“If it wasn’t you, then who did it?”
“I already said it wasn’t us. Someone’s trying to frame us.”
“Who would do such a thing here? Stop with the nonsense and bring that Cain bastard or whatever his name is here!”
In an agora filled with many busy subordinates of Hades, Aether and Kahn growled at each other. Behind them, Victoria, Galliard, and Creutz looked tense as well. More people began to gawk and crowd around them as the two raised their voices and an intense atmosphere flowed between them. No one tried to pull them apart, and the atmosphere grew worse. Even the onlookers began taking sides.
Paneth’s party had made contributions a long time ago and gained Dis Pluto’s trust, so the soldiers looked favorably at Aether. On the other hand, Yeon-woo’s party had replenished their supplies and fixed their weapons for free. When it became known that they had recreated Hades’ holy artifact, Kynee, and given it to him, the soldiers looked at them in a positive light, as well.
The clash of the two groups would affect Dis Pluto seriously, so the thirteenth commander of Dis Pluto, Charnele, appeared with some soldiers in an attempt to calm the situation. He normally would have ignored the situation since the players involved didn’t even have a divine level. However, both Yeon-woo’s and Paneth’s parties were important allies who had killed a god, something even Dis Pluto couldn’t accomplish easily.
He couldn’t take sides either, so he tried to reason things out with them to investigate why they were behaving this way and what had happened before he arrived. Once he had the answers, he could make a judgment.
“This isn’t anything for the thirteenth commander to worry about.” Aether only snorted and refused to answer, as though Charnele had no right to involve himself.
Charnele’s face hardened for a moment, and Aether suddenly realized he’d made a mistake. The commander was one of the leaders of the thirteen military units that were Hades’ pride and joy. He even had a divine level, which meant Aether wasn’t in a position to look down on him.
[A god of 〈Olympus〉, Poseidon, looks at you with amusement.]
[Hestia is with you.]
[Demeter is with you.]
[Hera is with you.]
Feeling the gazes on him, Aether calmed his thumping heart and stood straight again. ‘Fuck it! Yeah, attitude is everything. Since I’m already here, this is the best I can do. The Olympians are with me, so what do I have to be scared of?’
The Protogenoi tribe had divine blood but that didn’t help them. In fact, they were even mocked by transcendents for being fallen gods. Even when Aether had been a member of Arthia, he had never received this kind of attention. It was part of the reason he tried to switch over to the Devil Army, although he hadn’t been able to attract the attention of the Heavenly Demon and had been caught by Paneth.
It was only now when he wasn’t even moving of his own free will and was little more than a marionette in a play that the gods granted him their attention. It was pathetic, and he wanted to cry because everything felt like shit. Nothing was going his way, and he was being controlled by someone else. He considered killing himself rather than live in misery like this, but he didn’t have the courage to do even that.
“A dog should just bark as ordered,” Paneth had told him.
Yes, he was just a dog that barked upon command and wagged his tail when told to.
“Last night, I received a message to reduce Cain’s growing influence within Dis Pluto and to kill him if the chance arises.”
Aether thought whatever this Cain was planning was irrelevant to him. Their paths had crossed several times in the past, but nothing big had happened. There were rumors about the Six New Stars, but Cain hadn’t been in Aether’s sight at all. But now, Aether knew him too well. He was the reason Poseidon had delivered the message.
“He’s the enemy that will be punished. The darkness within the darkness is probably him. However, he and his party are making Dis Pluto lose focus. We must take care of this first.” Paneth had planned to reduce their influence before punishing Yeon-woo’s party. However, to do that, she needed him to gather more information about them, such their personalities and how much manpower they had. “So, you must step up.”
Aether had been chosen as the bait, and the four gods peeked into his thoughts and actions. Poseidon’s gaze seemed especially mocking, as though he detested the descendent of an old god who couldn’t give up his past glory even after falling.
“You must still explain what happened. We’ll be able to judge between right and wrong then.” The commander calmed himself, but his voice was filled with fury.
Aether was finally able to make his case. Kahn seemed to have a lot to say, but Aether didn’t give him a chance to speak. “Ha! Look at this.”
“It’s a broken spear. What’s so special about it?”
“Would you believe me if I said this spear was fine two days ago? It’s the divine spear that cut the ankle of Megaera while Lady Paneth was killing the god.”
Charnele’s eyes widened slightly. Megaera’s death had helped Dis Pluto greatly, just like Astraeus’ death. So it was a spear that had assisted in the process.
“I was having some problems with my spear, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I heard that Cain’s party was talented in repairing weapons. I left it with them since we’re allies and players, but…”
“It came back like this?”
“No. It was definitely repaired.”
Charnele frowned, not understanding what Aether’s point was. However, before he could say anything, Aether quickly continued. “I’m saying it looked completely fine. But when I was training this morning, it broke quite easily.”
Charnele was silent as he finally understood Aether’s implication. If he had gone into battle with the spear, his life would have been in danger. Aether continued to act wronged. “I thought it was strange, so I looked up the people who’d also had their weapons repaired, but none of them experienced the same thing I did. It was only happening to our party’s weapons.”
Charnele was silent.
“My spear isn’t that fragile, even though it’s been damaged from battle. Who would be able to stay still in a situation like this?” Aether threw the spear to the ground. “I was just asking them about the incident. But the leader of the party won’t show himself, and these people keep repeating that they’re innocent like parrots so of course, I got mad!” Aether’s heated speech worked and the soldiers around them began to murmur to each other with serious faces. Some debated whether Aether was lying, and others wondered if Cain’s party had been planning to get rid of Paneth’s party.
“That’s not true!” Kahn tried to defend his party, but public opinion was already moving against them. Aether pressed his lips together to keep from smiling.
[Poseidon teases you, saying your acting is unequaled.]
Meanwhile, Charnele gripped his head. Things were more complicated than he thought. He’d recently been concerned by the players’ growing influence in Dis Pluto, and their constant skirmishes meant that he had the duty to block them before things spiraled out of control. However, he didn’t have that opportunity this time. Both parties had accomplished so much that it was beyond what he could manage. He didn’t even know if he could defeat Yeon-woo or Paneth in combat. He couldn’t even defeat Hades’ Apostle, Lam. ‘What should I do about this?’
He couldn’t allow them to fight as they wished. With the broken ceasefire, they didn’t know when the Titans and Giants would attack, so he didn’t want to expend energy unnecessarily. ‘Where did Lam go?’ The situation would be solved easily if Lam, who commanded a unit of players, were here to fix things, but she was busy carrying out Hades’ orders.
“If they can’t come up with a proper explanation, we have no choice but to have a physical confrontation.” At Aether’s words, the party members behind him pulled out their swords. Clang! They were ready to attack Kahn at his orders.
Kahn’s face hardened. He hadn’t expected they would go this far. Victoria, Creutz, and Galliard moved for their weapons as the situation grew more serious. However, Kahn quickly raised a hand to stop them, shaking his head. Yeon-woo was their leader, and they couldn’t fight without his permission. Instead, he released his presence, which he had been hiding the entire time.
Whoosh. A heavy smell of blood spread from him, along with a sharp, murderous intent that could pierce one’s skin. Aether and the others reflexively moved back in surprise. ‘What kind of murderous intent is so…?’
His eye began to twitch. He never expected the son of the Iron Lion and a marionette of the Devil Army to exude such strength. There wasn’t much of a difference between Kahn’s power and his.
“It would be best to put that sword back in its sheath. I don’t like the smell of blood and iron, ”Kahn growled as he glared at Aether.
However, Aether wasn’t one to step back. A corner of his mouth curled up, and he spread out his hand, which glowed with light. It was 〈White Light〉, his signature skill. “So what if you don’t like it? What are you expecting from me? Do you think that’ll make me surrender and say ‘I’m sorry’?”
The tense atmosphere around Dis Pluto grew deeper. Charnele’s face wrinkled. He couldn’t maintain his composure anymore. It was an act of disrespect to Dis Pluto to pull out a sword in front of him, a commander. Just as he was about to step forward with a shout, there was a sudden explosion and Aether was blown away.
Boom! He rolled on the ground for a while as Kahn and the others looked at him in surprise.
“Urk, urk!” Vomiting blood, Aether tried to lift his head. The attack was so sudden that he didn’t even know how he’d been blown away. He wanted to see who the culprit was, but his head was stuck back onto the ground by a foot. “You dared to raise a sword where Lord Hades is present without his permission? You must be crazy.”
Lam stepped on Aether’s head a few more times so he couldn’t stand up. An aura as sharp as her voice whirled around her as she cut off Aether’s right hand of 〈White Light〉 without any hesitation. She then turned to Paneth’s party, deaf to Aether’s screams.
They stepped back, overwhelmed by her aura. However, they didn’t put their weapons down, which annoyed Lam even more. Lam swung her spear, which was drowned in black light, in a wide arc. Their right hands and weapons flew up in the air.
It was a merciless deed to precious allies who’d helped them several times before, but Lam didn’t care. Only Hades’ honor mattered to her, and dirtying the reputation of a god she served was unforgivable. To fight in holy territory was to insult a god. It was shocking to see a party who had killed a god before rendered helpless with a single spear. Lam turned to Kahn and the other, who stood there with blank expressions. “What about you? What are you going to do? Pull out your weapons, too?”
The three people behind Kahn glanced at each other and removed their hands from their weapons. They didn’t understand how such a small person could exude a scary aura. Kahn’s palms were soaked in sweat.
* * *
After Yeon-woo rushed over with Doyle, he was stunned to see Aether with his head stuck on the ground. He hadn’t expected that Aether would be in Tartarus. He’d been planning to kill him the first chance he got. The pocket watch was quiet. Guessing that Jeong-woo probably had a lot of thoughts after seeing Aether, Yeon-woo rubbed the pocket watch and quietly muttered. ‘Don’t worry.’
Jeong-woo didn’t reply.
‘I’ll make it so his life is yours for the taking.’