”
Adelwight’s expression remained unchanged as though she was expected that answer. Instead, she grabbed a snack and let out a shallow sign.
“I honestly had some expectations this time… I thought you’d change a bit after being without a woman for more than 10 years!”
“I have no words.”
Sungchul felt uneasy. In truth, Adelwight was more petty than she appeared. She never revealed her emotions through her countless years of experience, but she never forgot even the slightest of grievances and always repaid that debt in full. This was the reason he didn’t want to meet her. Once they met, she would repeat this question and receive the same answer which only resulted in him earning more resentment from her. And it always followed with an annoying crisis. Sungchul had been blighted by Adelwight more than once. The curse that took away his sense of taste was one of the more fearsome curses among all that he had received before. It was one that even he, who wore his many curses like badges of honor, came running to beg for her to undo. However, today was different. She spoke leisurely as though it truly didn’t bother her.
“Anyways, what are you going to do now? Are you going to keep trying to resolve the Calamity to save that little girl?”
Sungchul swirled his teacup as he looked at her. Thankfully, she didn’t seem to hold any other intentions, so he nodded.
“Ah, that girl. She’s so lucky. She had taken the hearts of both men that I wanted.”
“No… now that I think about it, maybe the truth is different?”
Adelwight’s eyes sparkled as though she suddenly thought of something. Sungchul felt uneasy so he asked for clarification.
“What are you talking about?”
When he did, she averted his gaze and trembled in an exaggerated way.
“Could it be… you’re interested in little girls?”
Sungchul denied it strongly and shook his head. She laughed and continued speaking.
“Well, she’s one thing but the girl you’ve brought this time as well. You’re always walking around with little girls.”
“The one I’ve brought this time is a book.”
“You’re right about that. A book is a book. Well..”
“I know what you’re trying to say, and I want you to stop talking nonsense.”
Sungchul spoke with finality and downed his tea. Silence hung around the table for a bit before the sound of an owl could be faintly heard from beyond the open window. Sungchul looked toward the winter forest surrounded in darkness with disinterest before taking another sip of tea.
“In any case, you looked a bit close with the book? It’s not like you who has more enemies than friends.”
Adelwight spoke again.
“She’s not bad. Useful too.”
Sungchul was honestly feeling very grateful to Bertelgia in secret. It was unimaginable by now, spending the day without her. He didn’t know how he had managed to hold himself together by himself for 8 whole years.
‘Now that I think about it, I managed to find her thanks to Sunghae.’
She herself would never have imagined it, but he was also secretly grateful toward her as well. That gratitude might have been at the foundation of the reason why he went out of his way to help the Kimchi Couple at La Grange.
As he was deep in thought, Adelwight played with the brim of her hat before speaking all of a sudden.
“I… have seen a book just like the one here.”
Sungchul momentarily doubted his own ears.
“What? A book just like Bertelgia?”
“Yep. A Living Book just like her.”
She didn’t appear to be joking. Sungchul felt as though someone had struck him in the back of his head as he shook his head.
“How could that be? That’s impossible.”
“It’s one thing if only their appearances were the same, but as you are well aware of, the book has an extremely complex incantation cast upon it. It’s a genius construct that ties together time, space, and even matter. It was a construct that I had never seen before, and I am someone who had existed since the time the world was completely covered in black ash. Of course, I would remember.”
“You must be mistaken. That is a person in a book’s appearance.”
Sungchul spoke with resolution as he savored his tea. Adelwight took in Sungchul’s attitude before speaking audibly under her breath.
“It could be a book that believes she’s a human.”
“So who owns such a book?”
Sungchul’s voice was full of emotion which was rare to see.
I remember it being 5 years ago. Some fresh-faced adventurer. A Summoned like yourself. Well, you know full well that it is my hobby to invite promising Summoneds.”
“Regretfully, I heard that he died three years ago exploring some ruins. He wasn’t as strong as you.”
“It was burned away. I regret it a bit. If I had known that was going to happen, I would have stolen it or bought it so I could tear into it myself.”
“… Your story doesn’t seem very credible.”
“I’m just sharing what I know. Anyways, how about some fortune-telling while you’re here?”
Adelwight could see that Sungchul was visibly uncomfortable and changed topics.
Adelwight herself might claim herself to be an ordinary witch, but kings and lords knew full well that the true strength of Adelwight, the Witch of the Forest, lay not in her curse nor magic power, but her ability to see the future. She could truly gaze into the future through an item that has been with the person in question. And although some might say that it is too abstract with nothing concrete to say for sure, her predictions, composed of bits and pieces of memory, were incredibly accurate.
She predicted the fall of the Kingdom of Ruteginea and Sungchul’s desertion of the World Parliament. Sungchul didn’t normally believe in fortunes, but he had a certain degree of faith in Adelwight’s abilities. He didn’t have to bind himself to her fortune telling, but it could be a useful reference in how to navigate going forward.
“How long will it take?”
“A week? Maybe even a month if it takes a while.”
“That’s much too long.”
“I’ll open a door to the Fae World. Say hi to that kid since you’re here. You should know full well how dangerous what you’re trying to do is, right?”
Sungchul nodded and pulled out Fal Garaz from his Soul Storage.
“I’ll entrust this to you.”