Chapter 159

“What’s the situation on their side?” 

“It’s unknown. They have not made any contact with the intelligence agents.”

“What about the servants?”

“They stopped all contact with them as well. It was confirmed that they have all been replaced 15 days ago.”

“All 140 of them?” 

“That’s correct.”

“This is crazy…”

Jiha groaned in annoyance.

“We’re completely trapped… 10 years of effort and hard work… How could an organization that was planted in the palace be destroyed so easily?”

They needed to come to a conclusion for this discussion. They had no time; there was a lot they had to do. 

“If an all-out war were to break out, what would the odds look like?” asked Jiha.

Next to her was a man in his 40s, named Asum. He was the chief of staff of the Black Guild. He was a man who was good with numbers.

“It’s about 50%, but…”

“Fifty-fifty? That much? What about the damages?”

“We’ll lose 80% of our forces, all three business foundations that we had planted in the major clans will be exposed, along with all of our personal information…”

“Any chance of making a comeback?”

“Only if the Dark Guild intervenes…”

“You’re saying that will not happen…” 

Jiha cracked her knuckles. 

“What does he want?” 

“It’s a little hard to guess. On the surface, it looks as though they want to guarantee Princess Rain’s safety…” answered Kurian, a man in his 50s. He was the person in charge of the Black Guild’s external strategies. 

“On the surface?”

“If that was the only reason, he wouldn’t have gone so hard. There were also several other ways he could have gone about doing it.” 

“That’s true. They must have a bigger goal… I wonder what it is.”

“The man has a close relationship with the Dark Guild. Perhaps, they want the Black Guild to be taken over by the Dark Guild. Of course, that’s the worst-case scenario…” 

Uh-umm-

People were groaning everywhere. Everyone felt the same way in their hearts too, but it was something that was difficult to say because It was truly the worst. Jiha chuckled.

“If the leaders of our guild personally stamp our seals on the instrument of surrender, what’s in it for them?”

“I’m sorry?” 

“The worst case scenario is an all-out war. If that happens, the man or someone else will kill us. It’s not a card that people who are busy carrying out the emperor’s orders can choose.”

“...”

“So that’s why they’re demanding us to surrender? Can they control us after we surrender? Unless we voluntarily disband, they will probably have to spend a lot more time and money than going to an all-out war, no? Merging with the Dark Guild? How is the Dark Guild going to make a living? They are not easy to deal with either.”

“If not, then…?

Jiha wiped her lips with the back of her hand. That was a habit of hers whenever she had to make a decision. 

“As you may have noticed, the enemy is a very clever person. Up until now, you have seen how they move, right? They have almost never personally taken the lead. They’ve always taken out the people in their surroundings first, before throwing a curveball to the center, catching their opponent off guard. After that, they go straight to the key individual and simply grab them by the neck. It’s very clear-cut and organized. What do you remember?” 

“They were very meticulous and economical. They are the same type of human beings as us.” 

Jiha finally smiled. It felt as though something was being sorted out. 

“Yeah, if that man made a move, it meant that he was already prepared. Regardless of what we do, the outcome will not change. Besides, they have the support of the emperor, which means that they are allowed to use the imperial organizations. There is something he is seeking for. What could it be?” 

“Are you saying that there is a possibility for negotiation?”

“Anyway, let’s go. He came here alone intentionally. If I’m right, it’s not a bad deal for us. In any case, I acknowledge the fact that he is an incredible guy. Up until now, nobody has ever pushed the Black Guild into a corner to such an extent before.” 

***

Biyeon was burying her head in a pile of books in front of her. 

San asked, “Do you still have a lot of research to do?” 

“I have skimmed through the documents from the imperial palace, but I still cannot find anything pertaining to Apian. I think I should wrap it up here. They are most likely top-secret documents, if they even exist.”

“So, only the emperor and the people close to him know about it?”

“I guess so. 

“We can’t peruse documents that are classified above level 1.”

“Does Rain not know anything about it?

“Nothing else apart from the things we’ve heard from Hanyoung.”

“What about Hanyoung?”

Biyeon chuckled. San smiled as well. 

“What would you expect from that raccoon? He’s probably going to make another deal with us. I will absolutely never ask him, unless he brings it up on his own accord. I have my pride too…”

“Yeah. I’m not that curious anymore.” 

“There’s a map.”

Biyeon took out a scroll and opened it, changing the topic. It was a more practical matter.

“A map?”

“It’s useful because the information about the empire’s territories is quite detailed, but the areas beyond that were poorly done. The draftsmanship and scales are so sloppy that it’s unbelievable. The distance between east and west is not reliable at all, because the geographic coordinate system has not been established, and time is not calibrated. 

“Are you saying you want to make a new one?”

“I think we should. Human geography is the most essential knowledge needed to live in this world. It seems like field exploration and surveying are necessary. The problem is that...we need to find a way to guarantee Princess Rain’s safety while we are away.”

“We can always make arrangements for it… We have powerful people supporting us, when do you want to use them?” 

San was always speaking nonchalantly. Biyeon let out a small sigh and looked at him. San slowly turned his head. He looked at the fireplace and cracked his knuckles. It was a habit that he had recently developed. As always, her eyes were very sparkly and clear. However, as the fatigue gradually accumulated, San felt very afraid. The time that was given to them was going by quickly, but their preparations were not progressing as fast as they thought they would. 

“If my time is limited, I would rather feel at ease. A body that neither dies nor lives and is forever a test subject in experiments… If that is not eternal hell, then what is?”

They were robbed of ordinary lives. The constraints placed on the most powerful beings in the world. Endless fear, and despair, as well as deadly temptations. They had rejected all of that and were still in the midst of fighting. For what?

“For the sake of protecting our own freedom and dignity…”

San pulled himself together once again. He went over their plan, as well as their progress, in his head once again. Why were they in the palace of all places? They were not on some kind of tour. It was solely because they wanted to carry out their assignment. They believed that something they wanted could be found here. Something that only existed at the core of this world - information and power….as well as authority.  

Biyeon came up with an operation. She called it ‘Etranger’. It meant ‘foreigner,’ or ‘high-ranking mercenary’. It had already been two years since they started the operation. Biyeon explored the possibility of cooperating with Hanyoung from the Han-Sung Clan in the first phase. The price for cooperating was the skills they possessed, as well as their extraordinary knowledge of its process. Hanyoung wanted verification, and they proved their abilities in Essen over the course of a year. 

Next, the second phase began. Hanyoung persuaded Rain and sent her away. Both of them gauged Rain’s abilities using various methods. Her determination, ambition, and trust. So far, the results were relatively satisfactory. That meant that the second phase of the operation had been successfully completed. The third phase was currently underway. 

“Explore everything in this world in a short period of time with the help of the powerful people in the palace. Clearly identify the enemy’s true nature and abilities. In case of emergency, establish a system of cooperation that allows us to mobilize the Absolute Clans. Take control of the secret intelligence forces. And…”

They were now struggling as they were approaching the end of their preparations. 

“Things with the Black Guild are likely to work out. The problem is the people from the Shadow Guild. Did you find out anything?”

“They are people who excelled in other fields outside of martial arts - artists, musicians, performers, carpenters, blacksmiths, pharmacists, doctors, surveyors, etc. There is a wide variety.”

“Didn’t you say that they are stubborn and narrow-minded?”

“That’s a trait that professionals have. Some of them belong to the Shadow Guild, and it is a very thorough organization. It is not easy to identify their true nature, especially when it is difficult to get in touch with the leaders. I’m not certain, but perhaps, if there’s a connection…”

“What is it?”

“I thought it might be related to the Gods.”

“Gods?”

“After all, the Gods are the experts of all experts. The God of music, the God of hunting, the God of blacksmiths, etc. These Gods are not going to leave those experts alone.”

“Is the Shadow Guild a sub-organization of the Gods? Or their pawn?”

“Since there are shrines, that’s not the case. They must have some sort of a relationship. If we look there, we might find something…”

“Does it mean that the Gods are trying to increase their power too?”

“The number of shrines is growing exponentially. It proves that they are gathering their own army. The apostles and priests are the ones who can control the minds of the believers.”

“Something like that. However, the business of the gods here is a far cry from blessing their followers, in the religious sense. Instead, they use direct mental control and technical training to secure their believers. The issue is expertise… Since they are experts, there is a possibility that they may be a group of instructors. If their thoughts and expressions are so controlled…” 

“As for the Gods…it was the same with Kamiza previously, so we have to fight more seriously anyway. What are the Gods to us? Are they our enemies or our allies?”

“We need them on our side. They control all kinds of communication. Isn’t that what we need the most?”

“What’s the price for that?"

“It would be pretty high.”

“Whew… Yeah, nothing is free. What else are we supposed to give this time?” 

“We have...our bodies.”

“Goddamnit…”

San sighed.

“The Gods want power too. There’s one thing for sure - regardless of how powerful a being is, they cannot achieve their goal in this world without the ‘human form’. Hence, we must use that human power to fight against them. With our human power, we have a chance of winning.”

“What’s next?”

“Next, we have to create balance.”

“Balance?”

“A balance of power. Dragons, Magic Dragons, Gods, the Fallen ones…as well as humans. That’s where we will find our opportunity to survive.”

San held his breath for a moment.

“Is that possible?”

“Well…it’s not.”

San looked blankly at Biyeon. She was serious. San ended their serious conversation with a mischievous smile. 

“Let’s eat.”

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