It had been a journey which spanned over 10 years.
“...” Imperial Prince Benoit had finally achieved his purpose, and he felt a strange sense of power. The truth that he had known from the beginning... Maybe he had wanted it to be a lie. He felt all types of emotions when he saw the evidence that Great Demon Berith gave him.
“Imperial Prince! Imperial Prince!” There was a call for him during the long journey back to the empire. Benoit turned his head in the direction of the call, but he ignored it and kept walking. With a thin body, upright posture, an old attire, and a long beard, he looked like a pilgrim. The people passing by greeted him, unaware that he was the traitor to humanity. However, he couldn’t fool everyone’s eyes.
“Your Highness!” The running man caught up and overtook Benoit, blocking his way. He was the owner of a demon mark that attached to the target on the premise that the wearer never died. It was Chensler.
How did he recognize Benoit’s current disguise? However, it was expected for the Five Pillars to recognize him. He couldn’t hide his red energy in his present state and couldn’t escape the senses of the Five Pillars.
“I came to this place by following the trail of the priest that carried out the great demon summoning ceremony.”
“Huhuhu, the priest. Is that what the Rebecca followers are calling me?”
“Yes, but they don’t know Your Highness’ identity.”
“It is reasonable. Ah, don’t misunderstand. I’m not hiding my identity for the empire. The Yatan Church already knows my identity. The world will know it at any time now... the fact that it is an imperial prince who summoned a great demon.”
“Why did you...”
“Why? Are you afraid that the Rebecca Church and the whole world will blame the empire?”
“I’m not interested in political matters. It is just that His Majesty the Emperor will be troubled.”
“Sir, you are very unusual.”
“Unlike the other pillars, you are truly loyal to His Majesty.”
“The other pillars are the same. In particular, Sir Bain is more than me...”
“Who knows? Well, by the way, His Majesty knew what I was doing.”
“There is nothing His Majesty doesn’t know.”
“What?” Prince Benoit looked like he was hit by a hammer. The blind man who believed his beloved wife died of illness knew everything?
“Kuk...! Kukukuk! Kuhahahaha!”
Benoit was prepared. He had committed all types of crimes while risking blame and criticism. The killing intent of the inwardly afraid Benoit amplified again. It became louder and fiercer, with a momentum that wouldn’t die down again.
“Sir, do you really believe that? His Majesty knows everything? When it took me more than 10 years to find this truth?”
“Your search was carried out in secret, so it took a long time.”
“He will be embarrassed if it is known that his son is a lunatic who wants to summon the great demons. I was forced to keep it secret.”
“Please refrain from speaking like that.”
“Well, that’s fine. Let’s return to the empire. I was on my way back.”
“Kuoong...” Hurent struggled with the war god follower. He consumed all his ultimate techniques and used all of his power. There was nothing to say.
‘I heard the level of this place is high, but it is really difficult. I can’t believe this monster is so strong. No, I’m too weak.’
There were too many great opponents who developed their skills by trying to die. The subconscious aspirations and desire to be at the top again troubled Hurent. Satisfy's worldview wasn’t at a level he could handle. Seriously, he wanted to quit the game.
Hurent smiled and dealt the final blow.
“...?” He was dazed for a moment as the follower turned to gray. The experience gained from killing the follower was almost as much as hunting a boss monster. It was more than twice the experience gained from killing the sea monsters.
‘I’m weak, but this guy is also strong.’
What the hell was he supposed to do in this scary place? Hurent shook his head and picked up a fragment of a secret technique book dropped by the follower.
Dog Woman and her companions were ecstatic. They had watched the battle from beginning to end and were aware of Hurent’ identity.
He was one of the strongest players of the old era. They heard that he had retired from active duty after suffering the humiliation of losing to Grid in just five seconds. Yet he had appeared here, and his strength was incomparable to what it had been in the past.
‘You’ve changed the sword.’
It seemed that the gaming industry’s saying of ‘frustration raises a man’ was true. Dog Woman gulped and sent a look of envy to Hurent. Obviously, Hurent was much weaker than the Seven Dukes. In terms of attack, defense, health, irregularity and speed, the Seven Dukes overwhelmed their followers in all respects. The dukes won easily if they fought one-on-one against the followers.
On the other hand, Hurent had narrowly knocked down the follower. He had almost lost. However, the surprising thing was that Hurent had taken less than two minutes to kill the follower. The dukes had taken more than three minutes. Hurent was almost twice as fast as them.
‘This is the true power of aura...’
Hurent was a hermit. There was a very low possibility that he belonged to a group. It was clear that he had come here alone. Wasn’t that why he was alone right now? There was only one conclusion.
‘We must invite him to be a colleague!’
If Hurent joined them, it would be a great strength for both the Skunk Expedition Group and the dukes.
“Thank you for saving us. Without your help, we would all be outside the Red Sea right now.” Dog Woman approached Hurent and bowed politely. “It is an honor to meet you, Hurent.”
“Umm.” Hurent wasn’t upset despite his identity being discovered. He had used all types of skills with fighting the strong follower. Since he was a celebrity in his old days, the possibility of people recognizing his skills was very high.
Hurent sighed as he changed his guild affiliation to private and took off his straw hat. Short grey hair and a mature face was revealed. Dog Woman reconfirmed his identity and was excited. “We are explorers of the Skunk Expedition Group. We are currently exploring the Ruins of the War God along with the imperial army, including some of the Seven Dukes.”
‘Along with the Seven Dukes?’
“It seems that you are alone. Why don’t you join us? We think that your fighting ability will be a great help to our exploration. It is also a chance to become acquaintances with the Seven Dukes. It isn’t a bad suggestion.”
Was he shy?
Hurent scratched his cheeks for a moment before asking, “Is there a camp nearby?”
“It isn’t near. The camp is six kilometers to the east. We left for a moment to find some clues.”
“Without an escort?”
“Imperial soldiers escorted us. However, before you came, they were killed by the follower and turned to ash.”
“I see. Then what are the clues?”
He kept on digging up information. Dog Woman was somewhat uncomfortable, but she soon realized the attitude was natural. Since she asked to be colleagues, he had an obligation to ask for information. It was to make sure that they could be helpful to him.
“They are clues to break through the traps in the jungle.”
“The traps in the jungle?”
“You haven’t seen the jungle yet. It is a wise choice for an experienced person.”
Dog Woman gave an explanation. There were all types of traps installed everywhere in the jungle, and they had to collect key pieces to release the traps.
‘Lauel will be delighted when I tell him this information.’
Indeed, goodwill was a positive act. The identity of the great explorer who discovered the Ruins of the War God was Skunk. Skunk’s Expedition Group was with the imperial army. There were traps in the jungle, and Hurent even learned how to disable them. He received a lot of information and felt good. Hurent had been worried he would be no help to Grid, so he was relieved.
“Thank you for telling me this, but I’m sorry. I can’t go with you.”
“Huh? It is dangerous alone... Ah? Do you have companions?”
“This...” Dog Woman reacted in an embarrassed manner. She regretted telling him so many things. Then she changed her mind. ‘In any case, they are things he will discover over time.’
Hurent had saved her life. It was better to pay back some of that grace. Dog Woman cleared her mind and shook hands with Hurent. “I hope you have a good adventure with your companions.”
“Companions...” Hurent made a subtle expression. After the first battle against Haster, he joined the Overgeared Guild but still had no sense of belonging. Hurent felt grateful to Grid but had never thought of himself as an Overgeared member. He had never considered Grid and the 10 meritorious retainers he came here with as companions. However—
‘It’s true that I don’t hate it.’
Hurent had the experience of age and knew how hard it was to build true friendships and trust in this society. He had watched the Overgeared members over the last 10 days and felt the deep friendship and trust between them. They were people who were true to others. He could glimpse the personalities of the Overgeared members.
“It isn’t bad.” This was the reason why he thought it was okay to be companions.
“No, I’m talking to myself.” Hurent shook Dog Woman’s hand and gazed into her eyes. “Stay healthy.”
“Ah...! Yes! Senior as well! I am honored!” Dog Woman replied, attracted by Hurent’s deep gaze. Hurent was more of a big shot than he thought. He was truly admired by many people.
On the west coast...
“It is too different from what I thought,” Grid’s voice was troubled as he flew into the sky with Noe on his shoulder.
The Ruins of the War God...
He was both worried and looking forward to the danger. Unfortunately, it was so calm that he was disappointed.
“...They are lucky.”
On the ground below Grid, the Overgeared Skeletons were attacking the rock shells. The rock shells were level 250. They weren’t even monsters who attacked first. The rewards were small, and they weren’t worth Grid even seeing them.
However, the Overgeared Skeletons were different. A level 250 monster with weak attack power was like sweet honey for the Overgeared Skeletons. That’s why they acted like they had met lifelong rivals and tried their best to hit the rock shells. The solid body of the opponents didn’t move, but the skeletons wielded their weapons without giving up. It meant they were craving growth themselves.
‘I need items for the kids. It is also essential to maximize their production capabilities.’
He had been worrying about it over the past few months, but he thought it was better to invest two item creation slots for the Overgeared Skeletons. In the long run, it wasn’t a loss for him if the Overgeared Skeletons grew and evolved steadily.
In a posture held naturally by people in an absolute position, Grid had his arms folded in the air, and he suddenly turned his gaze toward the jungle. He heard the resonant sound of iron and iron colliding.
‘Is the imperial army fighting against the followers?’
Knowing the enemy meant victory. Identifying the power of the enemy was very important. Grid hid as much as possible while wondering if he should enter the jungle. His worries didn’t last long.
‘It is dangerous because there is a high possibility of the presence of the Seven Dukes.’
He might be attacked by both the dukes and the war god followers. Then he would unconditionally die and be banished outside the Red Sea. Grid was reminded of his battle with Sky King Rigal.
‘It was impossible to fight him with one eye closed.’
At present, Grid was wearing the Slaughterer’s Eye Patch but one eye was closed because he didn’t want to use the Castration Eye. It was a handicap. He might win against the sea monsters and other enemies with one eye closed, but the Seven Dukes were different.
Grid had to fight them with all his vision. He needed both eyes open to fight, but then he wouldn’t be able to use magic because his mana would be quickly depleted. Just like in the battle with Rigal, he had to depend only on Pagma’s Swordsmanship and the 100,000 Army Swordsmanship.
‘Lauel has warned me many times to be careful. Let’s not be interested in the jungle yet.’
Grid suppressed his curiosity and descended back to the ground. The Overgeared Skeletons finally finished off the rock shells and high-fived each other.
“We will go a bit further before heading back to the meeting place. Huh?”
Thanks to his stats, Grid had very good eyes. He might not have Hawk Eyes, but there wasn’t a non-archer who had better eyes than Grid. Something strange caught his eyes. Some of the giant trees in the outskirts of the jungle had keyhole-like markings. No, it wasn’t a marking. They really were keyholes.
“Why does the tree have a keyhole?”
“It is obvious from Noe’s view, nyong.”
“Obvious? What is it?”
“Doesn’t it open something, nyong?”
Still, it was a correct answer.
‘Will there be any presents?’
Grid pulled out the Master Key that he created before. It had been a long time since he used it on the Behen Archipelago.
Meanwhile, the outskirts of the jungle.
The dukes were only looking ahead and running. Their expensive armor was damaged in various places, and their faces were covered with sweat and blood. Even Basara, who always maintained her dignity, was busy escaping without noticing her crooked gold crown. A huge number of 20 followers were chasing them.
“Shit!” Morse screamed as he once again fell into a trap, and his ankle was severely injured. He turned back with bloodshot eyes and saw the followers running wild without any restrictions from the traps.
“It is too absurd!”
The traps were so perfectly installed that they couldn’t be detected with the eyes, knowledge, or senses. They could be vines, leaves, or completely integrated with the soil. Thus, it was difficult to tell if it was a trap or not. Sometimes they were lucky, but there were so many traps it was impossible to move freely. Additionally, many traps didn’t respond to the war god followers. It was as if they recognized their masters. It was suicide to fight the followers in this place.
One arrow grazed Morse’s earlobe. He felt a stinging pain and gritted his teeth. Although he wanted to turn back and smash the shooter, he endured it. He was carrying drinking water. The magic bag filled with water from a hard-to-find lake—it had to be delivered to the soldiers.
“This...” A few steps ahead, Grenhal suddenly stopped in place. Basara and Morse also stopped moving and frowned at the sight unfolding in front of them. The barbed vines with rotating teeth were blocking the path ahead.
“We’ll have to go around.”
Then the followers caught up. He spoke to the faltering Basara and Morse, “I’ll buy time for you.”
Grenhal handed them the magic bag and went to face the pursuers.
“Duke Grenhal! It is too early to give up!”
“Unlike you youngsters, I have raised my children enough. My family won’t end even if I die here. His Majesty will care for them.” Grenhal was a person who didn’t change his mind once a decision was made. It was a waste of time to persuade him, so Basara and Morse were about to leave. At this moment, the hundreds or thousands of rotating teeth suddenly stopped. The flowers that had turned into nets faded away, and the leaves emitting poison fell to the ground.
The baffled dukes exchanged looks when the traps stopped, and they turned their eyes to one side simultaneously. In the distance, the shape of a person was seen between the vines.
“Nothing happened when I inserted the key??”
The distance was so far that the voice was barely audible, even with the sharp hearing of the dukes. Additionally, the dukes knew the owner of this voice.
Yesterday’s enemy was today’s friend. Their relationship was changing.
Yesterday’s enemy became today’s friend, causing repercussions that would change the landscape of the world. It was a truly valuable victory. This was a win without fighting.