“The Directorate of Surveillance will come soon. You must take all accountability.”
Ismael said to Viscount Luken, who bowed his head politely, understanding the meaning behind those words.
“I will fulfil my mission, no matter what.”
“… I am sorry.”
“Please, don’t be. This life of mine was given unto me by you, Lord Ismael. Having lived my life basking in your glory, I have no regrets.”
Ismael looked at Viscount Luken with complicated emotions in his eyes, unhappy that he had to sacrifice his own subordinate with his own hands. The door to the container opened, and the middle-aged man walked out of the door.
“Is it over?”
“Yes. Once all of the information is extracted completely, all of his memories will be erased, and he’ll turn into nothing but a husk.”
“This is the first failure of the Dark Royale. Let us withdraw.”
The middle-aged man nodded at Ismael’s order and turned to meet Viscount Luken.
“… I’m sorry.”
“I have been prepared for a day like this since long ago.”
“You must disguise all of this as your actions alone after joining hands with a warlock.”
“I’ll remember that.”
Having joined the newly organised brigade after the recent restructuring, Joon-young fought a number of skirmishes and battles. These battles helped Joon-young form close bonds with the members of his brigade, and it was at this moment that they were given an order to protect the city.
While the officers brought their heads together and agonized over the troublesome task of evacuating the civilians and forming a defensive line and combat zones, Joon-young was tasked as the supply sergeant of his company. He performed his task excellently by extracting as many supplies from his brigade headquarters as possible before arriving where his company’s provisional headquarters had been established.
“Ah! Sergeant Kim, welcome back.”
Having ordered his men to distribute the newly received supplies, Joon-young entered the headquarters, where the company commander greeted him with a smile in the midst of deliberating over the map of the city. Although the times were difficult, the company commander didn’t lose his smile. Leading his men with clear vision, he was well-respected by his men, and Joon-young was one of them. He was the greatest of soldiers.
“I took as many supplies as I could, to the point that the soldier tasked with the supplies cried over it.”
The company commander chuckled and brought Joon-young a cup of coffee.
“Was there any coffee still left in our company?”
“My men say they found some whilst scouting the nearby empty residences.”
“Isn’t that a crime?”
“I’d be more than happy if the owner of the house returned and filed the theft to the police one day.”
Joon-young smirked at the company commander’s answer. This was the reason why he liked the commander. Despite having graduated from a military academy, he did not show a stubborn adherence to textbook methods and had demonstrated great resourcefulness. But in the face of danger, he showed no delay in making quick decisions in the most decisive moments, even if the order would cause casualties. He was a general fit to be a leader.
“How goes the evacuation process?”
“We’re in quite the pickle, since many of them are saying they have nowhere to go if they leave the city. We can’t forcefully evict them from their homes too. I’d like to help them however I can, but we are running low on supplies as well. If we’re unable to evacuate them by the time that the fighting starts, then we’ll need to compensate by leading them to shelters instead.”
“Are there enough shelters within the city?”
“Most of the buildings have basements built into them, so we’ll be leading them to the shelters and nearby buildings’ basements. Hopefully, we can avoid the worst case scenario by releasing the location of the shelters.”
“Wasn’t that the plan made by the brigade to limit the advancement of the enemy?”
War wrought incredible suffering upon those involved in it, but to others, it was an amazing spectacle. Reporters from all over the world scoured the nation with bloodshot eyes for rare scoops. Civilian casualties was perhaps the most delicious find for them, so the enemies had no choice but to avoid the shelters as best they could, watchful of the world media.
“There’s no choice. We are doing the best by advising that they evacuate, but there’s nothing more we can do since we can’t use force on them.”
Joon-young sipped at the coffee and discussed with the company commander over the plans on preparation for the battle, when a commotion could be heard outside.
“We are against war! Say no to war! Regain the peace!”
“Let us drop our guns for peace!”
Joon-young rushed out of the headquarters. Facing him was a group of protestors amassing in front of the headquarters.
“What the? Who are these lunatics!”
Joon-young shouted with a dumbfounded look.
“The civilians are amassing over at our headquarters!”
A soldier manning the security post shouted out, and the company commander rushed over to meet the protestors.
“Everyone! Now isn’t the time to do this! The enemies are marching here as we speak! You must evacuate!”
The company commander tried to calm the civilians, but he was only met with malicious hatred.
“Shut up! The city would be safe if you lot weren’t here!”
“Just fuck off and don’t turn the city into a battlefield!”
A gunshot was heard from within the crowd, and the company commander tumbled backward. Joon-young quickly moved to support the commander.
“Everyone! The city will be safe if they aren’t here! The army that threatens our lives and safety must disappear!”
The protestors seemed to disperse at the sound of a sudden gunshot, but a middle-aged man instigated the populace further with a megaphone in hand, rallying them once more. Joon-young recognised the man, having seen him ask for handshakes with army officers and introducing himself as the vice-mayor of the city in the past. Seeing the situation turn dire so quickly, the soldiers began to load their guns.
“No! Don’t shoot!”
The commander, despite starting to lose consciousness, muttered those words. Other officers who quickly rushed over to the scene did their utmost to calm the protestors when another mass of protestors showed up.
“What do you think you’re doing? We’re in a difficult position as it is, and mutiny is the last thing we need!”
“There is no reason for a war to break out if there is no army! The army is the reason why wars start!”
“What bullshit is that? That’s something you can say before a war begins! It’d be retarded to simply stay put without resistance when they’ve already invaded us!”
“Didn’t you hear that the president declared a surrender already? You say you’re soldiers! Then follow your orders! They are just demons, possessed to fight the war just because they want to!”
“Then are you saying we should stay put as we have everything taken from us!”
“Ha! It’ll be better than dying.”
“You call that an answer!”
Emotions clashed. The different beliefs could not coincide and were only able to run parallel to one another as the argument heated up. It was obvious that this was going to result in violence at the end.
“Kukuku. Why… why is this all happening!”
Those who demonstrated against war ironically started a war against their own people. Nobody knew who made the first shot, but the harsh insults and screams escalated to exchanges of fists, and at the end, it escalated out of control as gunshots echoed everywhere.
Some screamed as they ran for safety. Others shouted insults as they sprayed bullets into the mass. A woman screamed as she collapsed onto the ground, and foreign reporters watched with great delight, taking photos of the scene in front of them. The company commander muttered in between his weak breaths.
“They say the people who have forgotten history have no future.”
“Perhaps we are watching the end of it…”
Joon-young glimpsed at the medic who was by his side, and the medic quietly shook his head. The company commander coughed violently, but held Joon-young’s arm firmly.
“Tell the officers. Continue the evacuation process.”
“Even in this hellhole?”
“Remember the oath we made when we entered the army. We are soldiers. Soldiers protect the nation and its people.”
“… Even if the people don’t want it?”
The company commander smiled at Joon-young’s question.
“Yes. Even if the people don’t want it…”
Suddenly, the world stopped, and the memories of his past began to flicker by as if they were part of a film being sped up. Joon-young joined what remained of his company and fought the battles. He entered Seoul and received news of his family members’ deaths. He was almost executed after causing an incident as a result of his crippling depression. It was cancelled, and he was thrown back into war. He slowly turned into a monster as he continued to fight the war. He despaired. He learnt that despair was a luxury. He felt like he was growing more insensitive to the memories of his first kill, which at first seemed unforgettable. In his final moments, he felt light wrap around his body in his last stand, and with that final piece of memory, he opened his eyes.
“What is going on?”
Philson, who was tasked to watch over the container, sighed continuously in boredom while waiting desperately for his shift to end. The mood within the castle had turned quite sour in recent days. Viscount Luken’s mood seemed to have worsened significantly for unknown reasons. But suddenly, Philson heard a scream come out of the container. He wondered if someone was being tortured inside and hesitated to enter the container. But Philson decided to check the container first before reporting to the Viscount, remembering that his orders didn’t entail entering the container. He carefully opened the container, and entered.
“Huk! Are all these mana crystals?”
Feeling the sudden surge of mana that was being emitted from inside the container, Philson wondered if this was Viscount Luken’s secret training ground at first. But he quickly noticed a man whose limbs were tied in the middle of the container, seemingly unconscious. Philson tilted his head in confusion.
“Is this not a training ground? It’s too strange to be called a prison.”
A man trapped inside a room filled with mana crystals? Philson was about to leave the container with questions still in his mind, when he noticed that the restraint of the captured man’s right arm was loosened. Then the man’s right arm slumped.
“I should tie him up again before I leave.”
Philson walked over to the man without any thoughts and tried to restrain him again, when suddenly the man’s eyes met with his.
The skin on his right hand ripped, making an excruciating sound. Even so, Isaac managed to free his arm. An enraged Isaac had forgotten even the pain of his skin falling from his bones.
Isaac gasped for air as bone could be seen under the wound, and snickered.
Isaac laughed. That old warlock had given him a present he couldn’t forget. Thanks to that, Isaac realised that his vacation was over. Having been resurrected, Isaac had lost purpose in his life. Without purpose, Isaac simply wished to live his days without a care. Everything was a chore. He stepped in to many little projects to waste the time but was never deeply invested into any of it.
But thankfully, Central had presented him with purpose. An enemy. He may even have to fight against the world, but Isaac welcomed it.
It didn’t matter if it was impossible. Even if it was as futile as throwing eggs at a boulder, it would at the very least leave a stain. With his vacation over, it was time to act. Suddenly, Isaac heard the door open and quickly placed his right arm near the restraint and hung his head. The knight seemed to know nothing about the situation and went to leave after looking around once. Isaac dropped his right arm as naturally as he could. Seeing this, the knight walked closer after a brief hesitation.
Even a knight would die after having his vitals stabbed. The knight’s eyes turned wide with surprise when their eyes met, and Isaac pulled out the pen from his finger, grabbed it in reverse, and stabbed at the yankee’s neck multiple times.
The knight fell onto the ground and grabbed at his neck, never expecting to be attacked. Isaac quickly undid the restraints on the rest of his limbs and sat on the stomach of the collapsed knight.
The knight threw his arms about, pulling at Isaac’s foot. Annoyed by this, Isaac kicked at the knight’s hands and pulled out a cigarette from his pocket.
“Phew. That feels good. Is it because it’s been a while?”
Having the choyu leaf’s smoke travel in his bloodstream after so long, it felt as if the burning pain in his right hand seemed to diminish. After a few puffs of smoke, Isaac put out the cigarette in the pool of blood left by the knight. He took out a new cigarette, and asked the knight.
“You see. I did my best to get along. But these fuckers keep fucking with me as if I’m nothing. There’s a limit to how many insults someone can take. Don’t you think so too?”
The knight struggled with puzzlement in his eyes. Isaac simply nodded at the knight.
“I know. I know. The weak suffer what they must. That’s why I didn’t say anything. What, did I ever say something like ‘you’ll pay for this?’ Did I threaten to kill all of you? I just admitted that I was a retard for being captured, and there were no excuses if I died here.”
Isaac snickered and nodded. He continued after lighting his new cigarette.
“If I was acting like that, then you should have at the very least just extracted the information or whatever you call it and left me alone. Why did you have to piss me off while doing that? Well, thanks for making me remember the past that I had forgotten. There’s something I want to do now. Do you want to know what that is? What the? He’s dead?”
After monologuing for a while, Isaac realised the knight he sat on top of had stopped moving. Isaac grumbled.
“Why didn’t this retard let me know he was going to die? Why did he make me look like an idiot, talking to a wall?”
Getting back on his feet, Isaac stretched his body and looked to his surroundings.
“Let’s see… I should try to make my escape right?”
Isaac began to think about his escape plan, and pulled out the pen from his finger.
“But first, I should leave them a present.”
Viscount Luken headed to the container with his knights following behind him. According to the intelligence given to him by the Dark Royale, the Directorate of Surveillance’s pursuit had come close. So he decided to take Isaac and make a convincing run for it.
Although he pitied his knights, who knew nothing about what was really behind the scenes, they were his vassals who had sworn their lives to him. They were all going to die if Central found out that he was involved with black magic anyway.
“Where did Philson go?”
Viscount Luken sharply raised his head when one of the knights muttered those words. The knight he had ordered to guard the container was missing.
Viscount Luken barged through the door, only to witness the calamity that was placed in front of him. It was worse than if the Directorate of Surveillance had captured him.
“Huk! Is that Philson?”
“What is this? Are these all mana crystals? Lord Luken, what is this place?”
The knights hurriedly entered the container with Luken, but they were first surprised by the body laying on the ground in a pool of blood and then a second time by the numerous mana crystals embedded the walls.
“You stupid bastard! Useless, incompetent fool!”
Isaac had escaped. If the agents from the Directorate of Surveillance were to find him first…
It was something Luken didn’t want to imagine.
“I could have at the very least handled the aftermath if you killed him instead! You retard! Not only did you die to the bastard, but you let him run free!”
Smack! Smack! Smack!
The furious kicks at Philson’s dead body seemed to do little to appease Viscount Luken’s anger. He turned and shouted at his knights.
“Ring the alarm! Close the gates! He couldn’t have run far! Find him! Find him and capture him alive!”
One saving grace of the situation was that Luken had placed most of his soldiers and knights outside the castle to lower his chances of being found out by the Directorate of Surveillance. It almost acted as if the army was surrounding the castle, so escaping the castle without a trace at this point was difficult.
“Wait… there’s no need to capture him. Kill him on the spot!”
Some of the knights who were quickly running out of the container flinched when Luken changed his order before they continued on their way. The reason why Luken changed his mind was because of the agents belonging to the Directorate of Surveillance. Isaac knew the faces of Ismael and the middle-aged man. The details of their appearances must not be leaked to the Directorate of Surveillance.
“W, we’ll take care of the body first.”
Luken realised his mistake when one of the knights spoke those words. These knights knew nothing about the situation. The fact that he kicked at the body of his loyal vassal was a mistake, no matter how mad he was.
But it was too late to turn the mood around. Although they remained silent, the knights’ dissatisfaction could be clearly seen in their eyes. Luken grit his teeth and coldly turned his back to them as he spoke.
“Sort it out!”
With Luken’s permission, two knights ran to Philson’s body. Viscount Luken was about to leave the container to aid in finding Isaac, when suddenly he felt a disturbance in the mana. He turned around to look at the knights picking up Philson’s body.
The body suddenly exploded in a storm of fire before Viscount Luken could finish his words.
Viscount Luken was thrown out of the container along with the searing heat from the explosion. He moaned as his body rolled on the ground. His ears were ringing, and blood was dripping from his head. One of the knights rushed over to help Luken stand. Once Luken got on his feet, he saw that the container was shattered to pieces, and within the crater created by the explosion, only the shards of mana crystals littered about like the stars in a nighttime sky remained.
Looking around, other knights were on the ground moaning due to the sudden explosion, and only the knights who were lucky enough to be outside the explosion were managing the situation.
“The lord is injured! Bring the healer!”
“My lord, are you alright?”
Luken furiously grit his teeth and shook away the aid from his knight. The ringing in his ear was beginning to die down, and Luken roughly wiped at the blood on his head.
He had forgotten.
Isaac, whose only possession was money, held a lot of expensive equipment that he had bought on him. Luken couldn’t take off Isaac’s coat no matter what he did, and they had left the eggbombs inside of it, overlooking them because they had tied his limbs. Now the mistake had come back to bite him.
With the added fact that Isaac had escaped the mana crystal container, killing him was going to be difficult if the information regarding his equipment was true.
“We’ll clean up the area later! Find him first!”
The knights were baffled at first by Viscount Luken’s order, but quickly followed through, when one of the knights who left the area to ring the alarm returned in a panic.
“We’re in trouble! Monsters have suddenly appeared throughout the castle!”
As if responding to the knight’s news, a horde of monsters jumped at the knights.