Sungchul’s foot stopped. Ahmuge continued to speak to his back.
“You know what the next rank match ruleset will be, right?”
The next ruleset was the cross-plaza battle rule. It was simple. 30 fighters would be chosen from each plaza, and the plaza with the most fighters remaining after the battle would be declared as the winner. The only unique aspect of the cross-plaza battle was that forfeits and draws were still accepted, and there were also penalties.
Some might say that it was a disfavorable ruleset as the majority of the people would not really receive any benefits, but these rules still allowed people to keep their precious lives through forfeit. It was the reason that many considered the Cross-plaza battle the most relaxed of all the rank matches, but for the participants, this wasn’t really the case.
Currently 6 ~700 summoned were still alive in the Blanche plaza. Of those, only 30 would be given a chance to fight as the representative of their plaza in the arena. The rest were forced to participate in a betting game with their lives on the line.
The ‘guess the winner 30 times in a row or die’ game.
From the day Summoning Palace was established, not a single person has been able to get out alive of this mini-game. In other words, survival depended entirely on making to the top 30 through the hellish qualifier rounds.
“…It is regarding the upcoming Captain Match.”
She said after a brief moment of silence.
“I do believe that we have already joined hands, but I just want to confirm whether the feeling was mutual.”
No one was trustworthy in Otherworld. It would be extremely naive for her to take a generous meal as a sign of good faith. This was a world where today’s friends could turn out to be tomorrow’s enemy. It was better to be even more wary of a formidable ally than of a formidable enemy.
Ahmuge’s first impression was that Sungchul was quite average. He looked like a person with no defining characteristics. His swordsmanship was average, and neither his speed nor strength was anything to brag about. However, as time passed, she started to feel that there might be some sort of overwhelming strength hidden within him.
Like during the Tam Tam match and during the werewolf incident. He strangely enough, got past each problem by a slim margin, each problem had still been thoroughly solved. He had even managed to kill the werewolf Ahram on his own and managed to erase the Path of Sajators mission by completing it. The only person who could ever manage to make her feel wary would be this ‘average person’.
‘No one had solved the Path of Seven Heroes which had been left at the Summoning Palace even after thousands of years. But this person got through in just 2 hours.’
The missions of the Seven Heroes was well known to be impossible to solve regardless of the amount of training and preparation that went in beforehand. This was because the Path of the Seven Heroes didn’t simply look at the participant’s capabilities but it also looked at their potential. The quest rejected or even killed, people who had merely received their outstanding stats from outside powers.
Sajators was also known to be one of the most excessive of the Seven Heroes. For that man to have solved Sajators’s mission within two hours, would mean either one of two things: his talent was outstanding enough to please Sajators, or Sajators himself had taken a liking to him.
‘I don’t know how he managed to complete the mission, but he’s definitely not ordinary. I should avoid making an enemy out of him.’
Ahmuge thought as she revealed her most carefully guarded bargaining chip.
“It isn’t likely, but if I am about to lose my life, I want you to help me. If I manage to survive the cross-plaza battle safely, I will tell you the location of another Path of the Seven Heroes.”
Curiosity lit up in Sungchul’s eyes.
“Another Path of the Seven Heroes? Are you saying there are more Seven Heroes quests around here other than Sajators?”
It was a question that he had already assumed to be the case, but he asked her with an innocent face that managed to fool Ahmuge. She nodded and then began to explain.
“…before the final battle took place, the Seven Heroes gathered at the Summoning Palace and left paths filled with their individual visions. This was so that if they ever failed, they could prepare someone else to carry their burdens for them.”
Sungchul fell into contemplation after hearing her explanation. It was a win-win situation for him. He had no plans of fighting her, and it wouldn’t be easy for a person like her to fall into danger either. It would be unlikely that he would need to step in to fulfill this bargain. It was also a great opportunity for him. He could memorize the faces of the Seven Heroes through their remnants. Which would later make killing them a whole lot easier.
After organizing his thoughts, he raised his head.
He was about to accept when a cold murderous aura approached from nearby.
“Someone is coming.”
It wasn’t a monster. It was the aura of a person.
Sungchul quickly hid within the forest foliage, but Ahmuge felt the presence too late and had to hide her presence right beside Sungchul. When she erased her presence, it caused a big surprise for him.
Her presence disappeared completely, to the extent that he couldn’t feel her even though she was directly next to him. Rather than an acquired skill, this must be a skill she had naturally been born with.
A small group of people revealed themselves beyond the forest. Using a lantern’s light to guide their way was a pathetic group with prosthetic arms and legs and robes made of dog skin. There were 7 of them. There were also disfigured homunculi leashed to dog collars that were crawling along and kicked around by these people.
Sungchul immediately realized who they were.
It was unexpected. The only time slave hunters have ever stepped into the plazas was during the mass summoning in the first week to mark their slaves, but they normally would never enter the plaza otherwise. Well, that was unless they had some special instructions from one of their cruel puppeteers.
“It is over here! Master! There are footprints leading towards the cliff face!”
A homunculus that was missing an arm inspected the floor carefully and began shouting loudly. The slave hunters nodded towards each other and moved towards the direction indicated by the homunculus.
After they left, Sungchul and Ahmuge both came out of hiding.
“What was that about?”
“I’m not sure.”
Sungchul walked over to where the slave hunters had been and stood on his knee to inspect the floor. There were footprints scattered all about, but he distinctly recognized the footprint that the homunculus had found.
It was a familiar footprint. It was Ahmuge’s.
‘So that’s it.’
As predicted, the homunculus had pointed out a footprint that matched her’s. Which meant that for some reason, Ahmuge was being targeted.
Has her identity as a regressor been discovered?’
Regressors were not welcome in these troubled times, the world also wasn’t naive enough to allow them to do as they wished, since they had returned with knowledge of the future. Sungchul was fully aware of how those with powers treated the regressors. They were seen as bags of meat that could tell them about the uncertain future; nothing more; nothing less.
Most would be captured early on and would be tortured until they spat out information about the future, despite the irregularity doing this would cause, before eventually dying. It was very likely that Ahmuge would also share this fate.
“… It would be wise to be careful from here on. They are looking for you.”
This was the most Sungchul could do. He had no desire to help her out and entangle himself with a regressor hunt. The ability to coordinate a regressor hunt indicated that the person behind this had quite the background.
“Curious. Why are they following me? It’s hard to say with my own mouth, but I’m not all that pretty… Don’t worry too much about it. I am confident that I can take care of myself.”
Ahmuge responded lightly as though she was unconcerned. Sungchul simply nodded and headed towards the plaza first.
“Let’s split up here. I’ll return to the plaza first.”
“Ah… regarding what we talked about before…?”
Ahmuge called out to him before he left. Sungchul didn’t stop as he gave his answer.
“Let’s just say I agree to the proposal. I’ll help you during the Captain Match, but I expect you to follow through on your end of the deal.”
Saying that, he hurriedly left the forest.
A small guest was waiting for him at the entrance of the plaza. The guest leaped up into the air when he entered then landed on Sungchul’s shoulder.
It was Krill’s Sky Squirrel.
Sungchul checked the content of the message in the small pouch around the squirrel’s neck.
[I will be waiting at a corner of the outer wall. My little friend will guide you.]
The atmosphere surrounding Krill was different at this second meeting. Krill had felt naive and immature before this, filled with the air of a rookie mage, but the Krill that was waiting beneath the palace walls now had the air of a relatively experienced mage.
“It’s been a while, Mr. Sungchul Kim.”
Rather than a natural leisure coming from the heart, there was an obviously forced leisure surrounding his whole posture.
“….Why did you want to meet?”
Sungchul’s attitude was cold, and Krill laughed lightly as he spoke.
“It’s just that… there’s a small problem. Yes… I need more money. A lot more than usual. The pressure from higher ups is getting stronger. I have to bear it every day now. I swear they’re intending to rob me completely with the way they’ve been pecking away at me.”
Sungchul stared at Krill with passive eyes. Despite Sungchul’s silence, Krill began to scratch his head as though he felt some disdain coming from the gaze.
“Help me one last time. It’ll be over after this.”
“Last, you say?”
“Yes. No matter how much more that person demands, I think this will be the final one. I promise with my name on it.”
Krill thumped his chest lightly with his left fist as to reinforce this promise.
“What value does your name have?”
Sungchul’s response was cold, and Krill’s lips twitched briefly.
It was a brief moment, but there was no way Sungchul would’ve missed it.
‘His head must have grown after all this time.’
After a brief silence, Sungchul pulled out 3 more gems from his possession.
“This is the final one.”
Krill accepted the gems with both his hands in a bow.
“Oh my! 3 of these precious things! I’m ever grateful!”
Krill smiled widely as he tossed over a bracelet.
“Actually, the reason for this meeting was to hand over this thing. It’s too heavy for the little guy to carry.”
It was a worn bracelet made out of brass. Sungchul felt its weight on receiving it; just as Krill had said, it would have been too heavy for the Sky Squirrel to carry.
“What is this?”
Sungchul gripped the bracelet and asked.
“Let’s just call it an entry pass to a guaranteed safe passage into the Summoning Palace.”
“Yes. Yes. I’ll explain again. If you wear this bracelet, you’ll be able to obtain a miraculous victory with no effort through the selection match and also the final match!
It looked like a plain bracelet on the outside. As he appraised it, it appeared to be a plain object with no magical effects to it. Krill put away the three gems and flicked his fingers to call over the pet to his own shoulder.
“Just participate during the selection match wearing this bracelet, and you’ll realize its real value. There might be some sudden circumstances, so don’t panic and simply accept things as they come. There is nothing to gain from standing out!”
Krill deeply bowed once more, put on the robe’s hood, and disappeared into the darkness.
Sungchul silently fiddled with the bracelet, carefully observing it. It looked like an ordinary bracelet, but Sungchul’s Legend rank skill, Truth’s Eye, activated to list off all the information hidden within.
[Bracelet of Alias]
Grade: Rare – Midgrade
Effect: Hides Midgrade Equipment / Bestows Alias
Alias: Ahram Park
Note: Disguises the user with the desired name. However, cannot disguise stats.
Two tricks were at play here.
One was the veil cast over the equipment. Items with equipment veils would not display their item stats by simply looking at them or using them.
Another was the Alias Bestowal. The one wearing the bracelet would be acknowledged with the alias written into the bracelet.
These two tricks were working together to establish Sungchul as Ahram. Sungchul was disappointed. It was such a pathetic and childish method. However, there might be some heinous and despicable plot waiting at the other side of it. So despite what he thought, Sungchul still put on the bracelet without a moment’s hesitation.
“… The only good magician, is a dead magician.”
Krill would never have dreamed that the person he was trying to trick was a man who held the world record for killing the most number of magicians.
Note: A short note on Regressors and Returnees in case a few readers have some confusion.
Returnees are those who in exchange of their skills and accomplishments choose to go back to Earth from Other World, this type has been mentioned in chapter 6 and 8. For example, the person who told Ahram about his identity as Sungtek’s son, was a Returnee as he chose to return to Earth.
Regressors are those who go back in time to the Summoning Palace starting as initiates again with their memory intact, this type has been mentioned in chapter 18 and 22. For example: Ahmuge, as mentioned in this chapter seems to be a Regressor according to Sungchul. This means she might have gone back in time with her memories intact starting again from the Summoning Palace. So she might have knowledge about future events, this is why Regressors get hunted whenever they are found.