Akshuler observed a small settlement in front of Baron Dubwi’s estate.
“This is our destination,” he mumbled.
There were quite a few other travelers on the road. All of them had the same despondent expression, like they’d long given up on life. Iceline’s fists clenched when she saw it.
“Master Aiden!” A mercenary approached them from within the settlement.
“Hans.” Akshuler’s eyes twinkled. “Did you do what I asked you to do?”
“Yes. As requested, I informed the guild headquarters that undead have emerged in the heart of the Avalon Empire. Fortunately, we have a tiny telecommunications device here.”
Akshuler felt Joshua questioning gaze, said, “There are more than two thousand undead wandering the Empire, not just one or two. I wouldn’t know if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes, but since I did, I have to tell you.”
“We should wait for a little while. If there’s something behind all of this, we can find it an end the problem immediately—”
“There is guarantee that these undead will not harm the people.” Akshuler shook his head firmly. ”We can’t be carrying it with us when we might have to pass through a village at any time. She doesn’t want that, either.” He pointed to Iceline.
Joshua knew the future and he was certain it wouldn’t be an issue, but explaining it would be difficult.
It was fine, though, for the moment.
Prior to the Eastern Massacre, undead have never hurt a normal citizen. If they did, even the Hubalt Empire would have intervened.
Right… for now.
“By the way,” Hans ventured, “there was a little problem.”
“A problem?” Akshuler cocked his head at Hans.
“It seems that headquarters called them to verify that the Avalon Empire is aware, but…”
“As soon as we contacted Avalon, they informed us that a huge number of undead had invaded their land. I’m worried that the dark sorcerers might be returning after all hundreds of years…”
“What?” Akshuler’s eyes widened. “What do you mean?”
Joshua and Iceline were similarly startled. The title of “Dark Sorcerer” carried a heavy weight in Igrant.
“The undead and dark sorcerers are the continent’s greatest enemy. Our neighbors—Hubalt, for example—use this as grounds to scour the entire continent. What kind of emperor lets this happen?”
“It seems like Hubalt was already on the move before the announcement.” Hans looked uneasy.
“What do you mean?” Akshuler’s forehead creased.
“It seems that the Hubalt Empire already knew. High Priest Herald apparently had a revelation from God and dispatched a priest before—”
“Rumors say they lost contact for three days. He had a portable crystal ball, so there must have been an issue…”
“This is becoming very problematic.”
“A priest from Hubalt vanishing is a serious issue,” Hans noted.
“Where was the site?”
“In the heart of the estate,” Hans told Akshuler. “...Where Count Rebrecca’s castle stood.”
The other three were wide-eyed.
“As a result, Imperial rule over the region has been unusually relaxed. According to the rumors, the Hubalt Empire has already sent priests and paladins—”
“I’m going first.” Joshua turned around.
“Wait. Here… take this.” Akshuler threw something to Joshua.
“This is…” In Joshua’s hand was a hexagonal, palm-sized plaque of sterling silver. The front was embossed with two overlapping axes; the reverse was inscribed with “Mercenary Ash.”
“You might run into issues, so I warn you: an aristocrat of Avalon might find it difficult to pass through their lands. The devoted priests of Herma might look upon you oddly and start something pointless.”
Mercenaries used “Herma” as slang for Hermes’s priests.
“I wish I could go with you, but duty calls. I will contact you as soon as possible.”
Joshua looked at Iceline, whose lips were pinched into a quivering line. She was biting her lips so hard they turned white.
“I’ll use this well.” Joshua nodded and vanished.
“I know you want to go right away, but hang in there. Take a look at these poor people—you wanted to help them without gathering the nobles’ attention, didn’t you? We can’t do this fast, but we can do it well.”
“I know.” Iceline chewed on her lip.
“Right… that’s enough, then.”
Akshuler smiled savagely and turned to Hans.
“By the way—if a priest was carrying a portable crystal ball, there’s no way he’s normal.” Akshuler tilted his head. “What was his name, Hans?”
“It was the first time I heard the name. He was called… Christian.”
“Christian?” The name seemed familiar to Akshuler.
Ah! The one participating in the Master Battle… It must be a coincidence, right?
“Oh yeah! They also said that Hubalt dispatched thirty white-coat knights, the High Priest, and the saint on a mission to find this Christian. They said they would depart the day they received the news, so we expect them to arrive in around half a day.”
“What…” Akshuler exhaled. “What did you say?”
A gathering like this represented the core of the Hubalt Empire. The High Priest is the second-highest ranking clergyman in the entire Empire of Hubalt. There were a mere three hundred white-coat knights out of tens of thousands of paladins. And a saint…
“That again… hmm.” Akshuler looked at Iceline and coughed. “It’s getting worse. The Hubalt Empire is sending high-value troops deep into enemy territory for one man, and the Avalon Empire is letting them…
“What the hell is going on?”
A blast of wind heralded a figure speeding through the center of the forest. Joshua had covered three days and three nights worth of distance in less than half a day.
I treated the situation too lightly. Joshua clenched his jaw and scowled.
Joshua didn’t have many memories of the days before and after the Eastern Massacre.
In my past life, I was 14 when my mother passed away. At fifteen, he left the Agnus family and spent a long time buried in grief. All he knew about the massacre was what other people could tell him.
The little village of Rev was where Rich Heinz, Asomodeus’s contractor, established his first base. If he switches jobs before I can reach him… Joshua’s expression hardened.
If that happened, there was a good chance that that awful Massacre would happen once more.
And the kid… Ash’s parents…
Joshua halted as Rev came into view. He could feel an aura touching on his nerves; barely a remnant, but definitely there.
It’s him. His face was always hidden by a mask, but Joshua could never forget that nasty, sticky energy.
There were no more doubts. That dark, ominous aura—almost a curse—had pierced Joshua’s body as he died.
Kaiser’s dog, loyal only to power.
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