A man was standing alone in the cold. Though, he did not seem to be waiting for him or anything else. He was just standing there. He was a young blond. His hair was long enough that his fringe overlapped his golden-framed glasses. One look and even an idiot would be able to tell that he was not a fighter. In fact, he looked extreme refined and gentle. When he heard the sound of footsteps coming from an alley before him, he lifted his head. At first, he was stunned but then smiled in relief. Before he could lift his hand to greet Joshua, he was pinned to the wall on his neck and his hand.
"My, my Chris. I didn't expect to see you here."
Joshua got into a power stance and lifted Chris with just his right arm. He removed his spear from his back and displayed a threatening move by stabbing the spear into the snow. With an innocent grin, he greeted Chris. "How are you? Have you been well?"
"Oops. I'm sorry. Where are my manners? Let me get you comfortable first."
Joshua lightened the grip on his throat.
"Cough Cousin, what are you doing?"
Chris' face was back to normal after blood returned to his face. Even though he was just strangled, he did not appear to be afraid of Joshua. "There's no need for such treatment. It's been a while."
"Cousin? Such a word means nothing to me. Count yourself lucky that we are related. Otherwise, I would have killed you before you could even blink," said Joshua who remained stoic.
"You do know what your father did."
The man that Joshua had just lifted up with only one arm was the son of his uncle, Chris la Radcliffe.
It was lucky as well. Joshua had initially thought it was a trap.
"Even so, we have had a good relationship." Chris tried to reason with Joshua. "Good enough that you'd only strangle me instead of detaching my head."
Joshua scoffed at the statement. What he said was true. When Joshua and Chris were younger, both of them shared happy memories playing in the snow together. Instead of a cousin, Joshua once thought of him as a younger brother.
Even so, Joshua did not let him off. His steel-like hand was still gripping his neck, like a python ready to snap it off.
"I don't care about our relationship, cousin or not. The moment your father made his move to claim the count's title, I've taken it as an all-out declaration of war on me."
Joshua did not sugarcoat his words.
Being lazy as always, Joshua had not asked why Chris was there standing in the snow. Hence, without wasting any time, he nudged Chris and asked, "What luck, just when I'm about to attack the mansion, I bump into you! Now, tell me how many guards there are in my mansion and who is supporting your father. You have ten seconds before you'll start appreciating your life."
Joshua's tightened the grip on his young cousin and counted, "Ten."
Chris pupils contracted immediately when he saw the glare in Joshua's eyes. He was not joking. There was not the slightest doubt in his eyes about what he said. He was prepared to kill. Panicking, Chris started sweating. If he did not tell Joshua what he wanted to hear, he would be killed mercilessly.
"There's no need to count. There are twenty four guards in the mansion. Fifteen are Lower Silver tier, six Intermediate Silver tier, and three Upper Silver tier."
Without flinching, Chris reported all he knew about the security details of the mansion. Even though he appeared cool and calm, he was literally sweating like a pig. "I have no information about those supporting him. But, I am sure about one. Oh! I must have you know that I'm against my father's action to fight for the count's title. I am here because I snuck out!"
Chris started to panic and quickly finished his sentence before Joshua could interject. "My brother, you'd see how I responded when I saw you in the alley. I was happy to see you alive and well! You'll know that I'm not with them! I'm with you!"
When the reaper was holding your neck, there was no reason to tell a lie. Joshua calmed down. His murderous aura around him subsided yet he did not relax his hands on Chris' neck. "Even so, I'd use you as a hostage to move around. Blame your father if you're hurt."
"Wait! This scheme of taking the count's title was not my father's doing. He is but a chess piece. That's why the people who are playing this game of chess would never consider my life as important!"
Chris stopped panicking when he noticed Joshua had no intention of killing him. However, he started to freak out when he heard what Joshua intention to use him as.
"Think about it. How could someone like my father, a commoner, receive the news about Uncle's death?!"
Chris adjusted his glass and started to talk in a serious manner. "The day after Uncle passed away, a large company of soldiers arrived and surrounded my home. I didn't know at first but they seem to go a long way with my father. After that, my father joined them, and I was taken along forcefully. Still, I'm sure that both my father and I do not trust those men. There's no such thing as a free lunch. The bill is due. Hence, I snuck out last night. It was with my father's advice and secret directions that I am standing here. How else could I be here when I'm just at Steel tier? There's no way I could just walk out undetected."
"You say many things. But the fact remains that your father wants the title."
As a legendary warrior, Joshua's sensitivity to another man's muscle movements and blood circulation was high enough to know that Chris was telling the truth. When he heard what Chris had said, he released him. The young blond man coughed hard and shook his head. "However, I cannot deny one fact. If my father had no intention of taking the title, no one would have come to him. Even if he was being used as a chess piece, my father must have been willing to allow himself to be used."
Joshua crossed his arm. He thought to himself and helped Chris get back to his feet after he had collapsed to the ground, gasping for air. "Tell me everything you know about those men. What you have guessed."
"It was the Wilson family."
Chris rubbed the red mark around his neck to ease the pain. Stumbling around, Chris adjusted his glasses before speaking. There was still traces of fear. "Amongst the four great lords of the north, only the Wilson family would have the motive and the means to rise up against you. They are a family that specializes in crafting weapons and magic accessories as well as trading them. However, since Moldavia has the advantage of the lava pool and the increased population of dwarves, they as master craftsmen, have suffered great losses in their weapons business. Although their production and trades for magic accessories were not affected, it was still a clash of interest that pushed them to rise up against the Radcliffe family in Moldavia."
"What a meaningless motive."
Even though he felt it was a lame excuse to start a war, the reason Chris had just explained was no further than the truth. The generations of humans that lived in Moldavia had good relations with the dwarves of the north. That was how the Moldavia ruling family was able to excel in ore refinery. Moreover, as more and more dwarves were hired and invited into the city, the family had tried to expand their business towards smelting and crafting weapons and armor. Moldavia's entry into the industry had directly affected Wilson's business.
Anyone that lived in the North would know that the means to earn money would be limited. Even though it was meaningless for Joshua, it was a worthwhile risk for the Wilson family. They were also the few potential crime suspects since only a noble could have the resources to hire tens of Silver-tier knights and hundreds of soldiers.
If Moldavia had not need to send all their forces out to face the incoming threat of the Dark Tide in the Dark Forest, Joshua would have the same ability to hire more than a hundred Silver-tier knights. However, at that moment, he was only capable of sending himself into battle and fighting alone.
Just then, Joshua felt like something was off about his young cousin. "Chris, you seem to be unsupportive of your father's actions. Just so you know, even though he was being used as a chess piece, a count is still a powerful seat. When your father acquires the title, not even the Wilson family would be able to fully control your father. At most, they would be able to reclaim their dominant business in the industry. My question to youwould you not want to be a count in the future after your father?"
Chris scoffed. "Not everyone wants to be a noble, Joshua."
He removed his glasses and wiped it clean with his fur coat. "Every man has his own dream."
He blew a mouthful of vapor on the glass and wipe it again. "I like alchemy. I like small businesses. I like a carefree lifestyle. All the things I like can never achieve if I stay in the north. It is unlike the south where everyone was brimming with life. The north it's cold here. The people are passive. Every year, we have to cling to our lives because of the Dark Tide. You know me, and you know my father. Neither one of us is capable of leading an army to fight daemons. Rather than being a noble, I'd rather be a commoner in the south."
Chris adjusted his glasses and spoke confidently. "Listen. I have a fiance down south. I have my own laboratory. Here? All I have is an empty house that had been passed down from generations ago. Being a noble is a privilege, yet it also comes with responsibilities. Responsibilities that I could never bear. I would be mad when the day comes that I'll charge into the forest and fight the daemons. There's nothing else to do here! Explore the mountain? I'd lose my mind being a count in a place where winter would freeze even bears!"
" Well d*mn. I'd never thought of that before. Now I might give up the throne to your father and be done with it."
Chris was right.
Joshua had grown up in the north and he felt that the northern mountains were a beautiful scene to behold. However, he lived his life in the Empire's southern region and he had found that the people or the place itself were not his cup of tea. A man who had come of age were expected to be able to fight a bear. Those who were unable would be ashamed to even greet the others. It was that kind of culture. How could a gentle alchemist survive in the north where the people there were combatants?
"All that I had to say has been said. All in all, elder cousin, I am here to support your actions." Chris pretended to ignore what Joshua had said about giving the count's title away and continued to show support on his side. "If you do succeed, I'll let you have your way with Father."
"Even if I were to kill him?"
"His blood will never be on my hands. Besides, he betrayed my mother and I am the only child. Our relationship is as cold as ever," said Chris as if he was not joking about it. "However, since his blood flows in my veins, I'd ask you to spare his life."
"You would do that? To your own father? Hmph Like father, like son."
Joshua was laughing yet his glare was still as cold as the frozen northern ice.
While he was talking to Chris, he had quietly pulled out the refined dagger that he had taken earlier by its hilt. When he was done talking, he immediately turned around at an insane speed and flung the dagger towards the corner of the alley where he came from.