“It’s quite delicious, Sophia. You must give it a try. The black mass melts softly in your mouth, and there really is no better dish!”
“I don’t believe you.”
“It’s the truth. It’s really good.”
Sungchul silently listened to the bickering of the siblings while taking in his drinks. He could feel his injured pride of a high-class chef slowly being healed. After the brief intermission, the youth formally introduced himself.
“This had been thoroughly enjoyable, Mr. Number 34. It wasn’t my original purpose in coming here, but I was treated to a gourmet meal. I am Elijah Breggas.”
Curiosity filled Sungchul’s eyes.
A particular man’s face appeared in his mind. The Sixth Champion of the Continent, Lord Marquis Breggas. This youth shared the first name of the man in charge of the Demonic Battlefront, but the chances of him being the man’s son were low. There was just no way that Martin, who knew the value of survival better than anyone, would send out his flesh and blood as a Crusader of Salvation whose survival rate was lower than 10%.
Elijah and Sophia Breggas took their leave during Sungchul’s silence. After finishing up his meal, Sungchul headed toward the medical tent where the veteran soldiers were gathered.
It wasn’t hard to distinguish the medical tent. All of the tents looked similar to each other, but the medical tent was adorned with the numbers of the fallen soldiers. Sungchul noticed the number 700 among the countless numbers attached to the large tent as he entered and figured that the Suicide Unit had been much larger in scale before.
Once he entered the tent, he could see that the veteran soldiers were having fun gambling. Playing dice was one of the favorite pastimes of bored soldiers.
“Haha! Sorry, but my senses are off the charts today!”
Sungchul stood behind an enthusiastic Dwarf and watched him toss his die. It was a losing throw.
The most veteran among the Suicide Unit, Number 0 Arkaard, pushed his share of the rations towards his opponent, then looked up towards Sungchul.
“Is something wrong, Alchemist?”
“I have a couple of questions.”
Arkaard was not only the most senior within the unit, but was also quite friendly which earned him a lot of friends with the logistics team, his superiors, and most importantly the Dwarven engineering corp. Thanks to him, it was possible to hear fresh news about the outside world. However, nothing in this world was free. Sungchul handed Arkaard a freshly brewed hangover cure.
“Exactly what I wanted.”
Arkaard looked extremely happy as he passed the baton over to Sungchul.
“Now, what are you curious about?”
Sungchul avoided asking anything too sensitive or a subject of secrecy. Although it didn’t look all that important on the surface, being able to earn the trust, build and maintain a relationship with an informant was an important conversational skill.
Sungchul asked about any updates or development on the frontlines of the Demon world as well as a brief summary on the new arrivals; the Crusaders of Salvation. Arkaard gulped down the hangover cure in a single breath and spoke.
“Mm. There haven’t been many changes overall regarding the frontline. The winter has come, but the devil army is still stationed within the territory of the Iron Blood Knights, and the Order of the Iron Blood Knights are moving in full force to repel them. It looks like hard battles are ahead. Well, none of that matters to us anyways.”
Arkaard followed up with information regarding the Crusaders of Salvation.
“I don’t know what Aaron Genghis is planning, but don’t worry too hard about it. Do you know who the leader of the Crusaders is this time? It’s Elijah freaking Breggas. They tell me that he’s the eldest son of Lord Marquis Martin Breggas who could be considered as the head commander of the entire Demonic Battlefront!”
Sungchul immediately doubted his own hearing. It would have been shocking enough for the man to have sent his close relative, but his own eldest son?
‘Martin Breggas isn’t known to have such a strong sense of duty…’
Sungchul had fought several battles with Martin Breggas. From what feels like a distant past when the awakening of the Dark Dragon Groteus drove the world to the brink of destruction to the punitive expedition to the Demon King 8 years ago, he had fought alongside the man through battles filled with blood and death, shoulder to shoulder. Sungchul recalled that the man was rather selfish and self-centered during those hard fought battles. The only reason that he had taken over as Lord Marquis of the Demonic Battlefront was to be unrestrained and, in turn, be allowed to boast about his contributions. Would this kind of man send his eldest son and daughter to the Crusaders of Salvation, an act which was nothing more than a glorified execution? That would be irrational. There had to be another side to this story.
“What are you thinking so hard about?”
Arkaard prodded for conversation as he was in a great mood. The dwarf usually had a friendly demeanor, but he was on another level today.
“Did something good happen?”
When Sungchul asked, Arkaard lifted his drink up and let out a lively chuckle.
“Indeed indeed! I might be able to leave this damned Suicide Unit thanks to Martin Breggas’ son!”
A faint smile rose on Sungchul’s lips at the news.
“Ho. This is the last one?”
Arkaard nodded vigorously. “I’ve been through hell and back 9 times already. I’ve even been all the way into the central regions of the demon world as well. Time has come for me to return to the home of my heart, the Storm Battlefront, and defend that black rocky mountain.”
It was easy to enter the Suicide Unit, but it wasn’t so easy to graduate from it. The chances of survival might increase with a brilliant commander of good character, but with someone rash and incompetent like Aaron Genghis, it was next to impossible. To be able to survive 9 missions through those unfavorable conditions meant that Arkaard was no ordinary fighter.
“Even if he’s a rockhead, he shouldn’t be able to pull any of his stunts now that the Marquis’ son is here.”
“His usual stunts, eh…”
When Sungchul’s trailed off his words, Arkaard made a mischievous smile as he checked his surroundings before leaning in to whisper.
“What do you think I mean? Leading his subordinates to their deaths is what I mean. That guy might be nicknamed rockhead, but he’s more like a fox.”
Sungchul knew that Aaron was a cunning and underhanded fellow. He purposely set forth on impossible missions to sacrifice his men to not only make the battles seem more difficult than they truly were to artificially boost his military merits, but also to monopolize all the credit. He might appear like an incompetent rockhead of a commander to his subordinates, but to his superiors, he was a sly dog they can’t get rid of.
“…I might be the first to graduate from the Suicide Unit under that rockhead. Truthfully, this place isn’t so bad if it wasn’t so dangerous.”
Arkaard spoke for quite a while about the beauty of his homeland and the strength of the Dwarven people. After the lengthy story came to an end, his eyes lit up as though he finally recalled something and handed something over to Sungchul.
“Look at me. I completely forgot that Deckard asked me to deliver a letter to you. Read it carefully. The letter hasn’t been censored.”
Sungchul acknowledged him with a nod before reading the letter. The contents of the letter weren’t anything new. It was mostly a letter about how he was still in the infirmary and was thinking of his family, but he also packed the end of the letter with a full list of all quests he discovered within the Demonic Battlefront that was Magic Power related. It might be a Deckard-esque show of gratitude. Unfortunately, Sungchul no longer had any use for these quests.
[Your Magic Power is too high.]
The quest that he tried as an experiment told the full story. Sungchul was no longer considered an average mage, and could no longer raise his stats through normal quests. Only those made by the likes of the Seven Heroes or Altugius, at the very least, would supplement his growth.
Sungchul gave up on Deckard’s list of quests without hesitation.
‘I should work more on the collection journal before the winter passes.’
He had already completed all the quests that were worth doing. All that was left were the quests related to the Creationist that he had been putting off. According to Bertelgia, these were necessary experiences to Sungchul as a Creationist. The difference between ‘being able to do’ and ‘having tried it’ for an alchemist was like the difference between heaven and earth. So to improve as an alchemist, he had no choice but to make anything and everything, and a lot of it.
“All the Alchemic items you’ve created so far have been recorded by me. You’ve only completed up to 40% of the illustrated works recorded within me, and although you’ve surpassed the average Alchemist of this world by leaps and bounds, you’re still lacking in my eyes. You could only consider yourself an Alchemist of true worth when you’ve completed up to 50% of my pages!”
Sungchul let Bertelgia’s words pass through one ear and out the other, but he did keep one thing in mind. Making progress on the collection journal slowly raised his stats. To Sungchul who couldn’t be satisfied with normal quests, this was an important opportunity.
Sungchul started by reattempting the Jug of Essence that he failed before and succeeded. He placed the Jug of Essence in the corner of the tent and tested it with some seawater he got from nearby. The bright gray color of the jug grew a bit dull, and the seawater within became purified.
Sungchul tasted a cup of the water within the jug.
“It’s not very tasty, but it really is drinkable.”
When he said so, Bertelgia immediately retorted angrily.
“How naive! If you can make an S grade Jug of Essence, you wouldn’t be able to find a better tasting water anywhere in the world!”
“I noticed that an S grade item is extremely difficult to make.”
“To begin with, the ingredients have to be good. The quality of the ingredients is directly linked to the grade of the Alchemic Item, but it’s hard to get good quality ingredients.”
“I always feel this way, but Cooking and Alchemy seems to be very similar.”
Cooking was the same. It was possible to make something tasty with poor ingredients, but there was a limit. Top grade recipes were only possible with top grade ingredients. High-grade chef and Alchemist. They looked like two unrelated classes, but Sungchul began to realize that the two classes were two sides of the same coin.
After a bit of rest, Sungchul rose from his seat and headed toward the Alchemic cauldron.
“Bertelgia. Next recipe.”
“My, you’re planning on making two things today? Aren’t you overworking yourself?”
“Why not just get it over with while I’m still at it. I have enough Magic Power.”
Thanks to the Magic Power he had obtained from the Underground Kingdom, Sungchul could now hold much more mana within his body than before which in turn allowed him to synthesize more Alchemic items. Not only that, but he could also see higher grade Alchemic item recipes thanks to the Intuition he earned at the same time. The increase in Magic Power and Intuition supplemented Alchemy and the rise in Alchemy was, in turn, supplementing Magic Power and Intuition. Sungchul didn’t rush himself, but he also did not relax.
Although Sungchul had hit something of a plateau in his growth, he was with the mindset that he was going to do whatever he could every single day.
“Well, I won’t stop you if you insist. Bertelgia’s Illustrated Alchemic Collection Journal! The next item is…”
As Bertelgia was about to turn the page a sharp sound of a trumpet rang from the outside. It was the call for the Suicide Unit to sortie.
“It looks like we’ll have to put off the next synthesis for another time.”
Sungchul stuffed Bertelgia into his coat pocket and left the tent.
The one to sortie the members of the Suicide Unit was none other than Aaron Genghis. Sungchul discovered a familiar face next to him. It was the leader of the 13th Crusaders of Salvation and the eldest son of the Sixth Continental Champion, Elijah Breggas, standing behind Aaron with no particular expression on his face while his younger sister, Sophia Breggas, stood beside him protectively. Aaron Genghis spoke as the Suicide Unit watched on.
“We the members of the Suicide Unit have been given the duty and honor to escort the Crusaders of Salvation, heroes hailing from every corner of the continent, to the dangerous gateway to the Demon Realm in 3 days time. This mission has been ordered by the Lord Marquis Martin Breggas himself, and thus it will count as 3 successful missions for those members who wish to participate…”
Arkaard who had been listening so far spat on the ground and began to complain.
“What? What the hell is this about? It’s one mission so it should count as one mission!”
On the other hand, his closest companion, the Elven archer Faagan, had a delighted expression.
“It looks as though we’ll be leaving this place hand in hand, Mr. Dwarf.”
“This is bullshit!”
Arkaard was full of complaints, but his expression betrayed his true thoughts. Faagan played along as well.
“Anyways, that kid Deckard. He’ll miss this golden opportunity.”
A trip to the Demonic Realm’s entrance was treacherous, but it wasn’t too difficult. Not only that, the winter season meant reduced activity from the demons. The veterans of the Suicide Unit treated this mission as a rare gift bestowed by the gods.
Elijah Breggas looked upon those celebrating soldiers with an indifferent gaze. Aaron continued to shout at the top of his lungs, but no one was listening to what he had to say.
“Brother. Is this really ok?”
In the middle of all the excitement, Sophia leaned in to whisper to her brother.
“If we arrive at the Demonic Realm and fail, he will just get what he wants.”
Deep concern drew over her face. A sigh escaped from Elijah’s mouth.
“It can’t be helped, Sophia.”
His eyes were looking beyond the razor sharp mountain ridge, toward the northern skies in the distance that was just beginning to take on a red tint. The Demonic Realm. The land of the Devils. It was the forbidden lands that were synonymous with death to humans, but it represented a unique opportunity in Elijah’s eyes. His delicate hands caressed an ominous book dyed in the color of blood beneath his cloak.
“There should be another way. A way that doesn’t involve this method.”
Sophia still seemed skeptical, but Elijah’s resolution was unshakable.
“Our opponent is one called a Continental Champion. We have no other choice in the matter, Sophia.”
He spoke in a quiet, but firm voice.
“Only the devil’s quest can bring us salvation.”
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