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The carriage rumbled down the jagged street.
There were buildings on the verge of collapse. Looking out through the curtains, Romantica blocked her nose.
“It’s a gloomy place. Smells weird too.”
It was certainly as she had said. The background of this Shadow World, the 100-year-old Altea, was clearly not a vibrant city. However, Desir felt a darker feeling lingering around. The streets were dirty and a disgusting smell was emanating from somewhere.
Kei shrugged his shoulders.
“There is a dark side to every place.”
This was the slum of Altea. In the Magic Kingdom, where magic talent determined everything about a person, citizens had to step on each other to climb the social hierarchy.
And this was a place where the group of people trampled by others lived. “But there’s nowhere better to hide than here.”
Desir was very sympathetic to the remark. Altea’s slums were one of the most complex places. A perfect place to blend in and disappear.
‘Kei’s judgment is commendable.’
The width of the narrow streets made it difficult for the army to enter, and a maze-like structure made it possible for them to deal with any pursuers one by one, even if an entire army were to invade.
While talking about this and that, the carriage stopped at its destination. It was in front of a bar with a picture of beer on it. Romantica and Adjest got off first, followed by Desir and Pram then Kei.
When they opened the door of the bar, countless eyes fell on them. A myriad of people were there; wearing shabby casual clothes, they truly looked like residents of the slums.
Among them, a man with a giant body and a beard covering his chin addressed Kei. He looked very fierce.
“What brings the noble lord here? I don’t think there’s any alcohol here that suits the taste of a noble like you.’
“Well, maybe apple rum will suit my taste. I’m here for just three glasses of apple rum.” “What would you like to eat?”
‘Strawberries pickled in sugar for four days.”
Then the furry young man’s expression became very warm. “He is our Major.”
As soon as he dropped such words, everyone in the bar stood up and saluted Kei, each person taking a step forward and entering a rigid stance. They were soldiers led by Kei.
‘He has set up the bar as an assembly area.’ Kei nodded, and they sat down again. “That’s pretty thorough.”
“I’ve learnt from past experience.”
Kei’s men sat down again, eating and chatting. The quiet pub quickly became noisy. A middle-aged man approached Kei.
“You look great, mister.” “You’re still the same.”
He fist-bumped Kei, showing great pleasure in doing so.
“This troublemaker in the back alley has grown so big that he is now leading this many soldiers.”
“I'll pay my rent, so don’t worry. What about the other soldiers?” “It’s fine. If you signal for them, they’ll be here in two minutes.”
“Okay. By the way, is there a better place to talk? I’d like to speak with the new recruits.” Kei pointed at Desir’s party.
“I’ll set up a private room.”
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The owner led them to a separate room inside the bar. This place was designed to keep sound from leaking out of its thick walls.
“We don’t have much time, so I’ll give you a brief explanation.”
Kei’s story began. Through it, Desir and his party began to match up the missing pieces of the puzzle from the new facts they obtained from Kei.
“After the prophet came, I traveled all over the continent under His Majesty’s orders. We visited Eretion’s Ice Lake, uncharted territory within the southern continent, and even the ruins of a civilization that collapsed a long time ago. And we collected valuable material.”
The story was simple.
To sum it up simply, Kei had endured such adversity and collected material calmly, although it was such a difficult journey.
“But the king’s condition became strange. At one point, he showed symptoms of obsession. He wanted to collect these ingredients as soon as possible.”
Desir noticed the strangeness of it.
“And before too long, I couldn’t find any semblance of the man he used to be, the man who was once the greatest sorcerer. We haven’t even spoken in the past year.”
He naturally held suspicion that the prophet had done something, but there was nothing he could do alone.
“Are you saying he has been controlled?”
“That expression would be more accurate. I’ve never heard of magic that governs the mind.” “He… has been controlled… ”
Desir intoned the words over and over again. Kei quenched his throat. Romantica, Pram, and Adjest waited quietly for Kei to continue with his story.
“Your Majesty lost control, and a man called the Prophet took that control. From then on, the Magic Kingdom went the wrong way. The vast national budget was squandered on personal matters and the people were taxed to cover the shortfall. As a result, the Magic Kingdom faced a recession. How was the atmosphere like on the street?"
“It was depressing. It became very quiet and people became afraid of the soldiers.” “Citizens are anxious, suffering. And the cause is simple. It’s all because of that prophet.” So Kei created his group and waited for an opportunity. And this led to the current situation.
“I don’t know why, but the Prophet is moving with great urgency. If we miss this chance now, we may never have another.”
The suppression of wizards in the Magic Kingdom, which valued wizards above all else, proved that they were currently on the precipice of disaster.
The current situation was not favourable, but it was hard to say if it had gone too far yet. When a door closed, a window typically opened. This newly opened window had enabled Kei the opportunity to make a decision and act, which in turn allowed Desir’s party a chance to gain Kei’s cooperation in their quest.
After finishing his story, Kei pulled out a contract for Desir. And when Desir finished signing the contract, an alarm sounded.
[You’ve signed a mercenary contract with Kei Hazmaryun. Kei Hazmaryun has become your helper. This contractual relationship will be maintained while your objectives are aligned and remain in effect while you still prove yourself reliable to his cause.]
Kei then handed a map to Desir. It was a map detailing the geography of Altea. The map showed that the royal castle was divided into outer and inner parts. It even showed where the troops were placed.
“This plan begins with us entering the castle. After entering the palace, we must secure and protect His Majesty. I can’t let him be manipulated by them anymore.”
Desir nodded. It was not important to Desir whether the king was alive or not, since he was a virtual figure in a Shadow World anyway, but Kei’s opinion could not be ignored.
“Our forces are currently overwhelmingly inferior, and we can’t win head-on against the wizards that are protecting the entire capital. Before they come, we have to break into the castle and kill the Prophet.”
Kei marked the airfield on the map.
“The units deployed at the airfield are skilled, but lack experience. It’s not going to be a problem to break through there.”
Kei continued to elaborate on the finer details of the mission. He had access to information about the units deployed to the royal castle. Desir could see that he had been preparing thoroughly for this day.
“The only problem is on the King’s aide. There are many troops guarding the castle, but the most difficult amongst them is the Rose Brigade.”
The Rose Brigade. Desir didn’t hear an explanation about them from Kei, but everyone present knew its name. The Rose Brigade, under the direct control of the king, was the elite group of the Magic Kingdom. Each unit was so talented and possessed such a high level of skill that they would each be recorded in history for their prowess.
“The Rose Brigade is divided into the Red Rose and the Blue Rose battalions. We’re going to break through the south gate, the less populated entrance.”
Desir confirmed, after inspecting the map.
“It’s the territory that the Red Rose are in charge of. What does their troop formation look like?”
“Their troop arrangement consists of about 2,680 Third-Circle wizards, 200 Fourth-Circle wizards, and several Fifth-Circle wizards that direct them all.”
“… What about the knights?” “None.”
“Are there no archers?”
“They think they can do everything with their magic. That’s what all wizards here think.”
It was as it had been recorded in the history books. Surely, they had the skills to justify such confidence.
But that was it. There was no problem if that was all they had. “Why are you smiling?”
Kei questioned Desir who had been smiling to himself.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Things seem to be going easier than I thought.” “This is easy?”
“Yes. No matter how confident they are in their skills, it is just too absurd.”
Desir snorted quietly.
“I’d rather show you than tell you.”
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