However, aside from feeling flabbergasted, Cale felt a strange vibe.
He couldn’t see the person who could be considered a set with Toonka.
“Where is Chief Harol?”
Chief Harol Kodiang. Cale didn’t see the crazy bastard born from the unfortunate fate between the master of the Magic Tower and a citizen.
He was the calm yet insane bastard who hated mages and wanted to rid the world of magic.
‘Clopeh is a peaceful bastard in comparison to that guy.’
However, he couldn’t be seen even though Cale and Choi Han had arrived.
In order to avoid the eyes of the Whipper Kingdom’s people who were hostile against magic, a teleportation magic circle was secretly created in the basement of the royal palace.
It was a place that was under close supervision since it was a space used by a part of the royal family and the kingdom’s leaders.
That was why Toonka and his subordinates, as well as the mages dispatched by the Roan Kingdom, were the only ones there.
But then why was Harol Kodiang, the one commanding the military operation and everything related to the war, not there with them?
It didn’t make sense.
‘Looks like something happened.’
Cale realized that something must have happened in the Whipper Kingdom.
Did Toonka notice the look in Cale’s eyes? Toonka started to frown. The combination of Toonka’s big build and fierce looks made his grimacing face look even scarier.
Cale observed Toonka’s expression and started to think.
‘If he fought with that face, all the Empire’s knights would be frightened.’
However, despite his vicious-looking face, Toonka looked at his subordinates and spoke with a sigh.
“Follow me. We will head over to where the Chief is.”
Toonka turned around and headed towards the entrance first. He could hear Cale’s voice coming from behind him.
“What’s the problem?”
Toonka hesitated for a moment before opening his mouth.
It was something that Chief Harol was supposed to talk about with Cale, but it wouldn’t make a difference even if he was told ahead of time.
“After the Imperial Prince made his speech, the Empire sent the Whipper Kingdom a secret correspondence.”
The Empire’s Imperial Prince sent the Whipper Kingdom a secret correspondence?’
Cale, who had been busy meeting the Flame Dwarves and the Bears while completing other preparations after the Imperial Prince’s speech, frowned at this news he heard for the first time.
‘Why did the bastards who declared war on the Whipper Kingdom suddenly send them a secret correspondence?’
The door opened. Toonka could not see Cale nor his subordinates and looked straight forward as he stepped out and responded.
“The Empire offered a proposal.”
Commander Toonka currently felt angry and frustrated.
Cale recalled the Toonka from the past who would smash everything to pieces and never looked back as he ran off. He liked that kind of Toonka.
Unfortunately, Toonka couldn’t act as he used to in the past due to his current circumstances. Suppressing his frustration, Toonka informed Cale about the current situation.
“The Empire stated that they loved peace and that we should surrender Maple Castle if we didn’t want to see everyone in the Whipper Kingdom die.”
Cale could not believe it.
The Imperial Prince of the Empire had instilled a sense of pride in the hearts of his people by stating that they would fight a fair and just war. While playing the part of the proud Imperial Prince to the public, he was splaying out negotiations and threats behind the scenes.
But was that bad?
‘Not at all. In fact, he is doing very well.’
Blood is shed during war.
Under such circumstances, it was clever of the Empire to demand the return of Maple Castle through threats or conciliation or whatever as opposed to war.
Perhaps it was a wise move to use the position of the Empire.
‘Furthermore, Toonka and the Whipper Kingdom are known as loners.’
The loners of the Western continent.
It made it easier for the Empire to covertly pressure the Whipper Kingdom who was known to be a loner.
As such, Cale couldn’t help but be wary of Imperial Prince Adin.
If it was crown prince Alberu of the Roan Kingdom, he wouldn’t act as Adin had done.
‘Alberu keeps his promises to his people.’
If the people were told that they would be fighting fairly, that is what he would have done.
This was the reason that Cale thought Alberu was the most similar yet different from himself.
It was also the reason why Imperial Prince Adin was similar to crown prince Alberu, but ultimately different as well.
This made Cale feel uncomfortable with Adin.
Adin’s resemblance to crown prince Alberu meant that Adin was somewhat similar to Cale as well.
As such, Cale started to speak as he stared at Toonka’s back.
Return Maple Castle.
It didn’t end with just that.
It wouldn’t end with just that.
The Empire’s pride and ambition wouldn’t let them just stop with Maple Castle.
If that was the case, why would Toonka be worrying and talking so wearily?
Toonka scoffed and answered Cale’s question.
“They want 100,000 people from the Whipper Kingdom for 80 years.”
‘They wanted what?’
This time, even Cale struggled to understand immediately. There was something that came to mind, but it was difficult to confirm that as the answer.
“Harol will explain it to you. Follow me.”
Toonka walked out the door.
Cale followed suit with a sense of foreboding.
The Empire wanted 100,000 people from the Whipper Kingdom for 80 years.
‘Why does this sound like the Empire wants the power to use 100,000 Whipper Kingdom citizens as slaves for 80 years?’
Cale followed Toonka out of the basement and sternly started to speak.
“Let’s get to Harol quickly.”
Cale had to meet Chief Harol more than anything right now.
* * *
Cale followed Toonka out and looked around the Whipper Kingdom’s central palace.
‘It looks more extravagant than Roan Kingdom’s palace.’
Unlike the sparkling exterior, the interior had a completely different feeling.
‘It’s pretty empty.’
There weren’t many people around. Furthermore, those who came and went did not have happy expressions on their faces.
Cale, who was currently disguised as a priest, looked around the royal palace which was the center of the Whipper Kingdom and noticed the surrounding atmosphere.
‘There’s a sense of defeat all around even before the fight has started.’
Why was it like this?
Although Cale couldn’t tell what kind of atmosphere surrounded the soldiers and warriors because they weren’t in the central palace, he noticed that the government officials, knights, and guards all gave off an air of defeat from their expressions.
– Human, it feels like we have already lost! Why is everyone’s faces like that?
‘That’s what I’m saying.’
Cale felt that something was off. He glanced at Choi Han who was beside him. Choi Han, whose appearance was hidden with a robe, was also looking around at his surroundings.
Seeing this kind of atmosphere is probably a first for him.
There was a mood that made everything seem like it was limp and sinking.
Cale recalled that mood and asked Toonka, who was in front of him, a question.
“How many people know about that correspondence?”
“About 2 or 3 people other than our side.”
Those words referred to the natives who were the initial members of the non-mage faction with Toonka and Harol, which were namely his close subordinates.
Cale finally realized what was going on.
‘Those people passing us by with an air of helplessness aren’t the people on Toonka’s side.’
Cale started to speak.
“It seems that there aren’t many of those that are on our side at the central palace.”
Toonka hesitated for a moment and then answered.
“…Correct. As expected, you’re very smart.”
‘Smart? More like it’s just obvious.’
It was only then that Cale noticed all the people glancing furtively at Toonka while passing by. There was a mixture of discontent, dread, and fear in their gazes.
Toonka continued to speak.
“This central palace is where the royal family stays.”
The Whipper Kingdom was still a monarchy.
Toonka and the non-mage faction tore down the Magic Tower and emerged as influential people in the Whipper Kingdom.
However, the royal family remained the same, as well as the royal family’s faction of nobles and government officials within the kingdom.
Cale had arrived at the innermost part of the central palace before he even realized it.
There were no more passersby around them.
In addition, there were familiar-looking warriors everywhere.
This place could be clearly felt as, ‘Toonka’s place’.
“This is the operations room.”
Toonka stood in front of the operations room. However, there were native citizen warriors glancing at Toonka as they stood by both sides of the door.
Toonka asked the warriors a question.
“What is it?”
“Commander, it’s just that…”
One of the warriors looked at Cale and hesitated, unable to answer. Toonka, who saw this, knitted his brows as he forcefully opened the door.
He was still the hot-tempered, unhesitating Toonka. Thanks to him, Cale could hear the voices past the open door.
“Chief Harol, why are you rejecting the Empire’s offer?”
It was not a familiar voice.
Toonka stopped in front of the open door. Cale could see Chief Harol and his advisors through the gap confronting someone who was wearing a crown and surrounded by knights.
The person wearing the crown and speaking, the one who had just spoken, was the king of the Whipper Kingdom.
Cale recalled the Whipper Kingdom.
While the citizens were used as experimental guinea pigs in the Magic Tower and the kingdom’s people were heavily taxed and treated as slaves, the Whipper Kingdom’s royal palace quietly spectated from the sidelines as they reaped the benefits given by the Mage faction.
The Whipper Kingdom became rich from the magic items created from the only Magic Tower on the continent.
Unlike the citizens of the Whipper Kingdom who suffered from poverty, the Whipper Kingdom’s royal family lived a more affluent life than ever before.
The king who ruled the royal palace and the Whipper Kingdom flinched when he saw Toonka. However, he quickly turned away from Toonka and looked at the Chief Harol.
“Chief Harol! Say something!”
While the Whipper Kingdom’s royalty watched the Mage faction from the sidelines, they also did not suppress the Anti-mage faction when they appeared.
That was why the non-mage faction kept the royal family intact after taking down the Magic Tower.
The Whipper Kingdom’s king never stepped in to manage the affairs of his kingdom.
That king raised his voice when he heard of the Empire’s invasion. He shouted at Harol with a desperate look on his face.
“We’re finished if the Empire attacks us!”
Chief Harol bit his lips at the statement. It was to prevent himself from bursting into laughter.
The, ‘we,’ that the king spoke of was the royal family and the powerful elites at his disposal.
The people of the Whipper Kingdom were not included in that, ‘we’.
Harol was more sure about that than anyone else. That was why he kept his eyes on the king even though he was aware of Toonka and Cale’s party.
“Your majesty, the Empire does not just want Maple Castle.”
The king and the royal faction said that they should accept the Empire’s offer.
“Your majesty, isn’t there another demand that the Empire made in that correspondence?”
Chief Harol glanced at Cale and continued to speak. He recited the offer proposed by the Empire.
“ ‘Maple Castle must be returned and a portion of the Whipper Kingdom’s land surrounding that area must be included. In addition, the Whipper Kingdom must provide free manpower to develop the recently devastated Maple Castle and the surrounding area, as well as the portion of land that will be given to the Empire from this offer.’ ”
However, Harol was not finished.
“The workforce is to be solely made up of the Whipper Kingdom’s citizens, numbering 100,000 people, and the Whipper Kingdom must fulfill this quota yearly for 80 years in order to promote the development of the land.”
Cale closed his eyes.
Raon’s voice echoed through his head.
– Human! Isn’t that just saying the Whipper Kingdom’s citizens will do all the work while the Empire gets all the benefits?
To demand that the Whipper Kingdom provide 100,000 of its able-bodied people yearly to work free of charge for 80 years was basically demanding them to send 100,000 people to the Empire to become slaves for 80 years.
Harol’s voice was heard again.
“Your majesty, don’t you understand what this means?”
The king flinched before speaking with a calm expression. He had steeled himself before coming to look for Toonka and Harol.
Of course, he was only able to do this because he believed they would not kill their king right now. He spoke calmly and with a majestic demeanor.
“I support the non-mage faction.”
He then continued with a tight expression.
“I would accept the Empire’s offer.”
Harol started to frown.
‘I should have killed him earlier!’
Harol should have killed him when he tore down the Magic Tower. He had kept him alive because he didn’t want to cause any more chaos.
Now that the opportune time has passed, he couldn’t kill the king so carelessly. If he revolted against the king and killed him in the face of war, the people of the Whipper Kingdom who should come together and fight against the Empire would be shaken.
Harol swallowed his anger and spoke.
“…Your majesty, no matter how you look at it, demanding a hundred thousand people to labor as such is basically making them slaves, isn’t that so?”
The king exclaimed with astonishment.
“Slaves?! Isn’t the Empire simply requesting for a temporary labor force? If we just accept that offer, we can live.”
Harol was stunned.
‘80 years was temporary? And that didn’t make them slaves?’
Harol found the king, who knew the Empire’s intentions yet feigned ignorance, despicable.
Even during the time when the mage faction and the non-mage faction were fighting, the king feigned ignorance and fully immersed himself in protecting himself.
Chief Harol, couldn’t help but raise his voice.
“Your majesty, where will you find those 100,000 people?!”
Exactly who was he planning to send to the Empire to become slaves?
The king answered immediately as Harol shouted.
“It’s not much!”
‘It’s not much?!’
Harol’s face contorted with anger.
However, the king spoke confidently.
“It’s not like the non-mage faction, the natives, or the nobles are going. Aren’t there many proud Whipper citizens outside of the royal palace who could work in the Empire?”
Cale swallowed a sigh.
In the end, the king was questioning what the issue was if it was just the citizens outside of the royal palace who were going as slaves and not the royal family nor the non-mage faction.
The king was confident.
“There would be no war and nobody would die. Isn’t that quite peaceful? If the Empire truly invades our country, we’re finished!”
…The king was probably just afraid that he would die.
Previously, when Toonka invaded the Empire, the king had an excuse.
He could simply tell the Empire that he had watched from the sidelines because he was afraid of Toonka.
However, it was different this time as it was the Empire who was going to invade.
Cale stared at the king who was willing to abandon 100,000 of his people for 80 years in order to save his own life. He then caught sight of Toonka’s fists that were trembling with anger.
Toonka was silent.
However, his fury could be felt.
It was at that moment.
Chief Harol’s voice was heard.
“…Are you unaware of why people followed us, the non-mage faction, in our fight against the mage faction?”
Harol’s eyes were cold.
Harol wanted to get rid of all mages, so he led the people of the non-mage faction. However, he also understood the hearts of those who followed him.
“It was hard to make ends meet. That’s why they followed us.”
He raised his voice again.
“Are you unaware of how much the mages oppressed your citizens? Do you know how many people died after being dragged and experimented on in the Magic Tower?”
The king flinched for a moment, but quickly glanced at the silent Toonka and started to speak once again.
“Even so, if we accept the Empire’s offer, wouldn’t we all be able to live? If war breaks out, we may all die! You can’t think of the Empire as the same one from Maple Castle! The real Empire is truly frightening!”
Chief Harol, the person who had pretended to be nice all this time, started to shout.
“The quality of life matters too!”
Even when the Magic Tower was in control, people lived.
However, that was not truly living.
Why did the Whipper Kingdom, no, Toonka and Harol, decide to participate in the alliance between the four kingdoms and one tribe’s goal to get rid of the Alchemists’ Bell Tower?
It wasn’t only because of their fight against the Empire.
The Magic Tower and the Alchemists’ Bell Tower.
It was because the two were so similar.
Harol’s voice rang out.
“How is being a slave truly living? Your majesty, even if they’re alive, that is not truly living!”
Chief Harol glared at the king.
That sight angered the king. Even if he was essentially a powerless king, he was of a noble bloodline, unlike Chief Harol.
“Chief Harol, are you trying to attack me? Out of consideration for all of you, I said that the tribespeople and the non-mage faction wouldn’t be sent off! Isn’t that enough? We won’t get hurt, the Whipper Kingdom will be peaceful, and everything will be great for everyone!”
Cale suppressed his feeling of astonished disgust and stood right behind Toonka.
He could see Toonka’s fists trembling.
Even so, Toonka did not burst out in anger.
He was holding it back.
Cale realized one thing as he observed Toonka.
Why was Toonka so welcoming towards Cale who came to help?
Was it simply because the time to fight was approaching?
He was literally moved by the fact that Cale had come to, ‘help the Whipper Kingdom.’
‘This bastard is starting to think about the safety and prosperity of the Whipper Kingdom.’
Although he was still clumsy and stupid.
The bastard who only knew how to look straight ahead and fight was beginning to understand the weight of ruling a country.
Cale held back a smile.
He was supposed to be the guy who only looked straight ahead and fought.
He would continue to wage war until the Whipper Kingdom, the non-mage faction, and Toonka himself all perished. How did that future become so twisted?
As a result, Toonka remained in the kingdom and saw how the people lived.
He saw how Cale, who pretended to be a priest, treated the soldiers and how grateful the soldiers were for their help.
As a person with influence, Toonka was able to see many aspects of life beyond war and power. He also started to understand the hearts of the people that followed him.
Cale stood behind Toonka and whispered in a low voice.
Cale saw Toonka flinch as he called his name and thought that Toonka was still the same Toonka as back when they met.
He was still the same Toonka who introduced himself back then as, ‘Bob’.
Cale spoke in a quiet voice that only those near him like Toonka and Choi Han could hear.
“Just go with your original style.”
Toonka hesitated for a moment. He then heard Cale’s voice once again from behind him.
“We’ve got your back.”
Toonka subconsciously started to grin.
The look in his eyes then changed. Although they were still full of anger, his eyes no longer held the look of repression as he lifted his fist.
The door was smashed with a bang.
Toonka’s fist had smashed into the door.
The king subconsciously gulped and looked towards Toonka.
Toonka looked toward the king who was surrounded by the royal knights and continued to speak.
‘Oh, as expected of the, ‘I do whatever I want,’ Toonka.’
Cale was impressed.
Toonka was probably the only bastard who would look down on a king and speak to him so rudely.
The king frowned at the sight while the knights placed their hands on the hilt of their swords. The king thought about how Toonka had been calmer than usual these days and started to shout.
“H-how dare you speak to me that way! Commander, are you-”
“Fighting wars is my job.”
Toonka ignored the king’s voice as he strode towards him.
Cale watched Toonka’s back as he did so.
Cale did not like Toonka.
Toonka’s disposition and actions did not mesh well with him.
However, Toonka now seemed to understand the weight of life.
Yes, Toonka had grown.
Time passed for Toonka as much as it did for Cale, and that had changed him a bit.
Toonka approached the king and continued to speak.
“We’ll win, so you just sit tight and think about your own self-preservation as you always have.”
Today was the first time that Cale liked Toonka’s actions.
The world didn’t need to be filled only with people like Adin or Alberu.
The non-mage faction. It was because leaders like Toonka existed that even weak yet crazed people could win.
Tyrants were bound to show their strength when they acted like tyrants.
If he was a tyrant that also thought of his citizens…
‘It wouldn’t be too bad.’
The knights drew their swords. The blades of their swords were pointed toward Toonka’s neck. The knights couldn’t fight back against Toonka’s sheer strength, so all they could do was hold the blades of their swords up.
However, Toonka was not afraid of those blades as he continued to approach the king. A small trickle of blood could be seen on Toonka’s neck where a blade had slightly pricked him. Nevertheless, Toonka continued to walk toward the king without hesitation.
The king desperately called out to Toonka, but Toonka, who was surrounded by swords, glared at him.
“I’ve never lost a war.”
He didn’t lose against the mage faction nor against the Empire at Maple Castle. He never lost even once.
Toonka had no intentions of accepting the Empire’s offer. He recalled Cale and Choi Han who stood behind him.
As someone who always looked forward and fought, Toonka, for the first time, felt a sense of reassurance that someone had his back.
Thus, Toonka glared at the king as he boldly spoke with a voice full of anger.
“…So, the coward can fuck off.”
He told the cowardly king to fuck off.
Cale smiled as he looked at Toonka.