Chapter 48

Screeeech!

Two swords fiercely competed against each other in strength. Both of the mana-filled swords continued to seek the slightest opportunity to slice their opponent’s neck off. 

“It seems like all my underlings are dead. Are they all dead?” the man asked.

“Did you honestly think that they would still be alive with their level of skills?” 

“No, I know better. I should’ve expected it from people I picked out in a hurry.”

Tang!

Zich and the man pushed each other’s swords and increased the distance between them. It was a brief confrontation. Zich glanced at Snoc for a moment and then looked directly at the man.

“I am asking to make sure. You are the one who made Snoc like that, right?”

“Didn’t I do well, sir?”

Like he was proud, the man placed his hands on his waist, puffed up his chest, and assumed an air of confidence.

“You know, our friend here is quite the shy guy. So, I went out of my way to do him a favor. I was worried that he might not be satisfied.”

“Don’t be so humble. He seems to be satisfied by the way he is literally exploding in confidence. Well, I just asked because I was curious about why he suddenly became so confident about himself.”

In a potentially dangerous situation, they spurred out bloodlust, but it almost felt as if they were engaging in a calm and joyful conversation. 

“There are very few ways to instantly boost a normal person’s self-esteem, especially someone who has been mining all their life. Since he is not holding anything, it doesn’t seem like you handed him a magical sword or anything like that. There’s a high chance that somebody poured power into his body or fused another being into him. Back then, I saw that even though he lost his senses, his use of his new power didn’t seem awkward or stiff, which suggests  that the latter is right. What did you put inside him?”

“You have a wide spectrum of knowledge, sir.”

The man pretended to be calm even when Zich deduced the answer from just the situation around him. His wariness about Zich increased one level higher.

“Rather than compliments, I would like you to satisfy my curiosity.”

“Do you perhaps know a man named Drew?”

The man answered with a question, and Zich nodded.

Zich answered, “Since he didn’t seem to know his place, I taught him a lesson with my fists. But don’t worry; everything’s been resolved, and I don’t hold a grudge against him.”

‘I found him! The unknown variable!’

Considering Zich’s formidable skills and his constant interference with their plans, the man had just guessed. The man was glad that he finally found the person he had been looking for and a feeling of loathing rose up inside his heart.

“Thank you for your answer. I also want to answer your question in return, but unfortunately, I can’t satisfy your curiosity. We have to make a living too.”

“Hm, I can’t keep asking questions if you say that, since making a living is an important matter.”

“I do like people who are understanding. I bet you are quite popular, right?”

“Ah, it’s embarrassing, but I can’t deny that. If I count all the people who follow me, assuming that they like me, it’s enough to fill this whole mine.”

“Wow! Of course! I thought your appearance was brilliant, but as expected, you are well liked!”

“Hahaha! I don’t know what to do myself with all your flattery. But let’s go onto the next topic. I don’t want to give Snoc more time to get stronger.”

Zich’s smile changed from bright to serious. 

“Oh, dear! That’s heartless. Were you lying about having a generous heart? I feel like my faith in you has been shattered a bit.”

“Sorry for disappointing you. But I just got the answer to my last bit of curiosity.”

Zich’s eyes moved to Snoc.

“His body regenerated. The only thing that can fuse with a human is a magical beast or a spirit. A spirit without a body doesn’t increase one’s regenerative skills. Seeing how it gives regenerative abilities to its host, it seems like the object of the fuse is a magical beast; and the energy it spouts out shows that it’s a beast related to the earth. And now that I think about it, isn’t there a legend about a mining monster that lives in Iruce Mine?”

Zich’s eyes shone.

“It must be him.”

“…”

The man couldn’t respond this time.

‘Who is this person…?’

With only a few pieces of information, Zich hit the mark. The man knew Zich was a formidable variable who thwarted his plans, but he didn’t expect Zich to be so perceptive. However, his surprise didn’t end there.

“Is Nowem that magical beast’s name?”

“…!”

“I must be right!”

Now, Zich knew why the man had called Snoc with the title, Nowem. But in contrast to Zich, the man had more questions now. From what he knew, after Snoc named the beast of the earth as Nowem, he didn’t tell anyone about it. The man also wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for the information he got from his organization. 

Yet, Zich said everything in a matter-of-fact tone. Similar to how his underlings were astonished when Zich mentioned the name: ‘The Tyrant of the Earth, Nowem,’ the man also found it difficult to repress his shock.

‘I must extract information from him!’

He thought Zich was simply an unknown variable who distorted their plans, but now Zich was a mysterious human who held important information.

“Then may I ask where you got this information?” the man asked while raising his sword.

“Sorry, but this is also a problem related to my living. I can’t just tell you.”

“Is that so? Then I guess it can’t be helped.”

The man shrugged.

“Let’s talk with our swords.”

“I’m all for that. Snoc seems to have also finished his regeneration, so I guess he can join us.”

Using Snoc’s shriek as the signal, they swung their swords. In front of the mine’s entrance, the battle commenced again. 

*     *     *

It was a three-way battle at the mine. The man tried to only attack Zich, but Snoc attacked recklessly without caring whether his opponent was Zich or the man. Everything was fine until that point. Unlike the other two who tried to defeat everyone else but themselves, the man’s sole target was Zich. The man thought he could block Snoc’s attacks with low effort and focus most of his attention on Zich. However, he quickly found out that he had underestimated Zich’s powers.

‘This bastard is used to three-way battles! No, should I say that he is used to dog fights?’

As soon as he realized that Snoc wasn’t on the man’s side, Zich lightly bounced off Snoc’s attacks to the man or purposefully induced Snoc to clash with him. The man tried to resist Snoc’s attacks, but Zich’s swords skillfully guided Snoc’s attacks to collide with the man. On top of that, Snoc’s attacks grew stronger and sharper, so they were becoming harder to block.

‘He’s still young.’

The man glanced at Zich’s face. Zich’s face looked youthful, and it was a wonder how he could possess such skill and proficiency at such a young age.

However, even Zich wasn’t that composed. The man’s skills were noteworthy, and Snoc’s strength was continuing to increase.

Craaash!

All of their attacks collided in one area and created an explosion. The three created more distance between each other.

“I will admit it. You are really amazing.”

The man clapped lightly at Zich.

“I didn’t think I would meet such a troublesome fellow on a mission that I took in my free time.”

“You won’t get anything even if you compliment me.”

“I am telling you the truth. It’s very rare for a master of lies like me to express my feelings so truthfully. That’s how impressive you are. Yes, enough to make your capture take precedence over my mission.”

At that moment, the man’s aura changed. It wasn’t that he became stronger; it was just that with his change of heart, the aura he exuded also changed.

“Kooooo!”

Snoc seemed to also feel the difference. Since he moved instinctively now, Snoc might have become more sensitive to changes in people’s spirits. 

“Ah, I really hate using this.”

Wiiing!

Strong energy poured out of the man’s body, and Snoc’s body shuddered while Zich’s expression stiffened. The surrounding mana circled the man.

Rustle! Rustle!

The robe that tightly wrapped around the man’s body puffed up. It looked like he was forcefully putting muscles inside a layer of skin, and the robe ripped apart and revealed the man’s face. The man’s face was finally out in the open, but his appearance wasn’t helpful in figuring out his identity. This was because the man's face had changed so much that he looked like a monster.

“Huff! Huff!”

The man gasped. As if to check the success of his transformation, he moved his body in an exaggerated way.

“Your stunt is good. Are you from the circus?”

“I’m not from the circus, but after I retire, I am thinking about starting a new career there. How is it? Isn’t this quite a talent?”

The man’s tone was light, but his voice was considerably rougher. The contrast in his tone and voice stressed the man’s overwhelming presence.

“Ku-Kuaaaaaaah!”

Snoc ran towards the man. His movements looked like he was trying to rule out the danger that suddenly appeared in front of him. Stone pieces shot up and wrapped around Snoc’s arms, and his arms looked like those of a stone giant.

“Hm, I don’t want to hurt you since you are the result of my struggles, but…”

The man avoided Snoc’s arm and pierced Snoc’s insides.

“I have someone more important than you now.”

Punch!

The man’s arms hit Snoc’s stomach. Although Snoc covered his stomach with rocks like armor in that short amount of time, the man’s punch was strong enough to rip apart the armor and send Snoc flying.

“Kuaaaaah!”

With a painful scream, Snoc disappeared far away. Judging by the trajectory, it seemed like he fell somewhere in the middle of the mountain.

“Okay, now that our hindrance is gone, let’s enjoy our sweet time fighting.”

“Will that be all right? I thought you went through a lot of trouble to make that guy.”

“What can I do when you are stealing all my interest away? Also, he is all right. He won’t die from that much, and he can heal most wounds. And since he doesn’t have his own will, he will be waiting there until I take care of you and go look for him. Of course, all of this is considering that he doesn’t meet anyone.”

“And after you take care of him, will you guide him to Suol?”

“Ding-ding! Your mental sharpness is out of this world. Do you have any thoughts about joining us? I think you will be able to climb up positions really fast in our organization.”

“It’s not my style to serve another person, so I will have to decline your offer.”

“Oh, I got rejected. How sad. Then, I guess I should let out this pent-up anger.”

*     *    *

Hans felt troubled as he stared at the mountain top. At his side, Sam looked anxious. To check the Iruce Mine, they were climbing the mountain. Since monsters hadn't penetrated the area yet and wild beasts didn’t pose a threat to Hans, they climbed up the mountain with ease. 

When they reached the mountain top, they suddenly felt a commotion. It was apparent that there was a battle going on, and Hans immediately recalled Zich who had abruptly run out of the room.

‘I feel like Sir Zich is involved.’

Hans thought that was very likely. Now, the problem was what they should do. They both heard shrieks from the mine, and Hans felt it was out of the question to bring Sam to a place like that. He wondered whether he should guide Sam back to the city or leave Sam here for him to run to the battlefield where Zich was. He thought for a bit longer and quickly made up his mind.

‘Considering Sir Zich’s skills, I will just be a bother if I try to go help. Even if I participated in the battle, wouldn’t it be better to ensure Mr. Sam’s safety first?’

Hans made his decision and was about to tell Sam to go back down when something fell from the sky.

Crash! Craaash! Bam!

The figure broke off a couple of tree branches and landed with a huge collision sound.

Clang!

Hans unsheathed his sword instinctively and stood guard against the object. His natural movement highlighted the results of his strenuous training.

A human fell in front of them. Parts of his body were twisted from the fall, and it was evident that the person had suffered significant injuries; however, the person got up like nothing was wrong with him. His movements, which reminded the duo of a zombie’s, caused goosebumps on their skin. Then, Sam brought the torch closer to the person, and the light revealed who the figure was.

“…Snoc?” Sam’s surprised voice spread across the mountainside.

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