The battle against the monsters lasted until sunset. Due to the recent war, the provincial army was rather short staffed. Fortunately, Woohyuk had played a large role, which reduced the casualties for the soldiers.
But it still hadn’t been enough.
“My poor son!”
“Please, open your eyes!”
The hearts of Woohyuk and Lee Jaesung were heavy as they watched the families mourn the loss of their loved ones.
They couldn’t help but blame themselves for perhaps not having done their very best.
“Where did all these monsters come from?”
“We haven’t found that out yet.”
He had hidden his identity the whole time, so that the culprit behind all this might reveal themselves, but it had all been for naught. The main culprit couldn’t be some beginner monster trainer.
‘Not even Choi Kayoon would be able to control so many monsters this early on.’
Not to mention that he knew that she would begin in the Izuna kingdom. Of course it was technically possible for her to have arrived by sea through the free city of Media, but it was rather unlikely.
There must be some other explanation.
“If we don’t find the reason for this, there will only be more needless casualties.”
Despite the average life expectancy being a whopping 300 years, the population of the Eeth continent didn’t increase much due to the frequent wars, plagues, as well as monster invasions.
As Lee Jaesung was clicking his tongue, the young man and woman which he had stepped in to save, spoke out.
“I have something to mention, Lord.”
“What is it?”
“Actually I found this in the mountains.”
The young woman handed him a leather pouch. As Lee Jaesung untied the knot, he found some blue powder inside.
“It’s my first time in my life seeing such a substance. I happen to be quite knowledgeable about many ingredients since we often help with collecting herbs for alchemists.”
“I’m showing it to you because I believe it might have some connection to this latest incident.”
They couldn’t bring it up earlier, because the battle had been in full swing.
As the pair left, Woohyuk spoke up.
“Monster breeding substance.”
“Be careful not to ingest any, for humans it might result in the same symptoms as taking hard drugs.”
Taking it would result in severe withdrawal symptoms which were difficult to cope. If you didn’t handle such a substance carefully, it might result in quite the troubling situation.
Upon hearing Woohyuk’s explanation, Lee Jaesung couldn't help but be surprised.
“So you think someone is purposefully trying to increase the monster population?”
If it were being used as a kind of drug by humans, it wasn’t likely to be found deep within the mountains. Of course it might be used to kidnap slaves within the kingdom, but it was rather unlikely.
‘This stuff must be coming in from the port city, Media.’
The Cohen Merchant group was the first one that came to mind.
The same guys who had smuggled in large quantities of Wildfire, to supply Count Gwain.
If it was them, they should have the connections to get their hands on this stuff.
“I’ll need to borrow a hunting dog.”
“You’re thinking of searching the mountains?”
“Right, there might be some clues left behind.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“No, you stay here.”
Lee Jaesung was still busy getting his house in order.
After picking a hound with a sharp sense of smell, Woohyuk headed deep into the mountains.
‘Night is beginning to fall.’
Without the sunlight, he was relying on the dog’s nose to find any traces of the substance.
It was pitch dark, and an ordinary human wouldn’t be able to see. Only the sound of the wind blowing against the grass and the chirping of the insects was heard.
After searching for quite some time, the dog stopped and growled. This meant that the trail had ended here.
‘Where did you go from here?’
He pushed his senses to the limit, looking for anything that might catch his attention, but found nothing.
Worried that he was too late, Woohyuk took out his Archaeologist's Golden Magnifying Glass, to have a look around once more.
‘Someone’s cast a spell here.’
It hadn’t been long since the Magic Array had been traced on the ground, as there were still faint tracks left behind.
No doubt the other party had tried their best to erase any traces.
Woohyuk followed the trail as he moved along carefully.
‘This guy was quite thorough.’
Without his special magnifying glass, he wouldn’t have found any traces of the Magic Array, nor the footprints which had been concealed with magic.
Woohyuk stopped in front of the cave, assuming his opponent to be an Elite monster.
The hound barked at the cave as it revealed its sharp canines.
This meant that there was something inside.
Woohyuk had likewise managed to detect some presence inside with his perception.
‘Quite a few of them.’
It was a monster’s nest. Since the tracks had ended here, no doubt the Boss was inside as well.
After dying the hound to a nearby oak tree, Woohyuk pulled out Verserios.
‘If his Spirit stat was high enough, he could even force monsters to obey him.’
For the most part, monsters were a by-product of the Demon race mating with other creatures.
Of course there were some cases that arose due to curses from the Gods, such as Arachne or Medusa, but they were the exception.
Therefore, if he managed to kill the Boss monster with Verserios, he could put the entire case to rest.
As soon as Woohyuk stepped into the cave, a pair of red eyes appeared in the darkness. It was as if it had been waiting for him.
“I am your master from now on.”
The monsters seemed unwilling to submit to Woohyuk, as they roared in challenge. Still, they were rather afraid of Verserios’ aura, so they had yet to attack.
Monsters would act upon instinct, so it was normal for them to want to avoid the Abyss that was waiting to swallow them up.
“You there, come forward.”
Woohyuk had pointed at an Elder Orc Shaman, the chief of the tribe. It was similar to the Elder Troll which they had fought in the Corcas Mountains, but had a purer bloodline, with superior physique and stats.
The only reasons they might still be around was that they had either been assimilated by the Demon world following the end of the God and Demon war, or that they had been sealed in an Historical Site.
The Elder Orc Shaman pretended to do as Woohyuk ordered, but it fully intended to attack with its magic.
It cast a Flame Pillar, as a red magic array appeared beneath Woohyuk’s feet.
A huge column of fire swallowed Woohyuk up. However, it was even weaker than a Fireball, so Woohyuk didn’t take any damage.
He had simply relied on his Demonic Energy to protect his body.
“You seem to be quite the stubborn one.”
Woohyuk’s eyes gleamed dangerously, as he stabbed Verserios into the ground. His dark Demonic Energy then spread out in every direction.
An ability that he had acquired upon releasing the latest seal which had been placed on Verserios.
The monsters were overwhelmed by the pressure it emitted, and couldn’t help but take a couple steps back.
“I command you to obey me.”
Woohyuk spoke as he stepped forward, his eyes turned evil as he gave off an aurora of divinity origination from Verserios.
One by one the monsters dropped down to their knees. The Elder Orc Shaman resisted the longest, but eventually couldn’t win against such an oppressive power. It bowed its head as it opened its mouth to speak.
The Orc language.
Although the system’s translation ability didn’t extend to the monster's speech, Woohyuk was able to understand him right away.
It was because the Abyss had assimilated countless species into his Asura World.
“Who gave you the endorphin substance?”
“For what purpose?”
The deal he was referring to was some sort of barter. The Cohen Merchant group would continue to supply the powder, while the Boss monsters would provide looted goods or human prisoners in exchange.
“How is this done without any middleman?”
According to the Elder Orc Shaman, the endorphin powder was provided to the Orcs that obeyed the merchant group’s orders. They were then sent into the mountains to prove how effective it truly was.
When they learned that they were able to breed despite it not being their usual mating season, allowing them to multiply their numbers, they agreed to the deal with the Cohen Merchant group.
‘A rather well thought out plan.’
Although he still didn’t know what the Cohen Merchant groups ultimate goal was, he was now certain that a calamity would befall the Rhine kingdom if he didn’t uproot them.
Retracting his Demonic Energy, Woohyuk raised Verserios and pointed it towards the Elder Orc Shaman.
“You’ll need to help me.”
He needed someone on the inside, in order to uncover their whole plot. Woohyuk gave him a pitiful smile as he saw the terrified expression on the Elder Orc Shaman’s face.
* * *
Media, a port city within Erutonia. The city was run by the two top Merchant groups, Cohen and Rossio. On the surface both appeared to be quite similar, but in truth the Cohen Merchants dealt with smugglers.
Any illicit goods such as slaves, drugs, weapons, they were all sold by them across the kingdom. Rossio’s group however ran a black market auction of rare items.
Just like with Kaliss and Erica back in Landium, these two merchant groups were always at each other’s throats. It was one of the reasons that Media wasn’t a very safe place, as fights between the two would break out often.
‘It is quite the lawless place.’
Woohyuk sighed, upon seeing a brawl between mercenaries in a nearby alley.
Even if the free city had been given autonomy, in exchange it lacked severely in security. Landium might as well have been paradise compared to here.
‘Maybe it has something to do with their trade with the southern countries.’
In the southern kingdoms, slavery was legal. The Talis kingdom was one such example.
Although they strongly believed in freedom and liberty, they followed a strict religion which greatly discriminated against pagans.
It was also by employing their vicious torture methods that the Dragon Lord Ivanov had managed to obtain complete obedience from his red dragon, Karnelian.
However that wasn’t Woohyuk’s preferred method.
‘If you need to use physical force to bend it to your will, one day it was bound to snap.’
Perhaps that was one of the reasons that Karnelian had gone mad in the past. Woohyuk had to do something about that, before it suffered any permanent damage.
The same was true for the people in Media. They would rise up as an angry mob later to put an end to the oppression of the Cohen Merchant group.
As he thought back to the smugglers that he had caught back in Ionia, Woohyuk arrived before Adonis’ residence.
“We need to verify your identity.”
A guard standing by the entrance spoke brusquely. Woohyuk was wearing torn travel attire, and could have easily passed for a bum.
“I’m a first class mercenary working for Count Ludwig, pass that on to Adonis.”
He had his letter of recommendation signed by Lee Jaesung.
Upon seeing the red way seal on the letter, the guard disappeared into the manor. Even if they were currently in a free city, a Count from the same province as them couldn’t be ignored.
“Please come in, Adonis is waiting.”
Upon his return, the guard gave him a bow and spoke far more politely.
Woohyuk proceeded to follow him into the manor.
“You want to work for me?”
A man with dark brown hair and glasses was sitting on his armchair, as he asked.
His first impression of him was that he seemed quite the calculating type.
“Is it money you are after? I’m indeed a bit shorthanded here, so for a 1st class mercenary like yourself I can pay 20 gold per month.”
Typically, the monthly salary for a 3rd class mercenary was 3 to 5 gold. 9 to 12 gold for a 2nd class and 15 to 18 gold for a 1st class. 20 gold was considered quite generous according to the current market rate, but Woohyuk still refused.
“I have no need for gold, I would prefer information instead.”
“... Information huh? There are indeed some that are quite expensive.”
There was some inside information that could allow one to turn a 1000 gold profit with a single investment.
Still, contrary to Adonis’ expectations, Woohyuk’s interests lay elsewhere than money.
“Any information that you have on the Cohen Merchant group will do.”
Woohyuk’s counter offer caught him off guard.Previous Chapter Next Chapter