The Forbidden Lands. A place severed off from the rest of the world by a wall of thick, purple clouds. And from this stormy veil emerged Isaac.
“Ugyaack! We’re finally out.”
Isaac cried. Exhausted, Isaac stretched his body like a cat and took out a cigarette from his pocket. He watched the rest of the group emerge from the clouds behind him.
“Seeing how there isn’t a welcoming party, I assume they haven’t figured it out yet.”
“Our losses are worse than we’d feared.”
Flander reported to Isaac after recounting the personnel and goods that survived passage through the mana storm. They wanted to avoid being found, so using airships was never an option to begin with.
They had followed an ancient path paved by Central’s investigative teams before the invention of the airships, guided by sigils carved on signposts. But it was no easy task to reactivate these signs as the party slowly slogged through the mana storm.
“Not much we can do about it. We’ve barely enough mana crystals with us. We’ll be completely dry after opening the Gate once.”
The mana crystals Isaac’s group had scraped together were spent completely halfway through the storm. Left without a choice, Isaac used the mana crystals in his defensive coat.
Even then, most of those mana crystals had been spent after abandoning almost all of the men that followed him into the Forbidden Lands.
“How many are left?”
“Three including me. As for Central, the warlock is the only survivor.”
“Wow. This is the perfect time for you guys to escape! How about it?”
Isaac commented after listening to Flander’s report. Isaac smiled at the Goldenmane and Whitewing, but the two shook their heads with a bitter smile.
“We have no right to intervene in any of this world’s events.”
“We have been branded with the marks of an unforgivable sin. Even if our races are to die, we will harbour not a thought of resistance against the one who holds the right to vengeance.”
Isaac smirked at the two’s answers. He then asked the warlock.
“Is the object safe?”
“… Of course it’s safe. All of our agents sacrificed themselves protecting this.”
The warlock replied grimly. He recalled his colleagues, who had been consumed by the storm in their trek. The smaller the protective area, the longer the barrier would last. So in order to conserve the mana crystals, the agents willingly surrendered themselves to the storm.
“This place is still too close to the storm’s interference. Let’s get a move on.”
With that, the group travelled toward the centre of the Forbidden Lands, treating the nuclear warhead dearer than the two hostages. Since magic couldn’t be used here, it all came down to honest labour. Flander, his two mercenaries, and the warlock joined hands in the struggle to move the crate.
Even though it was a small, tactical warhead, its weight was still nothing to laugh at. They needed to take multiple breaks in between to regain their strength. In order to open the Gate, they needed to be as far away from the storm’s interference as possible—at the very centre of the Forbidden Lands.
The group travelled on for 3 more days in heavy silence. And finally, they arrived at a location free from the storm’s interference.
“Hm. We still haven’t met anyone. I assume my boys are doing a good job.”
“I suspect they’ll be on their way here by now.”
“Probably. Make the preparations.”
With that, the group laid out the mana crystals they had brought with them in front of Isaac. Isaac looked at the mana crystals for a moment and then scratched his head with the key.
“We’re cutting it close.”
Using the lens in his left eye, Isaac replicated the mana circle that opened the Gate in New Port City.
With the mana crystals he possessed, creating a permanent Gate like the one in New Port City was impossible. But a tiny Gate, just large enough to throw the crate through was possible.
As Isaac activated the magic circle with the key, a scorching heat seared through his left eye. He grit his teeth as the engravings of a magic circle began to take shape midair, past his extended arm.
The mana crystals in front of Isaac quickly lost their glimmer. Soon enough, the remaining mana crystals in his defensive coats dropped on the ground. After spending all mana crystals—even that of eggbombs that Isaac liked to use—did the Gate finally start to open, indicated by a gust of wind.
Isaac was about to drop on the ground out of exhaustion, but Flander quickly supported him and leaned him against the nuclear warhead. Isaac took out a cigarette with his shaking hands, and Flander quickly lit it for him. Isaac blankly faced the breeze with a few puffs of the smoke when the Whitewing woman approached him.
“Do you truly plan on opening the Gate?”
She asked. Isaac burst out in laughter in between his coughing.
“What do you think I was planning to do then? What, do you want to stop me now?”
The Whitewing woman shook her head at Isaac’s question.
“If this is our fate, I must accept it.”
She then walked to the Goldenmane, far from the rest of the group. They looked at each other, grabbed each other’s hands and began singing.
Isaac was listening to the calm yet passionate melody when the warlock came.
“How long do you think it’ll take until the Gate opens?” Isaac asked.
“I can’t give you a definite answer, but it shouldn’t take more than a few hours. But do we have to listen to that?”
The warlock complained. For a warlock that had signed a contract with a demon, the choir-like melody of their song must have been irritating to say the least.
“Let them be. Thanks to them, our job became easier.”
After taking over Dark Royale, Isaac had full access to their intelligence. He couldn’t help but be surprised by their secretive preparations, which had been in the making for the past hundreds of years. He never would have imagined that they’d manage to prepare a crippling blow against Central in secret, even if it wouldn’t tip the scales to their favour.
Back then, Isaac couldn’t help but laugh when the Dark Royale agents just handed him the information the moment he ordered them to search for the endangered races. It was as if they’d just been waiting for the moment he would turn his eyes towards the most easily acquirable hostages as Central launched their manhunt.
The Grand Council was unwavering when it came to defending the lives of the endangered races. The fact that these two wanted to live alone and the Grand Council approved of it was a testament to their strength. Isaac had been prepared to suffer heavy casualties just to capture them, but they had simply let themselves be captured when they saw Isaac. They simply referred to him as the “one who holds the right to vengeance.”
Isaac didn’t know what they meant and didn’t bother to ask. But the two finally spilled everything when they began heading for Forbidden Lands with the nuclear bomb, and Isaac learned of the truth.
Suddenly, a great shadow darkened the sky above them. Isaac looked up, and saw a great, golden dragon flying in the air. Isaac got on his feet and smiled.
“They came right on time.”
The Emperor’s airship was the only aircraft that could make the trip to the Forbidden Lands with the speed of an airplane.
The flight here itself seemed perilous, as evidenced by the damage to the hull’s exterior. But against all odds, they managed to arrive before the worst-case scenario took shape.
“Hey, it’s been a while.”
The airship’s landing was more akin to a crash. Kunette, Rivelia, and Reisha burst out of the ship and sprinted toward Isaac, only for their strength to leave them when Isaac greeted them with a wave so warmly.
“Isaac, why did you kill my father?”
Rivelia shouted as she drew her blade. Isaac shrugged.
“When it’s time to go, you gotta go.”
“Hey now. Watch it.”
Isaac warned Rivelia. She had no choice but to stop when she saw the hostages being held down by the mercenaries.
“Let go of the hostages.”
Kunette demanded of Isaac, to which he shook his head.
“I can’t have that. They’re important centrepieces for the final stage.”
“Hohoho. It’s been a while, Mr. Isaac.”
“Hey! How long has it been? But why did you bring the brat with you? Is she a hostage?”
Isaac asked, seeing Laila come with the Queen.
“Of course not. She kept insisting that we take her along if we wanted to borrow her airship. I don’t know who she gets that stubbornness from. ”
“Well, I guess she does deserve to be here. But why were you guys so late? The Gate will open soon.”
“We couldn’t help it. Kunette was so desperate to save your life that she purposely sabotaged her own manhunt.”
Isaac raised his eyebrow as he looked at Kunette. Kunette shouted back, her face red as an apple.
“No I didn’t!”
“Oh dear. Then you spared no effort to kill Mr. Isaac, right?”
“Hm. I never thought Kunette thought about me that way.”
“If I had known Kunette was such a beautiful woman, I would have hit on her at least once. So silly of me to assume Kunette was a child just because her transformation was that of a cub. Hang on. Does that mean I’ve been petting and touching a grown woman on my lap all this time?”
“I-it’s still not sexual harassment! During my transformation, I can’t grow! So in that form, I’m really just a young cub!”
Kunette cried out, with her face still blushing. But Rivelia wasn’t pleased with Isaac and the Queen tag-teaming to tease Kunette. Rivelia shouted.
“What do you think you’re doing?!”
“Tsk tsk. Hey, damsel, I told you before. Never lose your sense of humour.”
Rivelia’s homicidal glare practically burned a hole through Isaac’s face. How despicable was it that he could smile like he didn’t have an ounce of guilt weighing on him after brutally murdering her father.
It was then that Rizzly came out of the airship with a mountain of equipment on his back. He began installing the equipment in front of everyone.
“What are you doing?”
Isaac questioned Rizzly, dumbfounded. Rizzly replied with a sob.
“The Grand Council ordered me to set up communications.”
“Didn’t I kill them all? You guys formed a new one already? That was quick.”
“This provisional council is made up of the chieftains of every race. Ah, there we go!”
Rizzly finished setting up the Communicator while answering Isaac. When the machine turned on, the screen fragmented into tens of smaller ones, each showing a different person.
-Are they safe?
Barad asked about the safety of the hostage the moment they connected. After confirming that they were indeed alive, he glared at Isaac.
-… We shall begin the negotiations. What are your demands?
“What the? Negotiation at this time?”
Isaac scoffed as he grabbed a new cigarette.
-We will guarantee your safety. Just hand over the warhead and release the hostages.
“Do it Isaac!”
“This is your last chance!”
“I won’t allow it!”
Kunette and Reisha took to nudging him to take the offer, but Rivelia wouldn’t stand for it.
-Lady Rivelia, I understand your grief and anger. But…
“The Grand Council recognized my right to vengeance. Are you going to retract it now?”
Rivelia’s shrill voice cut off Barad, leaving him without a word. Kunette and Reisha looked at Rivelia, almost heartbroken for her.
“Hohoho. I think you guys are ahead of yourselves. Mr. Isaac doesn’t seem like he wants to negotiate in the first place.”
The Queen laughed as she commented. Everyone looked at Isaac, and Isaac merely shrugged.
“Honestly. If I wanted to save myself, I would have kept the important people alive.”
“You big dummy!”
Kunette looked at Isaac, unsure of what to feel, whereas Reisha stomped the ground in frusration. Isaac felt the wind grow stronger and grabbed for a new cigarette.
“I guess the end is coming.”
“Why don’t you negotiate with me? Throwing that warhead into the Gate would be problematic.”
“Does the Queen have anything to offer me in this negotiation?”
“I assume your family won’t work?”
Isaac looked back coldly at the Queen.
“My family died when Busan blew up.”
“Huhu. I didn’t think it would.”
Kunette and Reisha were visibly disappointed when the Queen didn’t even try to contest the fact. The Queen sighed deeply, seemingly surrendering in the negotiations.
“I guess there’s no choice. You’ve forced my hand.”
“Seriously, you really have a knack for making someone curious.”
Isaac couldn’t help but be interested. The Queen smiled confidently, and she pulled out a few objects from her bag.
“How about this? I will give this to you in return for the warhead.”
Isaac stared intensely at the object in the Queen’s hand. Feeling threatened, the warlock approached Isaac and nudged his side with his elbow. Isaac regained his senses and smiled bitterly.
“You almost got me. I almost nodded without thinking.”
“Then you can stay there until the Gate opens. As for me, I will be having a light snack.”
“Wow! Aren’t you cruel? You’re going too far!”
“… What is that? For you to be like this?”
The warlock asked Isaac, lost at the sudden turn of events. Just carefree and serious a moment ago, he now seemed so listless and regretful. Even the mercenaries and hostages were curious about this sudden change.
“That is food from the heavens that you’ll never taste in this world.”
“… You’re really acting like this over food?”
The warlock’s emotions went beyond disappointment, bordering on anger. The crease of his eyebrow narrowed with every passing second, but Isaac simply clucked his tongue.
“Those who’d never had it won’t understand. Look at those two. They’ve lost their minds completely.”
Kunette and Reisha had been drooling, their mouths slightly agape as they stared at the ramen in the Queen’s hands. Isaac’s observation snapped them out of it, and they wiped their drool with their sleeves.
“Ah. I’ve got some burgers too if you don’t want ramen.”
“Hm. You’re holding on quite well. Then how about this? Even I had trouble getting my hands on this. Tadaa! Spicy fried chicken.”
“Wow! You’re a demon! A demon was here all along!”
“Hohoho. I will give this to you if you release the hostages.”
The Queen boasted, dangling the paper box of fried chicken. Isaac swallowed his saliva repeatedly before he realised something. He smirked, and demanded.
“Hand over the chicken. Or I can’t guarantee the safety of the hostages.”
“Wow. You’re pushing it. Do you have any idea how difficult it was for me to get this? No way.”
“Then at least the ramen.”
“I can give you a coke instead.”
The Queen threw a can of coke at Isaac, who jumped around like a child as he gulped it down.
“Kuaah! At least I get to enjoy something in my last moments!”