༺ The Empire’s Future (6) ༻
The iron door was torn apart, revealing stairs leading downwards.
The moment the door opened, I could feel the chilly air of the basement. And with that air, a faint, putrid smell of blood flowed out.
I slowly went down the stairs. It was pitch black and nothing could be seen, but darkness was no problem for me.
After stepping down one step at a time, I finally arrived at a spacious area that seemed to be underground.
About twenty men were waiting for me in the gloomy darkness.
Unlike the weaklings above, the men here had a distinctly different aura. It reminded me of the scar-faced man I met in the market street.
Former soldiers, mercenaries, adventurers… Every one of them exuded an atmosphere of being accustomed to battle and not hesitating to kill.
Whether the men had some artifact or cast night vision magic, they stared at me without any discomfort in the darkness.
But the same went for me. As I looked at each man clearly in the darkness, the men who caught my gaze seemed flustered and tensed their faces.
Surprisingly, I found a familiar face among them.
The talkative coachman who had given me a carriage ride to Shangria.
He was looking at me with the same warm smile as when we first met.
The seemingly ordinary coachman turned out to be the highest-ranking person in this place. The men were all watching his cues and acting accordingly.
The coachman raised his hand as if to greet me and said.
“Look who it is. It’s been a while.”
I didn’t answer and looked around. The coachman’s expression stiffened for a moment as he was blatantly ignored, but I didn’t care.
The underground warehouse was quite large. The interior was filled with sturdy iron bars, and this vast space was used entirely for storage.
The narrow iron bars, just big enough to hold a person, were stained with vivid red bloodstains, indicating what they were used to imprison. The putrid smell of blood that filled the basement came from there.
Most of the iron bars were empty, but some were not.
The inside of the iron bars holding people was all terrible.
A dwarf man who had fainted with his wrists cut. A ratkin woman whose face was beaten so badly she was unrecognizable. An immigrant man restrained with chains all over his body. A few more people who appeared to be immigrants or different species were trapped inside the iron bars in a miserable state.
As I stared at the scene, I felt my thoughts before coming here change.
I didn’t plan on killing anyone unless necessary.
But I figured it would be better to just kill them all.
I started walking slowly, not hiding my murderous intent. The men prepared for battle, drawing their weapons.
At the height of tension in the room, the coachman raised his hand urgently and shouted.
“Wait! Hold on!”
“What if I don’t?”
I kept walking nonchalantly. I intended to snap the neck of the first one who rushed at me. However, I couldn’t help but stop when I heard the coachman’s next words.
“We know who you are!”
You know who I am?
If you knew, you wouldn’t be doing this.
I looked at the coachman with a mix of suspicion and doubt, and he mistook my stopping as a sign of interest. A twisted smile appeared on his face.
“I never imagined that the soldier I met back then would become an instructor. It was my mistake not to realize that a mere instructor could be this strong. Let’s negotiate.”
Ah, that’s what it was.
I was the one who brought Titania to the market, so if Titania was the target, they must have already investigated the people around her. They would have quickly found out that I was an instructor at the Philion Academy.
Upon realizing it wasn’t such a big deal, a bitter expression naturally formed on my face. Whether he misunderstood my intention to stop the gossip and get to the point, the coachman hastily added.
“No matter how strong you are, it would be difficult to take down everyone here. Even if it were possible, we are not all there is.”
The coachman whispered among the men.
“What we need is the elf. If you hand over that elf, we can give you unimaginable wealth and power. Don’t you want to become a noble?”
“Just a coachman?”
“Even if I’m just a coachman, the person I serve is different. If you bring the Elf Princess, they will surely reward you greatly. They have the ability and position to do so.”
The coachman looked confident that I couldn’t possibly refuse this offer. It seemed that he thought a commoner wouldn’t pass up the chance to become a noble.
I answered indifferently.
“Then I’ll have to kill him too.”
At my words, the surroundings were filled with an icy silence.
The coachman sighed heavily and said.
“You just made a big mistake.”
The coachman signaled his subordinates with a gesture, and the men immediately drew their weapons and slowly approached me.
They didn’t charge blindly like third-rate villains, spitting out lines like a pro in battle. Knowing my skills from capturing the scarred man, they exchanged glances and stealthily closed the distance to surround me.
Before their encirclement completely constricted me, I charged forward.
The man, who seemed like a seasoned adventurer, raised his shield in response to my speed. However, my fist split his shield in half and struck his jaw. The adventurer died with a broken jaw and twisted neck.
As the adventurer crumpled to the ground, my arm shot out like lightning and grabbed the sword he had been holding, then swung it at a mercenary charging from behind with an axe. The mercenary couldn’t react to the speed of the sword and was cleaved in half, armor and all.
The immense strength that shattered the armor caused the sword to break in half after cutting the mercenary’s body halfway. The mercenary collapsed backward, staring blankly at his spilling innards.
I threw away the broken sword and grabbed the falling axe.
The horrific deaths of two comrades in an instant left the men frozen in shock. The coachman, who had been watching from the back, screamed in panic.
“…Kill him! Crush him together!”
It seemed a bit third-rate now.
I swung my axe against the men charging with a scream that was indistinguishable between a wail and a battle cry.
The man whose head was split in half along with his helmet died instantly as his brains burst. I lightly flicked the wrist of the man trying to stab me from behind, dodging his sword.
At that insignificant action, the man’s shoulder twisted, and he stabbed his comrade in the throat. The victim, not expecting his comrade’s sword to target him, lost his life in disbelief.
The man who killed his comrade also had his head split fairly by my axe.
I swung my weapon in a straight line without any tricks or techniques. The fast and simple trajectory was powerful enough on its own.
If a weapon broke in the middle, I snatched another and shattered my opponent in one blow, sometimes taking advantage of the enemy’s attack to cause mutual destruction.
In an instant, about twenty men collapsed to the ground. I was the only one left standing in the gruesome scene of slaughter and bloodshed.
The coachman spoke with a lost expression.
“…They all knew how to use hardening techniques. Are you a demon infiltrating the empire?”
I slowly approached the coachman.
Bloodstained footsteps marked the ground.
“It seems you don’t know what demons look like.”
Instead of answering, I struck the coachman’s shoulder with a bent mace. With that blow, his shoulder bone crumbled, and the coachman screamed in pain, collapsing to his knees.
“Stop being so dramatic.”
Just because a bone is broken.
I knew that the coachman had not experienced this kind of pain often and had not received training in enduring torture. The man, who could be a coachman, a spy, or a high-ranking member of a terrorist organization, bit his lips until they bled, trembling in pain.
“Ugh, ugh…! You! Who the hell are you? Even with the power of the elders, we couldn’t find out about your background…! Why do the Imperial Administration and the Imperial Army Command refuse to investigate your identity!? Where did you come from to interfere with our plans!?”
The coachman glared at me with wide eyes, shouting as if venting his anger.
“Don’t you think the current empire is in the wrong! It was humans, not other races, who fought against the Demon King! The victory was achieved by humans, so why should we share the spoils with them!? What is this harmony and coexistence for-“
I struck the coachman’s other shoulder.
“I didn’t come here to persuade you. I didn’t even ask for your opinion.”
I held the blood-soaked mace to his face and spoke.
“Just answer the questions I ask.”
The coachman’s face turned pale with pain and fear.
Blunt weapons are very effective in torture. They cause less bleeding compared to sharp weapons, so there is no risk of death due to excessive blood loss during torture.
It was possible to die from shock due to severe pain, but I could control that.
During the torture, I forced him to reveal everything he knew about ‘The Empire’s Future’.If he didn’t answer, I would break his bones little by little, causing more pain.
I found out the whereabouts of the people who had been imprisoned in the iron bars. Most of them had died weakened by torture, and some had been sold as slaves in the black market.
I also learned that those who were sold ended up in illegal gladiatorial arenas, brothels, or as test subjects for insane magicians.
The more I discovered unwanted information, the more persistent and brutal my torture of the coachman became.
Soon, I learned that the elder he mentioned was the Duke of Reinear, the largest sponsor of the merchant guild, that his goal was to kidnap Titania to cause conflict between the elves of Liniya Great Forest and the empire, and to satisfy his personal desires in the process.
There was no more information to gather after that.
The coachman, who had been screaming without a break and whose throat was completely worn out, gasped in pain and spoke in a painful voice.
“Please, kill… kill me…”
As the coachman wished, I struck his head.
Blood splattered, wetting my cheeks, but my whole body was already soaked in blood, so it only added a new layer of blood over the dried stains.
The underground warehouse, which had been filled with screams, soon fell silent.
I let out a weary breath after finishing my work. My body was not tired at all, but I felt mentally fatigued from torturing and seeing blood after a long time.
However, there were still people left to be saved.
I broke the locks on the iron bars holding the kidnapped people one by one.
Most of them seemed to have been kidnapped and endured torture without even a single meal since then, as they were mostly unconscious, and the few who were conscious were hardly sane.
It would take a lot of time to move everyone by myself, but I had brought the guards with me for times like this.
As I broke the iron bars and searched for any signs of life, one cell caught my eye.
Inside there was a blonde woman in tattered clothes.
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