Zich and Hans pushed their way down the mountain road. Hans dragged a sled behind him, and because the sled kept getting tangled into bushes and trees, he had to lift it up most of the time. The sled was heavy with orc corpses, and Hans’ muscles screamed at him to stop. His mana was also at rock bottom, but Hans was happy to be done with his training.
“How was it today?” Zich asked as he sliced a small tree blocking their path. The usual self-reflection time began. It was difficult to drag the sled while thinking about the day’s ordeals simultaneously, but Hans was used to it now.
“I think I did pretty well today.”
“Then, are you saying you passed?”
“When I fought the first orc, I didn’t properly swing my ax. My wrist ached for a while from that shock and messed up my swings later on. And when I fought that fourth orc, I didn’t properly space the distance between my attacks. I took an unnecessary extra half-step, so my ax almost split in half.”
Hans tried to recall more mistakes in his battles, but he couldn’t think of anything else.
“I-I don’t know, sir,” Hans answered with discouragement. Zich didn’t talk for a moment, and Hans made furtive glances at Zich.
“Well, there are some more things, but you passed. I think you noticed the big things.”
Hans breathed a big sigh of relief.
“Then, is there no additional training today?”
“Man, why do you hate training so much? It’s not even hard.”
Hans bit his lips hard to try to not say anything.
“Your generous master is simply trying to grant your wish. I thought you wanted to be like those heroes in storybooks. If that’s the case, the quickest and best way to achieve that goal is to receive training from me.”
Hans sighed that he had accidentally confessed his dream to Zich under the influence of alcohol.
“If you want to be a hero, you have to have power first. Then you can beat up bad guys and laugh in your glory.”
Zich explained his version of a hero to Hans. Hans’ expression showed that he seemed to disagree with Zich, but Zich continued, “You have to get power foremost. You can think about becoming a hero or a villain afterward. If you go through my training, you will at least be one of the top five strongest in the world.”
Hans thought Zich was exaggerating. He knew that Zich was strong and amazing, but he didn’t think that Zich was strong enough to be the strongest in the world. Thus, he didn’t realize how Zich’s words were based on experience and had great credibility.
“Of course, no matter how much you work, you will never be able to beat a mega-genius like me.”
As usual, the day ended with Zich complimenting himself, and Hans pouted. They walked while conversing some more, and soon, the trees and bushes that blocked their path disappeared. An ashy, gray-colored floor without a single grass patch greeted them.
“We have already come this far?” Zich murmured.
Although they couldn’t see trees and grass anymore, Zich and Hans were still on a high altitude bedrock of a tall mountain. It was a site in the center of the city of Suol called the Iruce Mine.
They heard a noise nearby. The sun was slowly setting, and they saw a trail of people coming down. The people were miners who seemed to have finished their day’s work.
“Huh? Isn’t that Zich?”
One of the miners, a young man, covered from head to toe in dirt, acted like he knew Zich. He was a man who had noticeable veins popping out of his forearms.
Zich waved his arms, and the man named Sam trudged towards Zich with a pickaxe on his shoulders. Sam’s eyes immediately moved to the sled with a pile of orcs.
“You guys must have worked hard today. So diligent.”
“I bet not as much as a miner.”
The two snickered at each other, and Hans watched them in astonishment. From what he knew, Zich had befriended Sam recently. This was surprising since Zich was of noble birth and had been a successor to a high-status family. Even if many had protested against his succession, Zich was still a noble; thus, there was a vast difference in status between miners like Sam and a noble like Zich. Yet, Zich didn’t seem to avoid befriending someone like Sam at all.
‘He is mysterious in many ways.’
Hans stared at Zich’s back as the two conversed happily.
“You caught a lot today. Where did you catch them?”
“It’s a three-hour walk from here.”
Sam’s face stiffened. Other miners also perked their ears.
“Yeah. But since we can use mana, we walk faster than you and move well even on a rough road. With your speed, it will probably take you at least six to nine hours.”
“Damn it! These monsters are still too close.”
Sam looked at the sled again.
“And it’s also an orc! I don’t know about goblins, but orcs are too much!”
“It’s too much for me too.”
“How can we beat an orc?”
With Sam’s words, the miners each added in their comments. Their workplace, the Iruce Mine, was close to the area, but Zich said that he found monsters within a nine-hour walking distance. Furthermore, it wasn’t even a weak monster like a goblin but an orc.
“When is the next Monster Sweep?”
“Can’t they move the date forward?”
“How can we decide on that? The higher-ups decide the date, and it’s not something that we have a say in.”
“But there must be something that we can do. It’s a serious problem that there are already monsters near this area.”
“How did they take care of problems like this before?”
The miners began to have a serious debate, and Sam also scratched his head roughly.
“Damn it! The mine is already in a mess even without this to worry about!”
“Is there something going on?” Zich asked.
“When we went to the mines this morning, our stored goods were missing or were in a mess.”
“Maybe you imagined it, or a beast got to it.”
“No, it’s really not our imagination. We checked many times, and we also thought it was a beast at first, but people are worried that monsters are coming closer to us at a faster rate than usual.”
“Even if monsters appeared here, I don’t think they would loiter near the mines.”
“If that’s the case, I would be happy. Maybe it’s really the work of a beast. Or the works of a Mine Monster.”
“A Mine Monster?”
“It’s an old story that has been passed down in Suol since a long time ago.”
Sam looked behind him. His colleagues were still talking to each other with serious expressions on their faces.
“Let’s talk about that later. This is a quite serious matter, so I must participate in this debate. And ah, thank you for the information.”
“Then buy me a drink later.”
“If it’s not too expensive.”
Sam joined his colleagues in a hurry.
‘It must be a pretty serious matter.’
Hans didn’t realize that the orcs that he caught by merely following Zich’s orders would escalate into such a serious and important issue. To Hans, who was just beginning to gain battle experience by fighting orcs, it was difficult to think that far ahead.
“Everyone has their own troubles. We just have to take care of our troubles. Let’s continue moving.”
At Zich’s words, Hans grabbed the sled handle again.
Zich and Hans heard a hesitant and shy voice, and they turned their heads toward the noise. There were three miners who didn’t look much different from Sam; they were covered in a cloud of dirt and looked relatively young. One of the men looked a couple of years younger than Zich.
“Are you adventurers?”
Adventurer—the young man’s voice was full of romanticism at this word, as if he was describing the main character of a storybook who explored dungeons in unknown places, subjugated dragons, and saved beautiful princesses. However, that was just a fairytale.
In reality, most adventurers teetered on a thin line between a gambler and a thug; they wandered around, dreaming of striking rich from one journey. They weren’t full of justice like the way storybooks portrayed them to be, and most of them became bandits due to financial problems. Thus, many people didn’t look at adventurers favorably. However, the miner who asked Zich and Hans if they were adventurers seemed like he still believed in storybooks.
“No, we are not.”
Although they wandered around the world without any plans, Zich and Hans were still far from adventurers.
“I heard that you guys are traveling the world…”
The young man glanced at the miners who were still debating. His eyes were on Sam, and it seemed as if the young man had heard this news from him.
“That is true, but who are you?”
“Ah! I forgot to introduce myself. I am Snoc.”
“I am Zich.”
“Could I perhaps hear about your travels?” the young man asked with eyes full of admiration since he couldn’t achieve his goals.
“Hey, Snoc! What are you doing? We have to go now!”
“I have to ask this person something—!”
“—Stop talking nonsense! Those people also have to get on with their work! Why are you bothering them when the sun is almost setting?” Sam shouted. Perhaps Snoc also thought he was acting like a nuisance, and he backed off while looking regretful.
“If I meet you next time, I would really like to hear about your travels. Please, I beg you.”
Then Snoc hurriedly joined the rest of the miners and walked down the mountain. Zich stared at the distant group of miners and struck Hans’ shoulders.
“Let’s go too.”
Hans grabbed the sled’s handle.
* * *
Zich and Hans stayed in Suol for a while and trained. Hans’ skills improved at a pace that would shock anyone; however, his development speed was nothing compared to Zich’s.
The mana circulated smoothly in Zich’s body. His body, which used to creak whenever the mana overflowed, had no problems now. Then Zich tried to halt his mana and dramatically increase it to its maximum.
Zich’s body trembled slightly, and he stopped the flow of mana.
‘I need a bit more time.’
It wouldn’t take him too long.
‘I won’t be too late.”
The day that a great catastrophe would befall Suol was drawing closer. Zich felt like he could finish preparations before then.
While Zich was thinking this, Hans, who was hunting monsters like usual, chopped up an orc. Like how Zich was almost used to his power, Hans was getting used to his monster hunting. The sun was starting to set, and Zich shouted while Hans loaded some orc corpses onto the sled, “Let’s go!”
They went down the mountain and went to the Monster Exterminator branch store. It was located a bit far away from the city because they couldn’t have built a store, where monster corpses went in and out, near where people lived.
“Hey, you are here today too.”
A rough, bandit-looking middle-aged man welcomed them. He was the branch manager named Paul Chenu.
“How many did you catch today?”
“Six orcs and three goblins.”
Zich answered, and Paul Chenu scowled.
“Damn it! They are increasing. Where did you find them?”
“Around a six-hour walk by a normal person’s standards.”
That was almost right around the corner, and Paul Chenu nodded.
“Urgh! I am so glad I called those guys.”
“Yeah. I called some skilled adventurers and mercenaries this time. The monster sweep is going to be next month even though the monsters are coming close. Since we can’t close the mine down, we have to solve this problem independently.”
At that moment, someone came inside the store.
“He is one of them.”
Paul Chenu pointed sideways with his chin.
A heavily armored man stood in front of the store’s entrance. His crooked posture and mannerisms looked unfriendly.
“Hey Drew! You finally came?”
Paul Chenu welcomed him with his arm raised, but the man, Uljon Drew, nodded his head slightly. The man was obviously rude, but Paul Chenu just shrugged his shoulders. In his field of work, there were many guys with terrible personalities.
‘Well, that guy is among the worst though.’
Of course, Paul Chenu didn’t say this thought out loud.
“Did you catch many today?”
Drew took out something from his clutches; it was a small box the size of his palm. The box seemed like it was made from wooden material, and strange symbols decorated its surface. He opened the box. Something jumped out and fell to the ground.
It was heavy. Considering the box's size, the sound was loud, but onlookers could understand why when they realized what the object was. The thing seemed way too big to have come out of the small box.
“It’s an artifact.”
Zich told Hans whose eyes widened in surprise.
“That thing is?”
“By the looks of it, it’s an item that can store goods no matter the volume or weight. Among artifacts, it’s a pretty common type. Of course, that doesn’t make it less rare.”
Hans looked back and forth between the box and the thing that fell out of it.
“Does that count as an item?”
What came out of the box were monster corpses. Most of the bodies were orcs and goblins, but corpses of medium-level monsters like trolls were mixed in. There were a considerable number of corpses.
“A corpse can be totally counted as an item. It’s only a living creature when the creature is alive. When it’s dead, what is it more than a piece of meat? It’s the same for a human corpse.”
Hans scowled with intense disgust.
“He is amazing as ever.”
Paul Chenu examined the monster's corpses and expressed his awe. However, he didn’t end it with just admiration.
“But where were these monsters? Especially the trolls. Do you think they will appear near the city or the mines in a month’s time?”
This was very important. The difference between low-level monsters like goblins and orcs and mid-level monsters like trolls were huge. For the city’s safety, he had to identify the situation clearly. However, like he couldn’t be bothered, Drew glanced at Paul Chenu once and turned his head.
“Figure out the sum and prepare it by evening.”
And then he strutted out of the store.
“Uh, huh? Hey! Hey, Drew!” Paul Chenu called the man urgently, but Drew left without even turning back.
“…How can there be a person like that?”
In comparison to Hans who was astounded, Zich looked indifferent.
“I mean, isn’t his attitude too rude, sir?”
“Why are you overreacting? That much is cute.”
In comparison to people who pulled out a person’s spine for not concentrating on what they said, or gouged a person’s eye for glaring at them, or sliced off a person’s head for not liking the way they looked, Drew’s behavior was similar to a child’s tantrum.
“Moreover, you’re not even the one affected by his behavior. I don’t think he committed a sin big enough for me to kill him in the name of doing a good deed.”
“Sir, if that person showed the same attitude to you, how would you react?”
Hans asked this since Zich said, ‘You’re not even the one who’s affected.’
“I’d crack his skull open. Isn’t that obvious?”
As expected, Zich was Zich.
“Or is that not living a kind life? No, you should at least be prepared to have your head cracked if you pick a fight with someone. Um, then that will definitely make me faultless—since it’s self-defense. I guess I won’t have any problems then.”
Yes, that was right. Hans gave up on understanding Zich’s way of thinking and quietly accepted his fate.Previous Chapter Next Chapter