“Your face has changed a lot. It makes sense why so many people were unable to recognize you.”
Horneko walked up to Sungchul with his cane before stopping to bow his head in greeting.
“It’s been a while, former Imperial Commander in Chief.”
It was a respectful but an unsubmissive greeting that gave off a distinct dignified refinement unique to the most successful of merchants.
And in contrast, Sungchul only stared quietly without reacting to Horneko’s greeting in any way. In fact, he only made a statement filled with needles.
“I’ve received your hospitality very well in Airfruit.”
Sungchul had been ambushed by an assassin from the Assassin’s Guild who were hired by the Allied Merchant’s Coalition. Of course, they were mostly taken care of by Sungchul’s wrath. But the important truth was that the Merchant’s Coalition had attacked Sungchul.
Horneko didn’t react to Sungchul’s subtle rage and replied nonchalantly.
“For me as well, I’ve well received your warm welcome through the incident at the Bottomless Vault. Thanks to it, the Merchant’s Coalition was almost shaken down to its roots.”
It was a lazily spoken wreply carrying not an ounce of aggression, but it was a weighty statement that emphasized Sungchul’s role in causing what had happened.
Sungchul had no desire to be engaging in word play with Horneko.
“I have nothing to say to you, nor do I feel the need to. For I have come here simply to inform the kings of crowns of what will be taking place in the future.”
Sungchul took out Fal Garaz as he said what he had to say. Horneko remained still but his subordinates visible past the door pulled out their weapons and looked wary.
But before the tension in the room could suffocate everyone in the room, an unexpected event took place.
The King of Nimpas, who had been silenced by the appearance of his queen, lost his mind upon the appearance of the Fal Garaz.
“Ooh. Fal Garaz’s allure remains undiminished no matter how many times I see it. It’s amazing to think that such a thing destroyed the head of the famed Demon King, Hesthnius Max.”
His unexpected utterance completely fizzed away any tension that might have been brewing in the room, and the queen who had been standing next to Horneko made a look of extreme disdain as she let out a sigh.
Anyway, King Deheter’s words naturally led to unexpected changes in the situation. The first one to react to the change of flow was Horneko.
“The reason why I have come to see you isn’t to bring up the past to blame.”
Sungchul put the Fal Garaz away to look at Horneko once he heard this. Horneko continued to speak.
“In fact, I wish to offer you a deal as a merchant.”
Horneko made a big smile upon Sungchul’s question and nodded in response.
“I am thinking of a deal that could be mutually beneficial.”
Horneko took out a document from his clothes as he spoke and offered it to Sungchul.
This was the blacklist of the Allied Merchant’s Coalition. Horneko was planning on erasing Sungchul’s name who took the spot at the top, and of all things, using the authority of his position as the Chairman.
“We do not possess anything that can compare to your might. But in spite of that, I am absolutely certain, that we the Allied Merchant’s Coalition can provide everything you will come to require.”
It was an unexpected offer.
A completely unexpected situation was taking place. And Sungchul was someone who thrived in the maelstrom of chaos.
‘This isn’t a contract I am compelled to accept.’
But there was also no need to remain so hard headed.
Now that the World Parliament was all but destroyed, the question of past allies or foe was no longer meaningful. Use any means available. The time granted by the Calamity was not long after all.
Sungchul made up his mind and replied to Horneko.
“For a moment, please give me time to think.”
The form fate could take was very diverse.
An inseparable friends could begin a feud over a small gain until they oneday become irreconcilable nemesis. Or, Former enemies who were locked in vicious battles could put aside their differences to work together for a common goal.
Former Airfruit Magic Academy’s professor of the School of Cosmomancy, Altugius Xero.
He was looking at an unexpected character with his faded eyes that still had brilliance left within them.
“Fate can be quite whimsical.”
How could he possibly forget that man? It was the man who had turned half of his daughter’s, his only reason for living, face into a hideous shriveled up corpse.
The man standing with the moon to his back took off his bandana and gave a bitter smile.
The man who was missing an arm had the name Kaz Almeria. He was the eldest son of what used to be one of the top four assassin clans of the Assassin’s Guild.
But his clan and his reputation was lost like his arm, leading him to live a wretched aimless and directionless life, like some buey lost at sea. Carried by the currents of the time, he found himself at the edge.
“I can’t believe you of all people, you who I hold the strongest grudge against, would become my master.”
Kaz Almeira stated bitterly before using his one remaining arm to bring a cigarette to his nose to inhale its intense scent deeply. Kaz inhaled the rest of the cigarette as Altugius watched on with a terrifying expression before discarding the remaining bud on the ground and making a forlorn smile.
“But this too is my but a part of my destiny. Rather than die a miserable death without even being able to dream of revenge, it’s far better to die in the embrace of a sliver of hope to a man who knew of my glorious past.”
Kaz Almeira’s left hand undid the straps to his armor.
“Kill or let live, do as you please.”
A thick sigh escaped his lips. Altugius could smell not only the foul smell of the cigarette from Kaz’s breath, but also the putrid smell of rotting intestines.
‘Did he administer some cheap narcotics to himself? His body has broken down beyond the point of no return.’
Kaz’s expression had become so feeble and sunken that it was difficult to find the cruelty and alertness that used to be present in his days as an assassin.
As Altugius began to calm down from his anger, signs of things being beyond salvation began to come to view.
But even so, he hesitated until the end, for Altugius’s wrath towards Kaz Almeira was deep and heavy. Kaz was the man who had taken away half of his granddaughter’s face after all, the granddaughter whose life he valued above his own. It was because of him that Sarasa Xero was cursed to forever wear a strange silver mask to cover half of her face.
Altugius grinded his teeth.
Cold winds of the late winter came blowing from the west that was beginning to be cast under the shadow of the dusk.
Twilight passed and the darkness dominated the land. Constellations that were concealed by the light of day began to reveal themselves one by one in the sky above.
The time to make a decision had come.
Altugius glared at Kaz who was looking away and seemingly at peace with himself.
Altugius pointed his staff at Kaz. And soon, geometric magic formations appeared all over Altugius and his staff. The pinnacle of the magic school of Cosmomancy, Primordial Light, was being evoked.
Kaz closed both of his eyes. He looked ready to accept his death.
It was just when Altugius was finishing up his incantation and was about to deliver the execution. A face came to Altugius’s mind. This made Altugius tremble and hesitate.
The Founder and leader of the Order of Extinction, Fritz Schnellmerker.
The sudden recollection of this man’s face stayed Altugius’s hands and stopped the execution. Schellmerker was a benefactor who had extended his hands towards Sarasa and Altugius after they had left Airfruit and wandered the wilderness aimlessly. He was younger than Altugius by a great deal, but Schnellmerker was able to see things that Altugius could not from his pedestal in the school.
There was something he said habitually.
“Those who wish to move towards a new era must be prepared to cast aside everything from the past. External things like wealth, position, and reputation goes without saying, but also emotions and feelings like an old grudge.”
Once Altugius’s thoughts reached this far, he began to think this situation before him might have been a test Schnellmerker had set up for him.
‘If it’s that man, this is definitely possible. It’s possible that he had thrown Kaz Almeira my way as bait to test my resolve.’
The magic formations that had entirely covered his body and the staff dissipated one by one.
The elderly former professor wearing black robes of the Order of Extinction felt the mana that had been circling viciously return back to his body as he lifted his bag and turned away from Kaz.
He chose mercy.
“You’re not going to kill me?”
Kaz opened his eyes wide in surprise and asked.
“…You are a valuable volunteer sent by the Order. How could I kill someone so whimsically because of my personal and petty grudges?”
He replied as calmly as he could, but his ingrained hotbloodedness couldn’t be perfectly concealed so his voice was trembling unnaturally. But Kaz, who had lived a crippled life, was losing touch with human interaction and was unable to detect the subtle tremble.
“Does that mean you will take me in?”
There was unconcealable joy swimming in Kaz’s eyes.
It was unsatisfying but nothing could be done.
To escape from the whispers of hatred bubbling up from deep in his heart, Altugius consciously chose to think about something else. And the topic he chose was on the subject of Kaz Almeira.
Altugius does not know what kind of life Kaz had lived upon his defeat to Sungchul and the loss of his arm. But without a doubt, there was something that was undeniably true.
That Kaz Almeira was trying to accomplish something, even by sacrificing his own life if needed.
“You are the heir of a high ranking clan within the Assassin’s guild. So for what reason have you volunteered to join the crusade?”
His question rekindled the flames of wrath and hatred that was hiding deep within Kaz’s unfocused eyes.
“Just as you and your family despise me, I too have someone I deeply resent and loath. But he’s far too powerful. So powerful even uttering the word revenge is unthinkable”
Altugius knew who Kaz was talking about. That man was difficult to describe other than to say he was a perplexing individual. Altugius still vividly remembered the sight of him sitting in the halls of the School of Cosmomancy, where even the smallest sound became amplified, reading and trying to understand incomprehensible books for hours on end.
‘Enemy of the World, Sungchul Kim’
The assassin continued to speak.
“Sir, you don’t know what it is like. The despair from having an enemy you can’t even think of retaliating against.”
Altugius watched as the flames of hatred in Kaz Almeira’s eyes slowly transform into that of madness.
Kaz spoke with a completely different tone.
“But I have heard that the Order of Extinction has a way. A way for me to dream of one day taking revenge against that accursed man who murdered my whole family and destroyed our clan.”
Altugius realized now that the desire for vengeance, the grudge he had against Kaz was nowhere near what Kaz had for Sungchul.
If Altugius’s grudge was only on a level of making decision whether he should act on his impulse or not, Kaz Almeira’s grudge was now his one and only reason for living.
‘He’ll be a good material.’
Altugius thoroughly realized that he had made the right choice.
He held out a document for Kaz.
“This will realize your desire.”
Kaz gingerly accepted the document spilling out malicious energies. An unconcealable grin seeped in madness took form on Kaz’s lips.
“This… with this… revenge becomes possible.”
“Time available to you is only one minute. If you cannot finish everything within that minute, your life will have withered away for nothing.”
“You don’t need to worry about that, Bishop of Illeboro. Assassination is an art that blossoms in split second after all.”
Life returned to Kaz’s eyes and the sharp gaze and expressions from his days as an assassin was beginning to come back. It didn’t take long for Kaz to ask a question with his eyes bursting with frigid cold blooded.
“But is this really okay? The target is your messiah.”
Altugius closed his eyes tight at Kaz’s question before reopening his eyes to reply in an emotionless voice.
“…There’s an alternative.”
Altugius turned around only leaving those words and disappeared into the darkness with the other members of the cult as if melting into it.
Altugius’s faint voice came from the darkness like a wave and dispersed.
“I’ll send someone soon. Until then, do not do anything rash.”
Kaz, who was left alone in the wild with the unholy scroll in his hand, looked up at the sky.
There was a particularly reddish star illuminating the night sky.
The Assassin’s Star.
The patron star of the Assassins ironically lit up the brightest during the spring when most lives are born.