Chilly winds filled the air, while leaden clouds rolled ceaselessly through the sky. A blizzard rampaged across the frozen plain, howling winds whipping the fallen snow into a fog.
Beyond the northern city, upon the slopes of Great Ajax's mountain range, it was a bleak tundra.
Obscured by thick clouds, no sunlight managed to reach this place, so that even out upon the white snow, you couldn't see your own nose right in front of you. Moreover, there was no sound which could be heard above the shrill, whistling gale. In this place, the biting cold and merciless winds crushed the snow into a fine powder. Under such frigid conditions, even magic would be slowed to a halt.
Draughts collided, forming spiraling cyclones of snow, and all of creation was crushed between the whirling ice.
This was a harsh environment no normal person could hope to survive in. Barring certain specialized magical creatures, there was, in fact, no form of life at all in this bleak wasteland. Over the years, thrill-seekers and seasoned hunters alike would extend the same warning to visitors passing through the region: under no circumstances should they set foot in this area, for death stalked these lands, and those who ventured in would never be seen again.
But there would always be exceptions.
A savage holler pierced through the squall, ringing across the icy plain. There was nothing in sight but a streak of crimson light which flashed through the sky and then vanished. Then, an enormous shadow tumbled out from the heavens above.
Shockwaves from the impact kicked up a raging tempest, filling the air with billowing snow, and upon the tundra, there was now a deep crater. Lying in the bottom of the crater was a white wyrm, its mouth protruding with sharp and jagged teeth. Gargantuan in size and vicious in temperament, its whole body was a massive coil of impossibly tough muscles. It seemed to have managed to survive its fall from the cloudsspitting out a mouthful of blood, it struggled to raise itself back upright.
Just then, an arm reached out and caught the creature's neck in a grip like an iron vice, terrifying strength mashing through its scales and flesh, creating gaping wounds each the size of a man's skull. In that same instant, the silver blade of a greatsword stabbed through the wyrm's heart.
The cold steel tore through rigid scales, freezing skin and fat alike. Just as blood began to pour forth, the freezing temperatures rendered it into crystallized crimson, a fringe adorning the fresh wound. As the blade sank deeper into the wyrm's body, a faint glow passed across its breadth, mysterious power surging through, and the colossal beastwhich originally still had the strength left to struggle at leastglared with all its fury and malice, before the life left it completely, the wyrm dying instantly on the spot.
"That's the way, a quick death!"
At length, the dark-haired warrior became aware that his prey was already dead, and he relaxed his left hand, which had still been gripping the spine of the wyrm he stood astride of. The massive blade in his hand transformed, in a flash of magical light, into a young woman with silver hair, standing behind the warrior.
"This Rimetooth Wyrm is large enoughit'll do," said Joshua.
Brushing away the frozen blood on his left hand, Joshua nodded to himself. He regarded the fallen wyrm, its body already beginning to freeze solid in the cold, and with no small amount of satisfaction he said, "The effect of the dragon-slaying stone on a weapon persists for quite a while even this left-over bit of power was sufficient to easily kill off an Upper or even Perfect Silver-tier wyrm. Truly, it was worth every coin."
However, Ying herself was feeling rather odd, and the girl reached up to touch her own face for a moment, grumbling, "I feel as if I've been tattooed, it's horrible"
Looking up at her master, who towered over her in comparison, she said, with some exasperation, "Also, master, didn't Lord Artanis tell you to take better care of your left arm, for fear of its condition getting worse? Yet here we are, hunting wyrms in the snowis this your idea of rest and relaxation?"
"It's not like that The new year is just around the corner, and so I'm here to carry out my duty as count. In addition, Ying, you should know that a bit of exercise is just another part of good, healthy recreation."
Moving around a bit to ease off the forceful exertion from just a moment ago, when he had crushed the wyrms's scales and bones with his left hand, Joshua put one foot on the wyrms's skull, its eyes wide open in death. He decided he felt pretty good. "What's more, you can hardly compare this body of mine to that of an average person. It's just that I haven't yet regained every last bit of my former strength, that's allbut basically my left arm can already be considered fully healednot fully recovered, but still more than strong enough for this Silver-tier wyrm here.
"Now, I just have to wait for my Combat Aura to reinforce these fresh new bones, and I'll be all set."
The warrior did not speak falsely: his body far surpassed what was typical for the Gold-Tier.
Without taking into consideration the differences created by the natural gifts each person was born with, after the first 'Rite of Revelation', someone of an Steel-tier class would receive strength equal to roughly three times that of a normal person. This enhancement applied to every aspect on the whole so that even a mere mortal who couldn't have taken on a common goose would suddenly become a valiant champion who could overcome daemons.
Talking purely about physical strength, there was no noticeable difference between the lower and upper grades of Steel tier. The specific training methods of the different classes were designed to help beginners in each class to master the use of their new-found set of extraordinary powersit was at this point that the distinction began to be seen between warriors, mages, rangers, rogues, and other classes.
Upon reaching Silver tier, the power of these abilities would begin to change a person internally as well, spontaneously transforming the organs and skeleton. This gave one the toughness of a daemon, and they could even develop strength that was tens of times beyond average: a Silver-tier warrior could carry a daemon corpse weighing tons, deliver a strike with the impact of a cannon, shatter enormous boulders of solid granite, and the shockwaves given off by their attacks or movements could churn up a road; although mages in comparison experienced little physical improvement, nevertheless the tremendous forces at work would subtly refine the state of their soul, granting them phenomenally improved intellect and superb control over various energies.
The end of the Silver tier represented the limits of the human body. For a warrior, their mighty physique was the result of rigorous conditioning, which took the potential hidden deep inside them and brought it forth. Combined with their will, it produced a special ability known as Combat Aura, and the enhanced spirit of a mage allowed them to freely manipulate the diverse elements and mana around them, thereby creating a multitude of truly wondrous spells.
At this stage, whether warrior or mage, when all the power available to them was brought to bear in a serious fight, their souls would give off a mystical radiance, searing the spirits of nearby enemies. This meant that even without using any supernatural abilities, they were easily able to attack ghosts and other incorporeal beings.
Attaining the Gold Tier meant surpassing a human's natural limitationsbeginning to approach, little by little, the ascendant form of a super-human being.
Someone like Joshua, for instance: ever since he'd crossed the threshold into the Gold tier, endowed with the powers of Will and Order, the warrior's body could no longer be compared to that of a normal person at all. He could take a swim through a freezing glacier, have a soak in red-hot lava, crush steel in his hand with easehe could even press different metals together into a flattened lump, and then break it apart into crumbs as if it were a cookie.
With the 'Steel Armor Kokyu-ho' technique further bolstering him, Joshua's body could emulate any number of weapons: a swish of his finger could surpass the speed of sound, producing a super-sonic air current far deadlier than a blade; a wave of his arm, or a kick of his leg, and the titanic force produced could bring down great elephants and dragons. Right now, if he marshaled his full might, it could equal the strength of up to a hundred normal peopleenough to go bare-handed against a wyrm and triumph. All this was only concerning his level of basic physical strength, and had not yet even begun to go into his array of techniques employing Combat Aura or Glorious Strength.
This kind of power, in the distant days of ancient human civilization, would have been sufficient for one to be viewed as a god.
"First, let's cut out the brain."
Saying this to Ying, Joshua held his hand straight like a knife, invoking his Combat Aura. Following a single downward slash, a ray of light coursed through, and the Rimetooth Wyrm was decapitated just like that. Its blood, now a sluggish paste, hardly managed to ooze out a little before solidifying into a seal of frozen blood at the neck. The wyrm's immense head, meanwhile, rolled and bounced across the icy ground, before coming to rest in a shallow rut.
At the same time, Joshua's passive skill 'Flare of Purification' activated, the unseen power of Order manifesting as radiance. Its cleansing light washed over the wyrm's corpse and severed head, which caused some wisps of black and purple to emerge, and then a brilliant flash followed which banished these remnants of darkness entirely.
After witnessing this scene, Joshua and Ying spent a moment deep in thought. The warrior commented gravely, "Indeed, although the dimensional door has been sealed, the energies of Chaos yet linger. Even in the Dark Forest near Moldova, there remain traces of the Berserk Dragon's taint"
The girl who was his Divine Armament had a different concern. In her soft voice, she wondered aloud, "This wyrm is quite large. However, are we going to bring it back?"
"We'll drag it along as we fly, of course."
Hearing her question, the warrior chuckled, and in a mild tone he explained, "We've flown all this way to find a dragon to slay, so that I can bring its head and body back, where they'll be put on display for all my people to see."