A hooded rider that was clad in light metal armor and a white leather undercoat layer arrived at the city of Moldavia. He pulled the reins of his horse to stop at the gates where he needed to wait until the gates opened.
The walls of the towering city walls were made with black blocks of refined granite. It was not clear whether or not the builders had done a good job, but the blocks of granite were placed unevenly. Snow could be seen stacked on a few blocks that were not in line with the wall, making the entire city look like an incomplete checkerboard. Still, its colossal size was truly impressive. From afar, people could have mistaken the city walls for giants that were protecting the city inside.
"It's been a while"
The knight that had just arrived at the city gates was called Elson. He was a knight that was part of the garrison of Fort Dark Forest and had served the Radcliffe family for more than twenty years. For a 39-year-old man, he had a head full of gray hair.
Eighteen days ago, when he was fighting the daemons coming out of the Dark Forest, he was suddenly informed about the sudden, mysterious death of the Winter Count, whom he had pledged to serve. When he heard the news from his comrade-in-arms, he felt no fear or surprise, but a sense of extreme suspicion.
It has to be a joke. His liege was a Gold-tier knight. A man that could even fight a dragon and live to tell the tale. He had even sent an urgent update to the garrison in Fort Dark Forest to strengthen their fortification due to the coming Dark Tide. He had even sent a large group of horsemen to support their cause. How could a man suddenly die?
It did not add up. Something must be wrong.
No matter what sort of reason Elson tried to come up with, the fact that the Winter Count was no longer among the living, did not change.
Many shared his suspicions. However, despite the sense of helplessness in him, there was nothing he could do at the moment. A large number of them also expressed their intention to return to the city to seek the truth. However, they could not do that. All of the soldiers that were assigned in the fortress could not leave their post. The Dark Tide was coming and they would have to deal with the threat of daemons. If the forces in the fortress were unable to stop the coming of the Dark Tide, the overwhelming numbers of daemons would flood the city grounds and destroy one of the four northern territories. The death toll would be too high, which was something the Winter Count would never allow to happen.
The knights of the fortress called for a meeting and during the heated discussion, a suggestion was made.
"Let's send a small platoon to check things out. It should be fine. The main purpose of going back was to gather information, not start fight."
Everyone felt that the suggestion was extremely reasonable. However, their initial plan changed when the returning party was greeted by a large group of wounded soldiers that came from the city itself.
"The count's brother, Danlya the merchant had brought in five platoons of Silver-tier knights and two companies of soldiers to take over the city."
A squad of soldiers had around ten men, a platoon fifty, and a company was a hundred. The group of men that just arrived were the city knights and soldiers that wanted to leave for the Fort Dark Forest to gather information. However, when they left the city, they were immediately overwhelmed by the large force and had to run away, throwing away their battered armor and broken weapons.
"Did he plan this? Did he come to take over the city just after our liege passed away?"
"Hmph! Such a betrayal. The person to inherit the title is young master Joshua! Who does Danlya think he is?!"
Naturally, the act of treason had incurred the wrath of all the soldiers in the Fort Dark Forest. However, even if they wanted to march straight back into the city to take back what was rightfully Joshua's, they were limited to guarding the fortress against the incoming Dark Tide. Two hundred men could make a change but they would be facing fifty Silver-tier knights, equivalent to fifty battle tanks on the frontline.
"The situation now is confusing. To get things straight, we have to go back!"
"We cannot just leave this fortress alone!"
The heated discussion grew long until they realized that there was no hope. If they wanted to intervene in the city, they could only do so after the next month when the Dark Tide was dealt with.
"Next month?! By then, that Danlya would have acquired the title of the Winter Count!" A man with an injured arm called out. "If he does, half of us here would be removed! At best, he would only be forced to return to our place of origin. He would not need us; the knights and soldiers of the old count!"
What he said was somewhat true. None of them were willing to leave themselves. However, the incoming Dark Tide could never be ignored, nor could the ascension of Danlya to the position of count.
"The city will be tightly secured. It would be extremely hard for anyone of us to gather any sort of intelligence." An old knight, probably at the age of fifty, spoke out as he continued to sharpen his long sword with a small whetstone. His face and arms were covered in deep scars that could only be the result of hundreds of battles. "Rather than discussing something that would not bear fruit, I have a suggestion. Rather than a squad or platoon, one man should be enough."
He placed the whetstone back into a small leather pouch that he was carrying and sheathed his sword. "I suggest someone amongst us disguise themselves as a lone hunter that has returned to the city after a long hunt."
The discussion came to an end with a final decision. After drawing lots to decide who would go, Elson was the lucky one. That was how he managed to arrive at the front gates of the city.
"It's almost 6 p.m. now. The gates should open at any minute."
Elson was among a group of more than ten people that had reasons to enter the city. He quietly blended in the group and focused his attention on the city walls. There were at least five men patrolling the walls which made him aggravated and suspicious.
"Why do they need so many guards up there?"
He lowered his gaze to the sealed door made from the finest steel that a human could forge. A few unfamiliar guards that were guarding the gates were observing each and everyone's face. Elson removed his hood to get rid of his suspicious form and proceeded to portray a tired expression. It was rather easy since he was genuinely exhausted.
It was known to all that the city gates was a five-feet thick steel wall, designed with an easy mechanism to open and close, only from the inside. It was obviously made with the touch of a dwarf. It was not something that was surprising. There were more than 200,000 dwarves there were living in Moldavia. Half of them chose to live among the humans and even wed them. The other half chose to live deep underneath the earth at the mountainside.
Located not far from the Dark Forest and too close to the
The bell in the clock tower rang six times. Promptly after the sixth bell, the door was lifted.
Wrrrrrrr The sound of the gears behind the walls of the gate could be heard roaring as they lifted the heavy metal door. It took some time but the door was lifted and revealed a semi-circular tunnel that led towards the city.
"Please enter in an orderly manner. Also, refrain from making loud noises."
Elson looked towards the front and saw a soldier of a higher rank. It was obvious since his uniform and armor was far superior compared to the rest of the soldiers around. The people around him heeded his words and formed a straight line. Each of them walked slowly behind each other and followed the instructions of the person in front.
When Joshua got closer to the gates, he could see that the soldier's expression was stoic and stern. He took extra care to hide his presence since the soldier was glaring at everyone's face. No, not glaring, but observing.
Elson dragged his horse along with him and was about to enter the city when a soldier pulled him aside.
"Who are you? Where are you from?" The soldier that pulled him out of the crowd was larger than the rest yet he spoke to Elson in a friendly manner, unlike the rest.
"Good evening, sir. I am a lowly hunter that came from the Red Leaf Village that's in the east. I'm here to trade for some coins. Perhaps, I could interest you in some pelts?" Elson had his line ready and even the deer carcass wrapped in a large blanket that he hunted in the forest. The scar on his face and his well-built physique had made his lie a little convincing. From the looks of it, he was unaffected by the cold weather. Only a veteran hunter could be in such a shape.
"Ah. Haha. No, thank you." The rugged soldier examined the deer and let him go on his way. Elson's deception worked flawlessly. However, before Elson could get away, the soldier tapped his shoulder and whispered, "Security has been tightened here. You are not allowed to go out after 9 p.m."
"Oh. Thank you for the advice," said Elson earnestly and gave the soldier a few silver coins. The soldier face remained stoic yet he took the coins without asking further. The soldier then continued, "Be careful with the wandering warriors. That bunch is not as good to talk to as I am."
He then promptly left Elson alone and went back to join the mean-looking soldier that was still glaring at everyone that walked into the city.
Elson turned to give one last observation to the interior view of the gates and went away. The morning wind of winter was chilly. All the doors were closed. The windows were shut tight and curtains were drawn in. The piled snow that got thicker was not taken care off. The sight of which, Elson thought the city was abandoned
Could this be the after effect of Danlya's temporary ruling? Why would he need to be that strict? Was he trying to take control of the city, or destroy everything that it was once worth?
When Elson kicked the thick snow off his boots, a blaring alarm was sounded from the gates behind him.
Ding dong ding dong!
"Was I found out?!" he cried in his heart.
The blaring alarm sent Elson into a state of anxiety. His hands hastily flew to his waist to pull out a small dagger that was well-hidden underneath his thick leather undercoat. He braced for all that was about to come to him and quickly assumed a fighting stance. Something was wrong, yet it was not about him. He knew it almost immediately when he turned around. He recognized the alarm pattern. The extreme fast knocks of four strikes per second would signal the utmost danger. Such an alarm would only be cast if a threat to the entire city annihilation was imminent.
He was just an average Silver-tier guardian knight. Even if he was discovered, such an alarm would never go off. The most probable threat they could have to face then was either an invading army of Elson's comrades or a powerful Gold-tier attacker. The alarm was not for him. Who could it be?!
Elson went to a corner of the empty street and hid in an alley where he tied his horse. He then proceeded to move closer towards the gates to observe the situation. Many others that had just entered the city were running away in panic. Elson sneaked in closer and when he was about to be found, he ran around in a frenzy, pretending to be panicking as well. However, he turned his head as quickly and as frequently to observe the situation.
There was nothing wrong! There was no army or powerful attacker. All the common folk had run away and what was left at the gates were the guards that had drawn out their weapon.
and a man?!
The gray-haired knight focused his sight on the shadowy figure and saw a face that was all too familiar.
"Wait a minute That's young master Joshua!" He thought to himself. "What is he doing here?! The man should be in the northwest flatlands! He should be busy with the Glorious Expedition to topple down the impenetrable Fort D'ruis! The war is not over yet! How did he come back!?"
Was he here to claim his right as count?! It would be fatal for him alone! There were more than fifty Silver-tier knights and over a hundred soldiers! Why did he not seek for help in the Fort Dark Forest!? A foolish attempt! A suicide mission! Was he out of his mind?!
Doubt and shock filled Elson's mind and he was stunned there, unable to do anything. The next moment, he heard the sound of hundreds of men marching towards the gates.
Five or more squads of fully armored soldiers, wielding long spears were marching towards the gates. Their target? Joshua.
"Move! Fool!" Elson cried in his heart. He wanted to scream but he was not in his right mind to do so. There were too many of them. Joshua was just a Silver-tier warrior! How could he just stand there and welcome them?! They were going to kill him! Why was he not running?!
Why wasn't he running? That was because Joshua wanted them to come to him.
The blaring alarm was still going off and the thick metal door behind him was dropped almost immediately. All means of escape was sealed as Joshua was surrounded from all possible directions. When all were ready to strike him to his death, Joshua stood there, unfazed, unaffected.
Everything was going according to plan. He knew that his face would have been recognized and that all the soldiers that belonged to his uncle would storm out to the gates. He also knew that if he tried to sneak inside, he would also be found. The opponent, his uncle would try his best to kill him. That was the harsh reality of fighting for the title of count.
Joshua's hands and feet were ready to rumble and his heart was as calm as a lake.
Yes, he might be surrounded. Yes, there was no way for him to escape. However, what would an escape path do when the man had no intention to flee?
Was there anyone strong enough to stop him?
"Such a warm welcome."
The air was still. No one dared to move a muscle. Not even the soldiers that had their blade's edge ready to stab Joshua. Joshua's eyes were swimming around, scanning for the superior officer in charge. At then, he spotted him. Just when he was about to open his mouth to give the kill order, Joshua zoomed towards him at insane speed and made the first move. He disarmed the officer's sword and used it for himself.
Without any delay, more than ten soldiers rushed towards him and thrusted their spears at him. Joshua remained calm and took a deep breath.
Combat Aura. The power that was born from life. A power that exists in the bodies of the strong and powerful. It lies deep within the body and the soul, accumulating passively. Joshua took a breath, allowing his lungs to take in as much air as possible to activate his internal organs to trigger the power. The blood would start pumping faster, his veins and arteries would expand. The blood, containing the fluid of life would circulate all around his body to instantly increase his strength by multiple folds. This is one of the Combat Aura skills all warriors on the Mycroft Continent would learn [
Such a skill could allow a human warrior to sent a large orc flying with a single strike. If the warrior was extremely strong to begin with, one might even cleave the orc in half. The skill was so strong that it could strike a diamond in half, turning a harmless dull blade into a blade that could cut through air.
Before coming to this world, Joshua was just an owner of a martial arts training center. There was no such thing as Combat Aura in the real world. However, there were martial arts. Moves, stances, and techniques that could assist oneself to gain unimaginable power. When he played the game, the system dictated everything. Hence, he was not able to bring the best out of both worlds. Things had changed then.
The game had become the real world. Both Combat Aura and martial arts could be used at the same time. In fact, there was a chemical reaction that made his powers more potent than ever when he combined the best of both arts.
A flame-like light that gave off a reddish-orange hue shone brightly in Joshua's chest. Along with it, a loud beating sound of his heart. He could feel each pulse was pulsating with power. Each pulse sent waves of energy and strength throughout his body. Not long after, his entire body was giving out rays of light that were spiraling around him. Like a tornado with him as the center, the air around him begun to spin at an amazing speed that had sent all the snow away from him.
He took a fighting stance, pushed all the power that he had built up into his legs, and took a step forward.
The deep, beating sound of his heart grew louder. It was so loud that he could practically hear the blood flowing in his veins like a waterfall. His eyes glowed with an intense crimson fiery light.
It was an experience that Joshua had experienced tens of thousands of times in the game. It was both familiar yet strange to him. It was the color that belonged to both Joshua of the real world, and Joshua of the Mycroft continent.
He could feel the power that was unleashed, crackling with joy as its master was calling out to it.
He swung his sword back, charging a strike. He focused on one point with everything he had, preparing to give it all.
The power flowed with the special breathing method that he only knew. The power began to flow into his bloodstream, his muscles, his bones; his entire body. At one point, the power that was flowing in him started to leak out due to the excessive build up. He focused those powers that leaked out to the tip of the blade and allow the blinding radiant power to form a shapeless blade.
The enemies were already right in front of him. Their spears were only a few inches away from his eyes. He could see the reflection of his own power, shining off from the tips of their spears.