Soul Of Searing Steel Chapter 4


Chapter 4: Three Million, One Hundred and Nineteen Thousand, Four Hundred and Eighty-One

Starfall Year 831. Winter. 2nd of October. Northern flatlands. Heavy snow.

"I've arrived." Joshua pulled back his hood and jumped down from his horse. Amidst the chilly winter's gale, he gazed towards the horizon and caressed the poor little beast that was nearly frozen to death. He then turned back towards the general direction of his intended destination and sighed. "Seventeen days"

After the shocking news of the death of the Winter Count, he had started his journey back home from the northwest plain and had taken seventeen days to travel to where he was then. He then finally left the borders of the Empire and entered his northern territory. His hometown.

The place was entirely white, as the snow had blanketed the entire wasteland. Joshua pulled the horse's reins towards a nearby tree for a quick stop. He knelt down and plunged his hand into the snow. "Judging from the snow's thickness, I'm sure that this is the first snowstorm."

He pulled out his hands and noted the depth of the snow. "Hm. Not too bad. This won't affect our speed."

He got up and rubbed his hands to warm himself. "Soon. Real soon."

He took a deep breath and released a long breath that was immediately blown away by the cold northern wind. To take in the frigid air of the North's winter was nostalgic. The wind came from the highlands further up north. It carried the saltiness of the northern sea, of which Joshua felt at ease after inhaling a mouthful of it.

Beirut de Radcliffe was Joshua's father. A headstrong middle-aged man with the will of steel. However, Joshua's memories of him were so scarce that he only remembered bits and pieces of the man he called father. Compared to the Great Leader of the Territory, the people Joshua interacted with the most were the old butler at home and the family knights. His mother, however, had passed away long ago due to an incurable winter fever.

It could be said that Joshua and his father were not close. Yet, even so, the news about his father's death had made his entire being burn with rage. It did not take long for him to calm down. Revenge? No. A man should not know such a word.

Ever since he found out there was trouble stirring up in his territory, the possibility of such event happening had been on his mind. It was expected but still a shock to him when he knew of his father's death.

To die in the line of duty is a warrior's greatest honor. Perhaps that old man did manage to achieve his dream. Still death would always be a loss. Worse, it was his own relative. It made him irritable and angry.

The thought of his death returned to him. It was a gloomy night sky when he was stabbed from behind by a Blade of Mercury in the middle of a battle in Fort Naya. A powerful curse seeped into his body and drain the energy from within his core.

No matter from which angle one looked at, it was an unforgivable act of betrayal.

Yet, someone made his appearance at the same time as his father's death; his uncle. He had made his appearance when Joshua was preoccupied and had taken the chance to claim the title of count. Nonetheless to say, be it the unknown stabber, or his uncle, both were despicable traitors.

As a traveler from another world, Joshua had a million ways to make himself stronger. As an ex-legendary warrior, a territory was considered something neither needed nor wanted. Given the option of becoming a territorial owner, he would rather be out in the wild traveling the world. It was something that he preferred.

However, his situation was rather straightforward. He did not care about needing the territory or whether he was happy or not. All that mattered then was to find that sucker and beat the sh*t out of him.

"It's time to go." Joshua rested enough. The horse that was kneeling on the ground got up to its feet and neighed. Joshua pulled a handful of dried feed that was treated with alcohol. The strong warhorse gobbled them just as fast as Joshua handed the food to it. As a powerful horse with the blood of a land drake, it drank alcohol and consumed meat. Joshua had been feeding him meat that came from the wild. The horse was good and had never let Joshua down. Its recovery speed was extremely fast. That explained why he had only taken seventeen days to return to the north. Normal horses would have taken twice as long.

Joshua mounted the horse, feeling extremely dissatisfied. "Level 28 Upper Silver tier. I'm too weak. If only I was Gold tier, I would have been back home a long time ago."

The game Continental War had a Level tier system. Mortal: Level 0 5. Steel: 6 15. Silver: 16 30. Gold: 31 50. Supreme: 51 75. Legendary: 76 105. Gold was a tier that separated the strong and the weak.

Normally, an adult man would have the capabilities of a Level 5 Mortal. If he had received training and had served the army, he would be at the rank of Steel. An elite soldier or an officer would be Silver tier. While this concept could only be applied to the people of this world, players in the game had reached the peak of the Silver tier in the first game version. As the game released more content in further expansions, the limits were raised higher. When the fourth expansion was released, strong players were able to achieve the highest tier, which was Legendary, and would gain the ability to truly affect the game progress.

Joshua was only a Level 28 Upper Silver tier. He was merely a normal human being that could not exceed the limits of what humans could do. Under the limitation of the tier, regular running speed would exceed that of a horse, including even resting time. Additionally, the speed of slowest transportation called the draconic caravan was unknown. At the very least, land drakes could move all the time without resting. Their movements would not even be affected by any sort of terrain. Joshua, on the hand, was still traveling by horse. Sometimes even, he had to walk on his feet across tough terrains.

"There's no time left."

Joshua suddenly recalled something.

"Right now, it's only the end of the first expansion, hence it is still peaceful. However, the second expansion marks the beginning of the 'Dark Tide'. The demons would descend, followed by the gods that were chased out by the demons. The war would tear this world apart and the fighting and killing will never cease."

That was only the first expansion; the third and fourth would be even worse. There would even be Chaos Daemons coming down during the fourth expansion. Before coming into this world, Joshua was fighting them on the battlefield. Chaos Daemons they were the strongest, and most ferocious race that he had ever come across.

Twenty-four years If my calculations are correct. It will be another twenty-four years before the Chaos Daemons descend. Sigh Twenty-four years might be long, but such a time would be over in a blink of an eye. Joshua pressed a finger to his temple. In about half a year later, the daemons will come and the world will welcome a burst of power evolution. War across the continent will be elevated to another scale. If that were to happen, I alone wouldn't be enough to handle such a tragedy.

It was true. Even though Joshua strongly believed that he could be stronger than he ever was, a one-man army would not be enough to deal with a demon army that attacked in a tsunami-like wave. He needed a team. A strong powerful group of soldiers that could share his load.

Moldavia would be his place to develop that requirement. Be it a battle team or hiring a private army, Moldavia would be his first place to invest his time. At that moment, Joshua was no longer the deputy commander in the far south that could control large groups of soldiers. He no longer had trustworthy comrades that could help him. Right then, he was alone. Even so, he would not let anything disrupt his life. Come gods or demons, or even another visitor from another world, he would thrive to protect the world.

Nevertheless, the first on his to-do list was to find and end the life of his wretched uncle.

After a short distance, Joshua spotted a road post that looked like a tower. He followed the signs on the post and came to a long stone pavement that was built all the way towards the main city of Moldavia.

"Go." Hearing the command, the horse started galloping at full speed even when there was a layer of ice covering the ground.

The cold white clouds rolled in from the south and had cast a shadow that enveloped all the land in the wasteland mountain ridges. Snowflakes, the size of an adult's palm were falling down as if they were dancing in the air. Despite the heavy snowfall that would obscure one's vision, there were many groups of merchants walking on the pavement. The pavement was made huge enough to allow a large group of ten men or more to walk side by side. The merchants were walking in two directions; some were going towards the city and some were leaving on the draconic caravans. This mode of transport was important for trading among the four territories in the North. Before the invention of airships, these beasts were the only way to transport goods.

"Finally Some humans."

Joshua sigh with relief when he saw such a scene. It was not that he had not seen any humans during his seventeen days of traveling alone, but the fact that after he had entered the northern region, he had yet to spot a single human.

During normal circumstances, besides adventurers and explorers, humans would never travel far from the main city. Danger awaited in the wasteland, forest, cavern since there were countless of monsters that lurked and hunted. A single mishap would spell doom for anyone. Speaking of dangerous events, there's even the 'Dark Tide' of the 'Dark Forest' that happened once or twice annually.

The Dark Forest and Dark Tide were the two worst problems that all races with power would face throughout theMycroft Continent. The Empire's territory was huge; it in fact covered the entire northern region of the continent. The northern territory extended up to the Starfall Ocean. The southern region borders up to the center of the continent. If it was not for the constant issue of the Dark Forest and the Dark Tide, the Empire's expansion would have reached far and fast enough that they would have already been at war with the southern Kingdom.

"Excuse me! The one riding the horse alone."

Joshua was riding his horse on the stone pavement at a leisurely speed when someone had called out to him.

He turned to the source of the voice and saw a group of merchants that were preparing to leave the city. A middle-aged man came out of the wagon and greeted him loudly. His face expressed extreme fatigue. "Are you perhaps heading towards Moldavia?"

"Yes, I am." Joshua came to a stop and approached the wagon. "What I can do you for, good sir?"

"Heed this old man's advice. Leave the city. You're better off elsewhere," said the man with a deep and hoarse voice.

"Why is that?" Joshua asked with great interest.

The man had a scar that stretched all the way from his chin to his neck. It looked like it was from a cut. "A snowstorm is coming and the Dark Tide is coming. Many of the city's guards have been assigned to the fortress to strengthen the defenses. I can tell that there will be chaos since a large number of unknown knights came in half a month ago."

"I'm not boasting! Please heed my words. We, the merchants have been traveling for many years, some of us had even met with the ruler of the city. When we say that we have never seen the knights before, they must be coming from somewhere that is not on the mapThe citizens of the city are in a state of panic. I am guessing something big is about to happen, hence our departure."

The man gave Joshua a stern look and continued his lecture. "I only warned you about this because you are traveling alone. If there's no urgent business to tend to, I urge you to turn around. There's just too much suspicion in the air now. I heard that even the famous wandering fighters were recruited to join the defense and have started patrolling the city grounds. All the old-timers on the streets are nowhere to be seen anymore. I'm afraid that my suspicion will soon prove right. Something big is coming. Whatever it is, it's not going to be good."

The man had a keen sense of judgment and good observation. That and the man himself was kind enough to give Joshua his advice.

That advice made Joshua think about it for a moment before he realized the reason behind it. Half a month ago was the period when his father's death was confirmed. Many of the higher ranked officers would know about it yet it was not spread to the rest of the common folk. As for the Dark Tide, it was about high time for it to come. Having knights around to defend the city would be the most common thing to do.

On the other hand, about the large number of unknown knights, they were most probably brought in by his uncle. It was most likely preparation to claim the count's title. If that were the case, most of the people living in the city then would be his men.

There was something odd. Joshua may not know much about his uncle yet he was sure that hiring a group of knights, or even just a knight would be beyond his capabilities. There's was no way he could pull that off just by being a merchant.

"Thank you," said Joshua as he nodded earnestly towards the middle-aged man. He lifted his head and smiled. "I'll be frank, you need not be in a hurry to leave. I could tell from the footprints prints in the snow that your wagon is carrying a heavy load. Perhaps you have not made a good sale? Then again, I'd urge you to wait a few days. I'm sure you can expect an unexpected news and sales! Farewell!"

Joshua turned his horse around and sped off without waiting for the man to reply.

"Sigh Youngsters these days. Being hot-headed will get you nowhere! I'd told him that place is dangerous! Why isn't he listening to my advice Wait a minute"

The man frowned while brushing his unkempt beard as he tried his best to remember something. "That man He seems all too familiar Could it be?!"

The man raised his head only to find that Joshua was a great distance away from him. "Could it be him?!"

*****

"Dark Forest Dark Tide I'm sure that it about time for that to come. Talk about timing. That old geezer sure know how to grasp attention. One dead and another comes to claim. What a freaking coincidence."

The Dark Forest was a forest of trees that was the result of the fusion of magic and nature. Their growth rate was exceedingly fast and had a terrifying living force. Cut down the entire forest and leave one tree behind, new ones would sprout in a matter of days. The monsters and magical beast that depended on the Dark Forest to survive had numbers enough to frighten any strong army.

The Dark Tide was a phenomenon where the Dark Forest stops growing. For some unknown reason, a large group of monsters would leave the forest due to the loss of their food source and would scatter to attack human cities and fortresses. They knew no fear and could continue to attack until they had no means to attack. In other words, until you chop off their heads and limbs, they would still crawl, bite, gnaw, and commit other atrocities that permitted them to kill and feed. If an adventurer were to stumble across the phenomenon, unless they had the capabilities of a Gold tier, they would be slaughtered like meat on a butcher's table.

Once, a white mage from the Heavenly Tower came to the Dark Forest and assessed its condition. The Dark Tide was directly linked to the Dark Forest and it was found that the Dark Forest spread its growth through the seeds that were ingested by the monsters. Once they died, the seeds would germinate. Once a carrier died, the blood, bones, and rotten flesh will be nourishment for the seed to grow. A flame purifying treatment must be applied once the battle with the Dark Tide had ended. If left untreated, the place where the battle took place would spawn a new Dark Forest which would draw in more monsters. The cycle would continue on until all Dark Forests were eradicated.

If Joshua had inherited the title of count, he would have made the destruction of the Dark Tide his first priority. Not only he had to protect the citizens within the walls, he needed to prevent subsequent attacks from the Dark Forest or any other beings that posed a threat beyond the walls.

"All the knights that were supposed to be under my command must have been assigned to the fortress guarding the Dark Forest. The group of knights brought in by my uncle should be there as well. That means those in charge of protecting this city must have fled long ago. No wonder the merchants skipped town."

Joshua held on to the reins of the horse tighter. "That means I must face all the knights of the opposite side, alone."

He cracked a smile. He, Joshua van Radcliffe, was a man who would never back down from a fight. No matter how high the odds were stacked against him.

Nevertheless, an alternate world and game world was not the same. The game bragged that everything you could in real life, you could do the same in the game. That means, if there was magic Combat Aura in real life, the same would be applied in the game! However, the experience would always be limited to the mechanism of the game. Hence, they were never the same.

However, there was one aspect of himself that was slightly different from the humans in the alternate world, and that was battle experience.

A warrior was trained to wield the sword and destined to fight in the battlefield for as long as he breathed. Even so, the chances of participating in a battle would not exceed a hundred. To be able to slay more than fifty targets in the virgin battle would earn him the respect of his entire battalion. He would be the bravest amongst the brave. This applied to all adventurers as well. A true adventure would require planning ahead for months and even years. Accounting for the time taken traveling and the actual adventure, it could take up to years before one would return to one's home. In one lifetime, an adventurer would only able to set foot into the wild and embark on the adventure for less than ten counts before truly retiring.

Players were not the same. Once a game started, they would aim for levels, quests, equipment, and many others. With every drop of bloodshed, experience points would be gained. Every skill, equipment, and item gained would only grant them better and faster performance for their next grinding session.

Joshua was the owner of a martial arts training center. There were only a few people that had applied to learn martial arts, hence, with the abundance of spare time he had, Joshua had chosen to play the game. The sole purpose of him playing Continental War was to gain experience in fighting styles that could never be applied to the real world. Killing, for an example. However, he would not deny the fact that he preferred the scenery of the game more than the real world. He was there mainly to fight people, and monsters as well. He would continue to fight and challenge stronger and better targets.

In the game, players had an achievement list. In that list, the highest and hardest to achievement was the Platinum Gold Trophy, which was extremely hard to acquire.

However, Joshua was special. In fact, he had the one and only unique achievement that no one had ever acquired, and that was the Diamond Trophy.

[Diamond Trophy Targets Killed: 3,197,481]

Three million, one hundred and nineteen thousand, four hundred and eighty-one confirmed deaths.

I wonder how many men my uncle has? The past experience of him slaying more targets in a battle made his fists itch for a fight. Could they even satisfy me?

No one could answer such an arrogant question. Alone, Joshua laughed maniacally as he rode the horse swiftly towards the city.