He had killed countless of those weaker than him. He had been openly caught five times, but he had too many sins to name. Leonard, who had lived such a life, finally met his match.
He was hung by his feet and exposed to unrelenting violence. Whips and clubs struck every inch of his body, and when he lost consciousness, a blast of cold water shook him awake. His opponent was a complete stranger.
Leonard who was beaten down to a pulp asked himself why he was in such a position. He couldn’t think of an answer despite his best efforts to squeeze out an explanation. Other than a stroke of misfortune, that is.
“Now, shall we begin our story time?”
Kaz opened his mouth with a wicked smile. There were shiny torture tools in his hand in place of the whip, and Leonard who saw that began to thrash about wildly from his incapacitated position.
“When I first saw you, you had quite a handsome face. It pissed me off. So choose one: eyes, nose, mouth, or ear. To give up.”
A single blade lingered in front of Leonard’s eyes. He began to scream something unintelligible and thrashed about once again. Kaz who saw this ridiculous scene started laughing while holding his belly. He gripped Leonard’s right ear, then sliced it off.
A pitiful scream rang out, but there was no one around to help Leonard. A sound barrier cast around the trees prevented his scream from leaking out any further. He was now facing the same final moments that he had forced on those weaker than him in the midst of this complete isolation. However, Kaz pulled out a bandage and stopped Leonard’s bleeding as though he had something in mind.
“Want to live?”
Leonard endured the pain and forced his head to nod.
“If you tell me what I want to hear, I’ll let you live.”
Kaz made a gesture towards Mayra who was sitting underneath the tree watching the scene silently.
“Mayra, lend me that thing.”
Mayra extended her hand without a word. When she did, a colourful insect about the size of a plum crawled out of her sleeve. It was a stink bug shaped like a trapezoid.
Kaz grabbed the bug carefully and tore away Leonard’s shirt revealing his back full of bruises and cuts from the constant beating and whipping. Kaz placed the tail of the bug on his back. The bug’s six legs flailed about as its sharp tail end began to bore itself into Leonard’s back.
Leonard thrashed about violently. The stinkbug was tearing through his flesh and laying its eggs. One. Two. Three. Kaz smiled with satisfaction as he saw ten eggs, then returned the bug to Mayra.
Mayra returned the bug to her sleeve and spoke with a frosty voice.
“Father won’t be pleased if he hears of this. You have to take responsibility.”
“I’ll bear it. Don’t worry. Anyways, don’t you think father’s methods are too old fashioned? Efficacy drops when we can only lay our hands on those involved.”
Kaz looked over at Leonard who was shaking like a twig and made a cruel smile.
“In this era of Calamity where we’re all destined to die anyways, we should use every tool available.”
Sungchul continued to confront Altugius. It was Altugius who broke first.
“Do what you want. I won’t take responsibility for whatever misfortune you meet by staying here!”
He let out a loud harrumph before sitting at his designated spot and sucking on his pipe. Sungchul was second to none when it came to stubbornness. He didn’t budge an inch as he acquired what he wanted.
“You don’t have to worry about me. Just let me know the Secret.”
Altugius continued to puff his pipe with a displeased expression when he suddenly pulled something out from his Soul Storage. It was a small box marked with the insignia of a comet. Orbs composed of gold, silver, bronze and all other kinds of alloys were revealed when Altugius opened the box with his wrinkled hands.
When Altugius softly touched an orb, they floated around him on their own as if they were alive.
“These are the training tools used by Cosmomancers to learn their craft. People of the past called them the Stars of the Cosmos, but people of late have taken to calling them as pinballs. Anyways, they are used to gauge the proficiency of that Glare spell you’ve mastered.”
Altugius pulled out another item from his Soul Storage. It was a magic scroll. He lightly tossed over the container with the orbs and the scroll towards Sungchul.
“Perseverance is a type of talent. I have accepted that you have quite the talent in it. However, there are many different types of talent. The tool I have given you contains the quest refined by countless ancient masters. The quest will test you on another talent required by Cosmomancers. You want to learn the secret of Cosmomancy? We’ll talk after you’ve overcome the quest.”
Sungchul held the orbs and magic scroll separately. The orb contained magical energies, and the magic scroll was for a magic barrier.
“Also, make sure to use the scroll before attempting the quest. I don’t want this sacred structure of Cosmomancy harmed by your crude magic.”
Altugius spoke these words and puffed on his pipe while looking at Sungchul with a relatively relaxed expression on his face.
‘They had called me a rare genius that hadn’t been seen in hundreds of years, and it still took me 14 months to complete that pinball quest. Even that Leonard who was praised as ‘once in a decade Genius’ couldn’t even think it was possible for himself to complete it. No matter how gifted and perseverant this man is, there is a limit to how far one can go with pure talent. This is not something he can solve easily.’
For those that can’t be forced away, one must confuse them with an overwhelming assignment. It was a saying handed down from ancient times within Airfruit’s school of Cosmomancy which held a particularly powerful Secret.
Sungchul looked over the orb first.
When he uttered their activation command, the six orbs composed of gold, silver, bronze, steel, tin, and white gold flew into the sky and floated around Sungchul’s vicinity. A bright lettered message appeared before him.
[The Star of Cosmomancy]
[The Stars of Cosmomancy will orbit around your vicinity.]
[As the sovereign of these astral bodies, you must shoot down those that defy you with the Authority of Light.]
[The Stars that are in defiance will be dyed with darkness, so observe carefully with both your eyes.]
[Please care to observe your surroundings before starting the trial so as to not create casualties.]
It was a ubiquitous type of quest among those he had experienced within Airfruit. It also used vague language that was typical of Airfruit’s quests.
“What does the light’s authority refer to? Is it talking about Glare?”
Altugius, who had been watching Sungchul, shouted with a loud voice.
“It’s a trial for shooting down the dark orbs with Glare. The magic barrier was a one-time gift, so buy one at your expense before you reattempt the quest!”
The price of magic barrier seals was significant. They reached 50 silver coins in price, and their supply was low, so it was hard to get a hold of one. This was well within Altugius’ intentions.
‘This quest takes up more than just a lot of effort. It also digs into the pocketbook of the one being tested. Let’s see how that friend’s talent fares in Cosmomancy magic.’
Altugius reclined to a more comfortable position as he looked over in Sungchul’s direction. Sungchul had unravelled the seal and was watching the orbs circling him.
[Shout the phrase ‘Begin’ once you are ready.]
Sungchul calmed the magical energy embedded into his body and took a shot towards the barrier.
A beam of light fired out from his fingertip and struck one part of the barrier before it disappeared. Altugius smiled with his eyes.
‘His magic power is still weak. It looks to be around 140, I think.’
Sungchul, who had tested out his magic, now turned to the orbs circling him and spoke quietly.
The path of the orbs circling him began to change. The golden orb suddenly became dyed in darkness and flew past his face. Sungchul didn’t hesitate in using his Glare. A beam of light shot out from his finger to strike and peel away its darkness. One of Altugius’ brows shot up.
‘Is it luck…?!’
After striking one orb, Sungchul turned his focus onto the copper orb rushing at him. The orb that had appeared from his blindspot flew past him and approached another blindspot when it began to dye itself in darkness. Sungchul’s eyes had caught it, but his inexperience with magic caused his aim to waver and strike feebly onto the barrier.
‘As expected, beginner’s luck. It couldn’t have been anything else. For sure.’
Altugius pulled out his pipe and let out a sigh of relief.
Soon, the first level had finished.
[3/10 (Number of Heavenly Bodies struck / Number of Heavenly Bodies that defied you)]
It was a shameful result for Sungchul. He could hear Altugius’ laughter.
“Ha ha! It looks as though you’re a bit lacking to be demanding the Secrets of Cosmomancy!”
The orbs that had been in Sungchul’s orbit fell into their container. Sungchul pulled out a magic essence from his Soul Storage.
Altugius who had been laughing looked on with shock.
‘What? This guy also has a Soul Storage?’
Sungchul drank two bottles of magic essence in a single breath, dropped them onto the floor, then rubbed the orb once again.
It wasn’t just a grudge. The first attempt at the test was nothing more than an attempt to adjust his sights. His perception honed to its absolute limits and decades of combat experience were not just for show. During the first test, after missing his 2nd shot, he focused on improving his control over the output of the spell rather than its accuracy. And by the final shot, he had already commanded complete control over the spell as he scored a hit.
There was nothing to stop him once he managed to get a feel for it. He looked on at the orbs spinning dizzyingly around him. Altugius felt an unusual aura surrounding him, but he ignored it and continued smoking his pipe.
The first orb soon became dyed in darkness and flew past Sungchul’s face.
The beam of light shot out from his finger and accurately struck the centre of the orb, peeling away the darkness. The second one with the tricky flight path flew past him from his blindspot to another blindspot as before. Sungchul didn’t flinch as he took a step back and smoothly shot the orb to peel away its darkness.
Altugius’ eyes flew open.
‘No… that one?!’
In the first level, the second orb was known to be the most difficult target. It was the quest host’s intention to throw off the tester’s balance with a high difficulty curve ball that would affect his future attempts within the level. However, this mysterious man overcame that second shot with ease. He continued striking every other orb in their tricky flight paths with little difficulty. Altugius ended up dropping his pipe after the brief storm that was the duration of the test.
[10/10 (Number of Heavenly Bodies struck / Number of Heavenly bodies that defied you)]
Sungchul looked at the score that appeared before him with disinterest and drank another magic essence.
[Astounding! You have completed the first level with a perfect score.]
Reward: +3 magic power, +3 Intuition, +3 Dexterity
It even raised Dexterity unlike a typical mage quest, but the quest wouldn’t be able to raise Sungchul’s dexterity.
[Error! Your Dexterity is higher than the Dexterity of the quest host, and thus you will not be able to receive the boost in dexterity.]
Quests gave an opportunity for unspecified people to receive boosts in stats, but unless it was like the Devil in the basement who gave out his stats, it wouldn’t raise the recipient’s stats beyond the one of the quest’s host. There weren’t many who could exceed Sungchul in his physical stats. This was also the reason that Sungchul didn’t bother much with the quests of the Seven Heroes other than the Mage heroes. He was sure that there was no one among the Seven Heroes who could come close to his physical stats.
[Would you like to begin Level 2?]
Sungchul’s eyes were now focused on the next level, and Altugius couldn’t take his eyes off from the figure of the indescribably amazing man.