Though the Calamity cast a thick cloud of war over the entirety of the continent, such a story seemed like a tale from a different world in Aege Harbor.
The streets were bustling with people, and lively merchants were shouting loudly from their stalls, selling foreign goods purchased from all over the continent.
Not a hint of the fear of Calamity or war could not be found in any of these people’s faces. In fact, for these people, even those things might be considered an opportunity.
Long has it been that money was held at the highest regard over all other matters by the people of Aege.
From the richest merchants to the servants at the bottom of the barrel, those who gathered at the Allied Merchant Coalition’s stock exchange was the most representative example of the nature of the people gathered in Aege.
“When is the war going to start?”
“Don’t be so impatient, it’s going to happen sooner than later. Don’t blow all your money on girls and save up some cash.”
As they passed by the infamous stock exchange, Sungchul could hear the conversation between two stock brokers who were drinking during the day.
“Which stock should I buy once the war starts?”
“What’s the point of buying after the war starts? You need to buy them ahead of time to mean anything.”
Sungchul saw these people, impatient for potentially devastating and bloody war to start for no reason other than that it was an opportunity to make money, and thought to himself:
‘Aege hasn’t changed at all.’
Once the carriage was past the stock exchange, it entered one of the back alleys of Aege. The back alleyways of the Aege were where the Merchant Coalition was selling all sorts of monsters, cursed items, slaves of all different kinds, and recreational drugs that was otherwise banned in most other countries.
Sungchul looked over at the slaves brought from the Summoning Palace by the slavers without a particular emotion.
“Hmm. It’s a bit upsetting.”
Bertelgia muttered quietly. But it couldn’t be helped.
They themselves were the ones who decided to become a slave rather than die in the Summoning Palace.
But on the other hand, it raised a question.
‘Summoning Palace. Was that really created by God?’
He wouldn’t have even thought this was a point of contest in the past. But he had witnessed with his own eyes the Tower of Recluse, another building supposedly built by the divine power of God, crack and crumble.
It was possible that even the Summoning Palace, believed to have been created by the God of Neutrality and mediation, had nothing to do with the God beyond the stairs.
Although there were no plans to go back there, Sungchul wanted to go and check for himself should an opportunity arise. To find out what kind of place was the Summoning Palace that had brought him into this world.
While Sungchul was lost in these thoughts, the Carriage brought him to the most secluded and hidden place in Aege Harbor.
It was a rectangular empty lot blocked on all sides by walls of buildings.
Sungchul felt intense malice that seemed to stab at him from all sides. He soon discovered a large number of suspicious characters surround the carriage with the intent to attack.
But they wouldn’t dared to do this against the Enemy of the World.
Derha’s voice could be heard from the front.
“You don’t need to worry. They are guards of my maternal grandfather.”
Sungchul parroted her.
“Yes. The one called Grandpa Fence is my maternal grandfather.”
Horneko and Derha. Derha and Grandpa Fense.
All of them were blood relatives.
It wasn’t all that surprising, however. The world of merchants highly valued one’s bloodline the further one rose in ranks.
Even though lowly small time merchant often betrayed even their siblings, nothing was more reliable as an ally for a merchant than blood relatives once a certain threshold of wealth was accumulated.
Although authority could not be shared, influence in the merchant’s world came from money, and money was more powerful the more it was gathered.
For a gathering like that, a fight within the family was likely to lead to the ruin of the entire clan.
And the family in this case was none other than the Horneko clan that rose to the very top of the Allied Merchant’s Coalition.
Sungchul put his thoughts aside and asked a question towards the driver seat of the carriage.
“What is the name of your grandfather?”
Derha answered as brightly as always to Sungchul’s question.
“The name of my grand father is hmm, I guess it’s difficult to just say it out loud. He’s such a secretive person. But I know that in the past he used to be called by a nickname, One eyed Grizzly.”
“One eyed Grizzly you say.”
Sungchul knew of this name. It was the name of the former viceroy of Aege Harbor during the days of the Kingdom of Ruteginea.
‘So Horneko was his son in law.’
While Sungchul was lost in thought, Derha hopped off the carriage and opened the door to the passanger seats herself and murmured to him.
“If father is in charge of dealing with all permitted goods, my maternal grandfather is in charge of goods that cannot be sold otherwise.”
Sungchul left Deheter and Derha on the surface and followed a gloomy man down to the base of the merchant king of the back alleys.
Soon, Sungchul came across an individual at the end of seemingly endless spiral stairs that penetrated deep into the earth.
One eyed Grizzly.
Although he was called by a friendly name Grandpa Fence, his true identity was that of the viceroy of the dark alleys. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the reason why Horneko was able to rise to the top of the merchant’s world and claim the position of Viceroy was half in part of his father-in-law.
Two meters tall, skin and bones like a corpse, an elderly one eyed man. A faint light from a torch made of gold shimmered, whose dance in the dark gave quite the eerie atmosphere along with the old man’s peculiar appearance and demeanor.
“Welcome, Enemy of the World. I have heard everything from my granddaughter. Please come in.”
The Grandpa Fence spoke with a piercing metallic voice that was as distinct as his appearance.
He led Sungchul to a small room without so much as a guard.
It was a simplistic , minimalistic room with only a table and a pair of chairs on either side. The torches hung on either side was partially covered by the decorations of the holder, illuminating only the center of the table in the room.
The purpose of such arrangement was simple. Sungchul could not so much as see the old man’s silhouette in the curtain of darkness. The same was likely true for the old man as well.
“Quite the odd room.”
Sungchul commented. His voice was drenched in blatant discontent. It was intentional, as Sungchul had no inclination to show any respect to this mysterious merchant.
To begin with, he was a victim of this merchant’s scams for one.
Leaving his words to hang in the air, he took out a box and placed it on the table and glared at the old man as he urged the old man.
“For now, I would like for you to explain to me what this is.”
The box opened up and within were a pile of useless Letters of Gods.
Something flicked in the darkness.
The golden artificial eye of the old man must have caught the light of the torch and reflected it.
“Ah, this. These are items Derha had begged for and took with her before. I quickly looked through the storage room because she said she was in a hurry to get her hands on Letters of Gods. I take it you didn’t like them?”
“If you know who I am, I would suggest starting with the conclusion.”
Sungchul replied in a calm but intensely intimidating tone of voice. There was another flicker in the darkness. Soon, there was a metallic sigh before the old man’s voice could be heard again.
“These are goods that were returned by Ruteginea in the past.”
“I do not know if you are aware, but the Idle Fool King passionately collected the Letters of Gods. I was viceroy of Aege, so I’ve sent people around the world to collect the Letters of Gods to submit to the king. The Kingdom of Ruteginea used to buy them all without question, but a self proclaimed appraiser appeared from the Kingdom.”
“Appraiser you say.”
Sungchul couldn’t hold back his surprise. A small light was lit on the other side of the table. It was a lit match. There was soon a spicy smoke wafting from afar.
The One eyed Grizzly said simply.
Sungchul felt he knew who that might be. Just the thought of it brought up a face in his mind that disquieted his heart.
“The Princess of Ruteginea, Ryze Hymerr.”
A faint shadow fell upon Sungchul’s face.
The old man continued.
“After that impudent young one began to work as the kingdom’s appraiser, the revenue we used to get from the Letters of God was cut in half. One day, that woman enlisted the help of the soldiers of Ruteginea to take one of my eyes and told me this. If I try to sell one more of those trash, she will take the remaining eye and shove a receipt in there.”
Deep hatred towards Ryze Hymerr was blatantly flooding from the Grizzly’s voice.
Sungchul did not express any opinions. Now that he had kept his promise, she was no longer relevant to him any longer.
“Anyway, the items sent to you, those were returned by the Princess of Ruteginea… no, she’s no princess. The items the adopted daughter of the Wandering King returned along with violence and threats. But here is where I am curious.”
Another flicker in the darkness.
“Do you also have the Lector skill?”
Sungchul nodded. But there was no way his head movement in such a dark room could convey his intentions. After a brief silence, Sungchul followed up with words.
“That is the case.”
“As I thought, the resolver of Calamity is extraordinary. Unlike those who decipher the Letters of God by relying on their bloodline alone.”
“Those you say.”
Sungchul remembered a tale told by the snake of wisdom, Oroboros, from his visit to the Transcendent World.
According to the Snake of Wisdom, there was a group of those who possessed the Lector skill.
Ryze Hymerr was suspected to be a part of this group, but there was no proof to that effect.
But for just a moment, Grizzly used the term, those. It meant there was something he knew.
Sungchul did not miss this opportunity.
“Do you know anything about them?”
A question without hesitation rang in the room.
The old man replied nonchalantly.
“They are a minor tribe that lived high up in the mountains since the ancient times. They called themselves the servants of the snake of Wisdom, the White Snake Clan.”
“ White Snake Clan…”
He had never heard of this group before. It goes without saying there was no entry about this in the Ant Wiki.
‘It has so many unnecessary details on the most trivial of things there, but not a one important vital information to be found.’
Sungchul continued to listen to the old man speak.
“According to people who lived in the area, they were a small clan, but had the protection of a Lesser God. They possessed so much power that no other clans, not even dragons, could invade them and win. But they were wiped out overnight.”
“Kromgard’s doing, I see.”
“Ruteginea’s mage battalion set up camp in the Primordial Mountains and bombarded the clan for seven days and nights without a rest. Half of previously lush forest was burnt down as a result of such bombing. Anyway, it seems as though our appraiser was a survivor of that clan.”
“Is there something you know?”
It bothered him that, merchant king of the back alleys or not, the old man had information that Sungchul did not.
A completely different, enthusiastic voice came from the old man across the table.
He wanted to trade.
“Isn’t that too pricy for just information?”
He knew that the old man was going to reveal his merchant’s nature, but the old man cut off the story in an unexpected spot and made an offer for a deal. The ability to catch others off guard was a skill permitted only to experienced and old merchants.
‘He’s no pushover, this old man’s sense as a merchant.’
“The story I told you so far was information that is rightfully worth three boxes at least. And, either way, the wealth you hold were unearned anyway, right?”
The old man countered Sungchul’s resistance with a slow voice. He was pointint out the fact that all the gold and jewels Sungchul possessed were originally from the Bottomless Vault.
That being said, it was incredibly daring to act so boldly before the world famous Sungchul Kim.
Sungchul took out Fal Garaz.
But the old man’s voice didn’t change and in fact taunted Sungchul.
“I don’t have much to live anyway.”
“In fact, this is quite the nice stimulation. For an old man like me who spends each day waiting to die.”
Sungchul couldn’t help but think:
‘What a deviant.’
The old man seemed that way since the moment Sungchul saw his golden false eye.
Although it would be possible to make him speak if he took time and attention to applying pain, but it would be easier just to pay him and have it done.
Not only did Bertelgia not like such a method, Sungchul also didn’t want to cause trouble anyhow.
Meanwhile, as if reading subtle changes in Sungchul’s emotions, the old man took out a bag from below the table and placed it on the table.
The bag was filled with lots of warn out Letters of Gods.
“I may as well turn this over to you meanwhile.”
Sungchul didn’t find them particularly valuable.
After he stared at them without much interest, a hand full of black moles made an appearance on the table.
That hand searched through the bag before taking out a Letter of God wrapped in red string and placed it where it was visible.
“According to an appraiser on our end, the ones marked by red strings like this are the ones that are valuable. Although we no longer have a buyer and the appraiser died so it has become a dead asset!”
A characteristically lively voice of a merchant came from the old man.
Sungchul, for better or for worse, decided there was nothing to lose so he opened the Letter of God wrapped in red string to give it a quick check.
From within the familiar overwhelming sensation, words began to cover his vision.
[Records of the Lesser God Sigurea]
[This record was created to let known the deeds of the traitors who have betrayed Gods will, for the mortals of later generations…]
Sungchul stopped reading at the part where the words crossed over into the darkness.
‘This is real.’
Sungchul couldn’t contain his surprise.
“How is it?”
Grizzly asked in a peaceful tone.
Sungchul remembered that this old man was once one of the best merchants in the world and let a grin appear on his face.
‘These businesss men.’
Sungchul immediately began to place boxes filled with the unmarked coins of the Bottomless Vault onto the table.
By the time the third box was placed, the weak legs of the table began to waver.
Sungchul placed the last two boxes on the ground before opening his mouth.
“Are you satisfied with these?”
“Hmm. That should be sufficient in hiring mercenaries and assassins for my son in law.”
“It’s my son in law’s thought. He predicted that you who could not use all that money for so long would gladly give away large sums of it without regret once you have a chance. Though neither one of us could have predicted that the cause would be for Letters of God. But it’s great. Thanks to the Enemy of the World, we were able to get rid of dead assets.”
The chair being moved back could be heard from the other side.
The old man must have stood up.
“Please follow me. I’ll show you the information you have purchased alongside the dead assets.”
The old man left the dark room to a slightly less dark but still dim hallway. He walked with a slow gait. Though his steps were not fast, his long legs caused the old man to move rather quickly.
The old man and Sungchul soon arrived before a wooden door.
Sungchul could detect disquieting energy emanating from beyond the door. The uncomfortable stench of rotting flesh faintly registered in his nose. The old man took out a handkerchief and tilted his head.
“It’s going to be a bit gruesome. Well, it wouldn’t be bad enough to surprise the steel heart of the Commander in Chief though.”
The old man opened the doors.
Just wanted to let y’all know we released MHK Book 2 audiobook on Audible few weeks ago. So do check it out:)