Mages generally preferred and were trained to fight one-sided battles that could be handled elegantly with no risk of injury. Combat vision, quick judgement, psychological warfare, flexibility to respond to developing situations, quick reflexes. These sweaty, crude, broad categories of combat were largely ignored. However, within the School of Cosmomancy, or at least the Observatory run by Altugius, there was a different atmosphere.
The Stars of Cosmomancy, or pinball as they were more commonly called, was more of a physical training that emphasized quick reflexes and the ability to deal with extraneous circumstances, rather than being actual Magic training. Sungchul grew surer of his assumption as he drew closer to the third level of the Star of Cosmomancy. The dark stars no longer lingered around his vicinity. They either rushed in recklessly or attacked him discreetly, and they ceaselessly and ferociously drove him to a corner.
The Stars of Cosmomancy tested more than just reflex and quick response; a particular star was designed to be too quick and irregular to hit.
Sungchul was initially stumped, but he discovered that this star, too, had a complex pattern designed to disguise its repetitive nature. Using suppressive fire, Sungchul was able to push its movements to its limits and was able to obtain a point without much trouble.
“I can’t believe this even as I watch it.”
Every time Sungchul achieved victory, Altugius’ breath grew increasingly rough. His eyes didn’t see an amateur recently spat out by the Summoning Palace, but rather a master’s expertise honed by dozens of years of swordplay.
‘Is he a genius…or is he a well-trained swordsman?’
Sungchul’s stats were barely adequate for an apprentice Mage, and his strange movements could be better associated with experience rather than sheer stats. When calm finally settled in the Observatory, Altugius instinctively knew that the man of unknown origins would be the very first figure to break through the Stars of Cosmomancy in a single day since the conception of the Airfruit branch of the School of Cosmomancy.
Sungchul lazily looked over the rewards that appeared before him as he opened his status window.
Strength 999+ Dexterity 853
Vitality 801 Magic Power 151
Intuition 131 Magic Resist 621
Resilience 502 Charisma 18
It was still an unsatisfactory amount, but to other people, his growth could be considered nothing short of miraculous. Altugius thought along the same lines.
‘Is this man…a monster?’
The ‘monster’ approached Altugius and pushed the box containing the orbs back into his possession.
“Now that I have passed the trials as you’ve requested, will you pass me the Secret?”
“Y-You have yet to complete all the trials!”
To be exact, he wasn’t quite prepared yet. His heart wasn’t prepared to accept this astounding result. Altugius pardoned himself with nonsensical excuses like a pouting child and turned him away for the moment.
“Return for now. I have some thinking to do!”
Sungchul looked at Altugius passively and nodded.
“I understand. I’ll return tomorrow.”
He had passed the trial in one go, but it was a trial that consumed significant amounts of mana. Sungchul felt that he was quickly approaching the threshold of using Magic Power that Bertelgia had talked about. This was why he obediently followed Altugius’ request.
‘But when I return tomorrow, your heart better be ready for what needs to happen.’
After Sungchul left the Observatory, Altugius felt heavy fatigue wearing down on his aged shoulders. Too many things had happened at the same time. Time alone was the medicine to calm the turbulence of the mind, but reality wouldn’t give him the opportunity.
Knock! Knock! Knock!
Someone knocked upon the Observatory door.
“Who is it?”
When Altugius asked, a cold, emotionless voice responded from beyond the door.
“I have brought the item sent by the Inquisitor of Heresy.”
“Leave it at the front.”
When the footsteps faded away, Altugius dragged his old, yet spry body towards the door; a large sack full of gold coins had been left there. Altugius let out a sigh and placed it into his own Soul Storage. He looked down at the panoramic view of the school beneath the cliff of the mountain as he put the sack away. The view that opened up beneath his feet wasn’t much different than the view he had seen when he first stepped foot into the Observatory as the Professor of Cosmomancy, but he knew better than anyone that the school had begun heading down the path of no return.
The face of a certain somebody appeared clearly on his mind as he looked on at the faded scenery. The man, with an impressive beard that had gone partially gray, had a mild temper, but had led the teaching staff with his powerful voice and strong personality. The world would remember him as The Grand Magnus, the final Headmaster of Airfruit. Altugius recalled the final conversations he had had with the man who had been a friend for most of his life. The man had said to him:
“The world is a sea, and we are but rafts floating on top of it. The rafts can navigate the sea, but it cannot affect the sea in any way. We can only acknowledge the flow of the world. That is all.”
It wasn’t widely known, but The Grand Magnus was a Follower of Calamity. He had sought to leave behind achievements as a Follower of Calamity, but he had died by Altugius’ hands. Altugius believed his decision to be correct at the time, but after these three years, his resolution was wavering.
“If only I had died instead by that bastard’s hands at that time…”
Sungchul was en route to the House of Recollections.
Maybe it was due to the amount of concentration spent on the trials; he felt quite ravenous. It was his policy to always eat something delicious when he was hungry. He would expend some of his own effort to prepare food when he was in the middle of nowhere, but a must for foodies is the exploration of hidden restaurants. He began scrolling through his memory to seek out the hidden gems within Golden City, but the food joint of his memories had become some Guild’s office that he had never heard of.
“Hey, Mr. Summoned! What are you doing here? Are you perhaps here to apply to our Guild?”
The man standing guard in front of the Guild with an overbite called out to Sungchul.
“…I have no business here.”
Sungchul ignored him and moved on to the next location, but when he walked along the main street, a familiar face appeared. It was Philrus, the Professor of Alchemy, and his disciples.
“Shit! Trash discovered!”
Bertelgia peeked out from his pocket and lightly shook her body. Basil soon discovered Sungchul. He suddenly looked quite amiable and began talking to Sungchul.
“Hey. Look who it is? If it isn’t my best pupil!”
Sungchul looked on with an indifferent expression. It was because he couldn’t recall ever becoming that man’s disciple.
Basil laughed awkwardly, scratching his head, and opened his mouth once again.
“Ahaha! Man, isn’t it a bit hot around here?”
“If you’ll excuse me.”
Sungchul squeezed past Basil and his students. Their view of Sungchul had changed compared to the day they had first met him at the run-down tents. Their eyes were now filled with envy, greed, jealousy, and the like. Sungchul did not lock eyes with any of them and walked past quickly. It was at this moment when Basil followed along at a quick pace and struck up another conversation with great affection.
“Where are you headed?”
“If that’s the case, why not join us? You are a part of the School of Alchemy, after all.”
When Sungchul grew silent, Basil carefully looked at him and asked.
“What’s wrong? Perhaps…you don’t want to eat with us…”
“I am quite picky with food. I don’t want to go somewhere that’s not up to par.”
When he heard this, Basil broke into a satisfied smile and pulled Sungchul close.
“Then that’s great. We are planning on going somewhere with a great chef!”
“Is that so?”
Sungchul’s frozen heart melted slightly. Regardless of everything, Basil was someone that had resided within Golden City for quite a while. It might be faster for him to rely on the man for good food. Sungchul pleasantly agreed with such thoughts.
“Okay. I’ll trust you this time.”
“You’ll be glad you listened to me.”
Basil’s eyes were filled with confidence as they always were. After a while…
[This food’s score is…18!]
As someone of the chef class, Sungchul could see the score of dishes he tasted.
He had expected the score to be a bit low as Basil’s wallet was tight and he had ordered the cheapest food with the largest quantity, but that wasn’t the only reason. No matter how cheap the food was, there was a standard that must be maintained. He took another bite.
[This food’s score is…17!]
A flicker of anger leaked onto Sungchul’s face. It was a bit of rage that was kept in check even during Leonard’s flurry of insults.
‘This isn’t meant for human consumption.’
What was laid in front of Sungchul was a soup made mainly from pig intestine and potatoes that had been flavored with enough spices to numb the tongue.
‘Its preparation was half-assed. They didn’t even bother to remove the undesirable smells from the intestine. The chef only bothered to suppress the disgusting scent with strong spices, and he completely failed at even that.’
The other dishes were the same. They were decorated to look decent, but the flavor entirely depended on strong spices.
‘There are no narcotics used here, but there are some addictive substances to flavor it that are quite similar.’
Sungchul managed to unravel all of the secrets behind the restaurant in just two bites. This wasn’t something he would dare call food. It lacked any sort of dedication or consideration for those eating it. It was just a dish made to be sold in large quantities for profit. Despite all this, the restaurant was packed. Whether this was due to the people of Golden City having crude tastes, or the provocative dish serving its purpose, it was clear that the restaurant was thriving.
“Is the food not to your tastes? The dish of the greatest restaurant of Golden City?”
Basil asked after devouring his food gluttonously when he noticed that Sungchul had left his plate largely untouched. Sungchul nodded, excused himself quietly, then rose from his seat.
“Where are you going?”
“To get a bit of air.”
Sungchul followed the street around the restaurant to peek into the kitchen. He witnessed a traumatic scene within. Sungchul’s eyes grew wide in shock.
“Now now! We must quickly make the fodder for humans!”
“Just scoop out a bit of the poop inside the pig intestines and wash it once or twice! The tastes of the people of this city have already adjusted to the taste of pig shit!
It was the Homunculi that were handling the food. They were pretending to be chefs, going as far as donning chef hats, and were carrying out the directions of another Homunculus who was giving orders and preparing the meal. The actual chef of the restaurant was handed the food prepared by these Homunculi and created the dishes by caking it entirely with enough spices to paralyze the tastebuds before putting it up for the customers.
“They are finding flavor in food soaked in pig shit water! Filthy humans!”
One of the Homunculi shouted as he soaked vegetables in the water used to wash off the intestines. The other Homunculus bothered to wipe down the containers piled up to the side, but Sungchul’s angry expression didn’t relax.
He had only wasted his appetite.
‘I should have just made the food myself to eat.’
Sungchul firmly decided to bid Basil farewell and returned to the restaurant, but a group of Mages wearing familiar clothing stood in front of the restaurant’s entrance. Their uniforms were dyed in blue. They were the Mages of the School of Cryomancy.
“Iya. It’s been so long since we ate here.”
“My guts are going wild. Let’s enjoy a proper meal.”
The Cryomancers were looking quite excited. They were licking their lips as they entered the restaurant and smiled as the scent of spices within the restaurant entered their nose. The one who looked the oldest among them spoke with the manager.
Sungchul took a step back and watched them converse.
“We are ten here. Do you have room?”
The manager paled at the question.
“U…um. As you can see, it is a full house.”
The Cryomancer looked displeased as he glared at the manager, and looked about the restaurant. The man finally smirked and looked back towards the manager.
“Look, there is room over there.”
His finger pointed towards a corner of the restaurant where a group of students was eating the cheapest meal with gluttonous vigor. It was the School of Alchemy.
“But, dear customer, those customers have not finished their meals yet…”
“I’ll talk to them myself, so just prepare the food. Bring out the most expensive meal with the most expensive booze. The money is here.”
The man smirked as he handed a shiny gold coin to the manager. Sungchul’s eyes flashed with a strange light as he saw the gold coin.
‘It is the unmarked gold coin.’
It looked as though Robert had begun circulating the gold coins he had received from Sungchul to his subordinates already. This meant that the battle between the ones that killed Christian and the Followers of Calamity was going to begin in earnest. Sungchul had planned on taking a step back and quietly watching the two fight, and when the opportune moment arrived…
As Sungchul was drawing out plans for the future in his mind, a crowd of students looking quite upset headed towards his direction. It was the Professor of Alchemy and his students that had been eating excitedly just before they lost their spot.
“Those sons of bitches…Not even dogs are bothered during a meal.”
“I want to get out of the School of Alchemy.”
Sungchul looked over at Basil and his students, who had to leave their spot with slumped shoulders at the cost of chump change, and opened his mouth as though he was waiting for them.
“Thank you for the meal.”
The food was atrocious, but more than that, he had managed to get meaningful information. He could always eat some more food at the dorms, but information wasn’t so easy to come by.
Sungchul returned to the dorms with a light heart, when he felt an unusual aura seeping from the dormitory.
‘A sound seal?!’
The seal often used by Assassins had been cast over the entirety of the dormitory.
At the same time, a dark shadow was drawing over Altugius as well.
‘The vigilance seal over the House of Recollections has been severed?! Is Sarasa in danger?’
Altugius hurriedly dragged his aged body from his seat and pulled out the staff from his Soul Storage. When he swung his staff, the Magic formation of the lift carved on the exterior of the Observatory lit up as it activated. He rushed to enter the lift.
But before he had managed to even take a few steps, a chilling light flashed before his eyes. Altugius reflexively deflected the light with Glare.
A sword that had been partially burned away rolled on the floor. Altugius’ expression changed. He was suddenly staring at the dark-robed assailant that stood in his path.
“Where are you rushing off to, Altugius?”
He had heard the man’s voice behind the feline mask before. Kaz Almeira. The bastard had sought out this place once again.