Clarice was fairly popular. Unlike when she was singing for the nobles of Panchuria, she had devoted fans and a highly receptive audience. Sungchul went backstage after the performance. A stage worker stopped him but Sungchul revealed his identity and was granted access. Inside the waiting room were numerous actors and singers reviewing their script, tuning their instruments, or getting makeup. Instead of seeking out Clarice right away, Sungchul chose to bribe one of the workers.
“I have become a big fan of that woman who performed tonight and have decided to become a patron. But before I become an official sponsor, I would like to briefly speak with her somewhere quiet. Would that be possible?”
One gold coin makes almost anything possible. The worker made a big smile and gladly carried out Sungchul’s will.
“Please head out that emergency exit and wait under a shade. I’ll escort your canary to you.”
Sungchul waited for Clarice to come out at the back of the theater. And Clarice soon made her appearance from the emergency exit.
Perhaps because her performance was over, she had changed out of the fancy stage outfit into her everyday clothes. This look was more familiar to Sungchul. She soon found Sungchul, so she walked up to him and gave a small bow and introduced herself in a clear voice.
“I’ve heard that you’ve called for me? I am the new singer Clarice.”
There was a hint of hope laced in her voice. But on the otherhand, it also revealed a bit of caution. It was because those who offer to become a sponsor behind the theater may be doing out of genuine desire to contribute, but it was far more often that their motivations were less than admirable. This kind of request for secret meetings was a frequent event for someone with the level of beauty that Clarice possesses. Clarice had a bad premonition when she saw Sungchul hidden under a shade in the night.
‘Another man. Judging by his unsavory atmosphere, I feel like he’s another one who might try to ask for my hand in marriage.’
If it really were to be that sort of a request, she would refuse flat out. Clarice made up her mind and waited for her patron to speak. The unfamiliar man silently stared at Clarice for a moment before suddenly removing the bandana from his face. Clarice tensed up because it was not something she was expecting. But what happened next was far beyond her wildest expectation.
“Do you remember me?”
It was Sungchul.
Clarice face instantly froze up. Sungchul preemptively covered her mouth to prevent her from screaming.
“Do not yell. I have not come with malicious intent.”
Clarice was a strong woman and resisted for a good while. But no matter how strong she was, her opponent was the Enemy of the World. It wasn’t until Clarice became exhausted to the point she fell back against the wall and slid to the ground that her resistance persisted.
“What a ferocious woman. I only wanted to ask you a few questions, and you make such a fit like this.”
“Ugh…ugh… go away. You… Demon…”
Clarice no longer had enough energy to even shout. But her eyes changed light when he took out the cure of all ailments, the gold coin.
“You… are you trying to bribe me with just that? Dont… make me laugh.”
This prompted Sungchul to take out a whole sack full of gold coins. Clarice’s eyes grew wide.
“If you answer a few questions, I’ll hand over these without any strings attached.”
Clarice jumped up to her feet. Sungchul thought to himself when he saw that.
‘She must have been through quite a rough time.’
It was then that the door to the emergency exit opened slightly. Sungchul immediately knew that one of the theater employee was looking their way through the gap in the door.
‘Did the rumor reach that woman already? I’ll have to be quick.’
Sungchul immediately threw a few questions at Clarice.
Why she came here, where she had stayed, etc. Questions that were strictly ordinary.
Clarice made a look as if she found his questions unexpected, but she slowly began to retell her story.
“On the night of the new years, an airship fell on the factory where I worked and destroyed it. My place of employment was gone overnight. But what was there for me to do who has no skill other than singing? We were struggling to get by as we watched our money dwindle away when my grandfather brought home the news of Ixion.”
Clarice’s grandfather, Kruut Assam, caught news that was spreading quickly throughout the back streets of La Grange of a new settlement.
Heaven on earth, Ixion. A paradise where everyone can be happy.
Once the lives of the commoners became very difficult following the disaster of the La Grange, mysterious individuals calling themselves Missionaries of Happiness of Ixion began to roam among the people and spread the word of the earthly paradise and sold tickets to move there.
Clarice’s family gathered all their remaining money to purchase a ticket to head to Ixion. Surprisingly, the door leading to Ixion was located deep within La Grange.
“Sounds like they had set up a dimensional gate.”
Clarice nodded in confirmation.
“It was really unbelievable. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a dimensional gate linking the capital city of the empire to a city ruled by the Seven Heroes who are supposed to be the enemies of the empire. Well, thanks to it, we were able to arrive comfortably.”
According to Clarice, countless individuals should be constantly arriving in Ixion even now. The livelihood of the commoners of La Grange were all but destroyed in the new years eve, and the imperial government that was already struggling with the care of refugees had no realistic way to provide a solution to the crisis.
“Ah, and now I live outside of the city.”
Clarice finished by pointing in the direction of her home.
“It’s a small settlement located just outside the castle walls. Mages are immediately granted citizenship, but ordinary people like me are required to undergo a rigorous examination before I can move in the city to live.”
Clarice shook the bag of gold coins Sungchul handed over and made a small smile.
“But who knows? Things might change if I have this!”
There was a sound of a fake cough coming from the emergency exit. It seemed as though the stage worker did not wish for the conversation to drag on. Sungchul bid his farewell.
“… I hope we never meet again.”
Clarice glared at Sungchul and replied in a half joking and half serious voice.
Sungchul left after saying his unfriendly good bye. The sound of Clarice squabbling with the stage worker was carried by the wind to Sungchul’s ears. But there was no reason to pay attention to such a trivial issue. Clarice’s story already gave Sungchul a great many question.
‘Vestiare. For what reason is she gathering people into this place?’
He couldn’t imagine that it was for a good reason. Even though she was currently carrying out the role of a benevolent caretaker of the city, her underlying nature was that of the Calamity itself.
There was no telling what kind of hidden plot may be hiding under the surface. Sungchul thought to himself that he ought to check out the settlement that Clarice said she lived in as he headed back towards the Verdure Greenhouse. Waiting in front of Verdure Greenhouse was McRaed.
“I heard you personally met with a girl named Clarice?”
McRaed’s expression and body language was sinister. As Sungchul gazed upon her poisonous serpent-like eyes, he couldn’t help but recall her critical flaw he had forgotten about.
‘This woman. She had an extraordinary jealousy.’
To be precise, she had a strong desire to monopolize. LIke a child with intense selfishness, McRaed desired to control all. It was one of the things that repulsed Sungchul in the first place. Either way, resolving the misunderstanding right away could endanger Clarice’s life. Although it was an unexpected situation, McRaed was someone who was more than likely to harass and more. Sungchul calmly explained to McRaed who was enraged.
“She was someone I’ve met in Panchuria. I’ve also been on an expedition into the jungle with her grandfather Kruut Assam. I’ve exchanged words with her out of sentimentality so I hope you don’t have any misunderstanding.”
“Ask them yourself if you’re curious.”
“I will ask. Even if you don’t want me to.”
McRaed muttered something inaudible to herself as she left. Once she was gone, Bertelgia emerged from Sungchul’s pocket while shivering.
“What the heck is with that woman? Really… it’s so unbecoming of her.”
“Even though she is like that, she was once the princess of these lands.”
“What’s the point of being a princess? She is doing something so shameless and spineless. She has no pride. I wouldn’t have cared if it was me.”
This was the word of the self proclaimed Queen Bee.
Sungchul made a bitter smile as he returned to his room. An unexpected event was awaiting him in the room.
“Allow me to go outside.”
Marakia was rubbing his belly after having eaten not only the meat but also all of the nuts that he had complained were unappetizing as he brazenly made his demand.
“Allow you to go outside, what is the meaning of this?”
Marakia’s eyes sparkled and he answered in an indecipherable tone upon being asked by Sungchul.
“I desire a drink of fresh human blood.”
“Do you want to return back into an egg?”
“Tis a joke. Avians also joke sometimes. How is it? Nahak’s joke in a completely different dimension? Is it not rolling-on-the-floor funny?”
The atmosphere in the room froze. Marakia was known to be good at everything, but even he had a flaw. He could not read the atmosphere.
“Is it not funny? Was it not good?”
Bertelgia grumbled within Sungchul’s pocket.
“Hmm? What is this? This living book? How dare a mere living book desecrate the words of the Final King? No matter how you…”
Sungchul gripped Marakia by his throat and lifted him up. Marakia who was small enough to fit inside of his palms immediately shut his beak tight.
Sungchul book out Bertelgia as he held Marakia up.
Then, he spoke.
“This here is Bertelgia. Of those who follow me, she has the highest rank.”
Marakia’s iris shrunk instantly.
Sungchul gave a piercing stare at Marakia as he continued in a calm voice.
“Do not forget. Bertelgia is number one in rank, followed by you.”
Marakia was about to immediately argue back but he felt the god-like strength rippling through Sungchul’s grip and closed his beaks again.
“Do you understand Marakia? No matter how high you stood in society, or how good of a university you graduated from, it doesn’t matter. This is the army… I mean my domain.”
Sungchul unintentionally spoke like a superior officer addressing subordinates from his military days and was reminded of the frightening power of habit.
‘I can’t believe I would say something that I’ve said over twenty years ago.’
Although it was difficult to imagine now, he was once called Ensign Sergeant Kim. Either way, thanks to his undiminished capacity to convey his will, he was successful in getting Marakia to understand both his current circumstance and social standing.
“I… I… The king of the last age like I am not as worthy as a book like this…!”
“What do you mean by a book? How insolent! You shall refer to me as Bertelgia Nim!”
Bertelgia who had been silent and suppressed by Marakia’s dignified presence transformed suddenly into Lu Bu when Sungchul made clear their standing.
*TL note: Lu Bu is the most famous warrior in chinese history, during the Three Kingdoms period as described in the book Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
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