There was a door in plain sight, covered only with old plaster. The snow had only made it easier for it to remain hidden. In the corner of a random street of a small neighborhood area, the door was truly invisible. It was not hidden on purpose but merely blended into the background. Without anyone opening it, no one could truly see the door unless they were meant to find it. At that moment, the door was opened, and there were people talking inside.
"Jos My Lord, did you really kill Moz?"
Nolan, the gray-haired stalker with purple eyes, was the next heir of the Wilson family. Such a girl of her age should be lounging in the garden of her house, enjoying warm food and exquisite wine. Not hiding in a hidden room in the territory of other great houses, in the middle of a raging snowstorm. However, because her reckless, idiotic elder sibling engaged in a mindless pursuit of his own selfish deeds, she was forced to follow him to the main city of Moldovia. The worst of all, she had to stick her neck out, hiding in a small random room, enduring the frigid temperature, to talk toa monster.
"Did I kill him? I doubt that anyone could still breathe if I cleaved them in half. Ah... Don't get me wrong. Your elder brother was strong. His punches before his death were strong. I felt that."
The man who was standing in front of her was a man with curly long hair that grew past his neck, almost touching his shoulders. His black and red eyes did not show any emotion. Although his appearance was not the best, it had a certain allure, especially his toned muscles and posture. Joshua spoke with such tenacity that his words felt like a hammer pounding on her. Each word could render her breathless as the sheer pressure and intimidating aura he gave off was truly someone who could end her life in a snap.
The man glared directly at the girl. Like cold steel, his eyes pierced through her, sensing her nervousness.
"Where is Chris? Did you not escort him to this safe house?"
He crossed his arms and that made her nauseated.
"Ah No. That.. er he left Alone."
She could feel fear creeping up to her like a spider up one's neck. Her throat went dry and her brain was whirring.
With the best of her ability in mind, she had purposely chosen this safe house to hide in. It was perfectly camouflaged among the other house and would not draw any attention. It was the kind of house which one could escape from or to. The window behind her, the chimney on her left could be easily kicked and destroyed to create a momentary distraction for her to escape. All she had to do next was to activate [Existence Removal], [Human Invisibility], and [Advanced Stealth] for her to remove her presence from the world.
It was only one word. A simple word that rang in her mind like a church bell. She quickly gathered her thoughts to the present situation. Her conscience was drifting towards escaping and when Joshua's deep husky voice rang, she realized that there was no way for her to disobey the man. She sighed at that thought. She was facing a Gold-tier warrior, a warrior that could defeat another Gold-tier warrior with relative ease. If she were to demonstrate a slight move of disobedience, the man could be holding her head in his left hand and her mangled body on his right. She was still young and had no plans to convert her class to a dullahan.
"About two and a half hours ago, Chris received a magic message and left in a hurry. I had no intention to reprimand him hence I let him go. However, he did leave behind a letter addressed to you. It's right there by the table. Don't worry. I wouldn't want to read it."
Nolan immediately picked up a change of emotion in the manner of which Joshua spoke. The black-haired warrior's tone suddenly turned sour. He frowned and picked up the letter.
"We're brothers. He had no conflicts with me and neither had I. I have no intention to kill him. But why did he leave in such a hurry? Something is wrong."
That's right! You had no intention of killing me as well, but my legs are giving way just talking to you!
"From the looks of it, I heard it was something about an alchemy laboratory and trading problems in the southern Empire. Perhaps that was the reason he left"
Feeling a little guilty for his disappearance, Nolan carefully explained to Joshua while constantly monitoring her word choice. Nolan suddenly felt that Chris the alchemist was probably a caster. From his behavior and action, it seems that his intelligence was far higher than hers. He knew when to create a distraction or a reason to leave earlier. Yet, she was left there, in the room, alone, fooled.
"Let it be. I had no interest in his matters."
He placed the letter down and turned to the stalker. He then cracked a smile. The kind of smile that tells you that the person was up to no good.
"For our next topic of discussion, let's talk about the scheme that had led to the severe damage to the city, about the Wilsons that had supported my late uncle."
"Understand this. Think carefully about your next words, if you do not wish to have me knocking on the Wilsons' door. Do you understand?"
"Sit down Miss Nolan. Let's talk."
Starfall Year 831, Winter, 6th of November. Fort Dark Forest.
It was sunny. A day that was rarely seen.
Even though the winter sun was not warm enough for anyone to feel, it was still nice to have some sunlight and heat. For others, it might be just another regular day, but for the guards that were patrolling the city, it was a great day.
However, despite the cheery day in the Fort Dark Forest, things were extremely gloomy in a room.
It was a meeting room, constructed with white granite blocks. A black and gold fur carpet adorned the floor while in the center of the room was a large handcrafted long pinewood table. There were several large warriors clad in heavy armor sitting on all sides of the long table. Everyone was quiet. Everyone wassilent.
"55 silver knights, 120 elite northern riders."
Someone who was sitting on the left side of the long table broke the silence. The man who spoke was a warrior that wore a thick full-face metal helmet that slightly muffled his voice, making it sounds deep and depressing. He continued his report, "It's less than half of the entire fortress's force. Everyone is fully armored and equipped. We are ready to sortie at your command."
"16 men mage group. 9 Upper Silver-tier priests. 6 Silver-tier mages, and one cryomancer."
The second voice came from the right side of the long table. It was an old man and full head of white long hair. He wore single-framed glasses and had a long bronze staff. The man's appearance was both stoic and fierce. You could even misjudge the man as a warrior instead of a mage. His voice came out from the gaps in his teeth.
"All instant-cast scrolls have been readied. We could destroy a large part of the wall with those."
"Chiri! Feng! What nonsense are you talking about?! Speak to me in human language!"
A blond middle-aged knight stood up and slammed the table. He was sitting in the frontmost position of the table. He yelled, "I don't care how many people or things you'd prepared! All that doesn't matter now! What took you so long?! You dare to take your salary?! You dare to call yourself a loyal servant who serves the city lord?!"
"Enough with your blatant words, Zorgen! Don't think for once second that I won't strike you down just because you're the head of the fortress!"
The man with his entire head covered with his helmet stood up as well and confronted the knight that was sitting in the front most of the table.
"Wasn't it you who had given us the order to wait! What are you trying to pull by acting all surprise?! If you're half the man you said you were, you would have already sent troops over to the city and came back victorious by now!"
"He's right. Don't look down on mage! I, Feng Lawrence openly declare that there's no northerner that can't wield a sword! Explain yourself! Or do you prefer to have a duel outside?! Right here, right now!"
The old white-haired mage tossed his bronze staff aside and removed his robes. Scars adorned his muscular body like decorations in a house during a celebration. His muscles were so huge and well-built that he looked like a man that could take on a bear and rip it apart with his bare hands. The unique mage; part arcanist, part berserker flexed his fingers and created a ball of fire in his palm without even saying a word. The ball of flame hovered in his hand, cracking as its holder was ready to hurl it out at any second.
The meeting room then turned rowdy. From an awkward silence, the room was about to turn into a chaotic battleground with those three ready to jump at each other. The rest of the meeting attendees were rather calmed. As if they had seen this scene many a time, they rushed over to the three fighters and held them back.
After a short struggle with the fortress chief, the leader of the mages and the leader of the knights, everything returned to normal.
"What a shame!"
The old mage slammed the table with his fist. It was a disgrace that could be felt by the entire room. Pain, not from slamming the table, but from shame and guilt, was shown on the old man's face.
"As a knight, how could we not serve the Lord!? How could we lose the city?!"
The knight with the full-face helmet voice was furious, yet there was a hint of shame. "If the Lord of the city is still alive, he would Gahhh!"
"Enough. Who would have thought that Young Master Jos The new Lord could be so powerful!"
The blond, middle-aged man sighed and raised his eyebrows as he was curious about Joshua. "It is weird. Young masterNo. The new Lord should have come to us. Even with the coming of the Dark Tide, we could assemble together and sortie to take back the city with relative ease. Why would we want to fight alone?! We have no knowledge of his return. It was only thanks to Elson that had know about the Lord's return from the Black Crow's Army."
"The Lord himself was strong enough to take down twenty to thirty Silver-tier knights. He single-handedly reclaimed the city! What does he need of us?" Chiri scoffed and removed his helmet. He crossed his arms and planted his face on the table. Solemnly, he said, "A knight, who cannot serve his Lord. A knight, who let his Lord to fight a war on his own. I am guilty of this act! How I'd wish the Dark Tide would come quicker so that I could kill those daemons and wash away my shame with their blood!"
"Right now. It's vital that we do not do anything rash. Best we send back the city guards, for they need to maintain order in the city. That is all."
As the last speech was given, everyone got up their seats and the meeting was adjourned.
The news spread faster than wildfire. One by one, whispers turned into declarations. All knights in other territories, even the dwarves that lived in the north were shocked by the news.
Joshua had returned.