Unlike the rugged, mountainous, and sparsely populated northern and eastern regions of Avalon, the south was flat and fertile. It produced around 80% of the Empire’s foodstuffs; the roads were paved much better to accommodate the amount of trade that entailed.
The ruling class was always concerned about the treatment of the southern provinces, but recently they’d been particularly interested.
Especially the businessmen.
The room was magnificent, decorated in gold from floor to ceiling.
The owner, a middle-aged man, sat at the head of the room. He had an intimidating visage at odds with the artistic decor, such that everyone wondered why it was decorated like so. His name was Gehor von Crombell, an instantly familiar personage.
In front of his awaiting vassals, he lifted his diamond-adorned fist and smashed it down on his desk.
“Duke Pontier.. Tough as cockroaches. We need to put them down. Completely. Now.” Crombell shot a glare at the bearded man next to him, who smiled and laughed nervously. “Got! Are you certain we’ve taken care of Duke Pontier? He is poisoned?”
“I’m sure of it, my lord. He only needed to consume a little; its effects are not easy to recover from.”
“But he was supposed to be dead by now! Why are they still hanging on?”
“May I, my lord?”
Jackson, a count, was the Crombell’s most powerful knight, and no less than the Marquis’s right hand. Whatever he had to say, it was worth listening to.
Jackson bowed his head gratefully.
“As you are aware, we are in a stalemate. The Pontiers’ territories and businesses are less than a third of what they were. The difference between our overwhelming success and the tight battles we were used to is our use of ripple assaults—and him.”
“The Mercenary King…” Marquis Crombell grimaced. “They won’t last long without their patriarch.”
“That’s right.” Jackson nodded. “He was responsible for acquiring half of the Pontiers’ land—which is now ours. I don’t know if His Majesty would agree, but if the Mercenary King trusts us, I’m sure he would too. No, he might be grateful given his appreciation for talent, and there’s no reason for him to risk making an enemy of the Mercenary King.”
“I don’t think there’s any need to make an apology when we’re at an advantage. I just don’t know how much of an excuse he’ll ask for.”
“So how do we proceed? Their resistance has weakened; we can push through their undefended routes. I’m sure their best defenses are still waiting.”
The southwestern area, the Pontiers’ last bastion, was a basin surrounded by steep mountains. There was only one way in, unlike the rest of the south.
“Aiden Gorge… It’s foggy, even in broad daylight. It’s nothing short of a fortress for them. We must take it.”
“Bring me a map.”
The servants hurried to lay out a map on the table; it was as good, if not better, than the Pontiers’ map.
“We can exploit a flaw they didn’t think about—the source of Aiden Gorge’s fog.” Jackson took a red marker and drew a line to the Dennis River, which cut straight through the basin.
“It’s impossible, my lord,” Got said. “The Dennis River flows too strongly. We might lose our forces before we even get to the fight.”
Jackson’s eyes gleamed.
“But what if we can regulate the river’s flow?”
“Are you certain?” Cromwell asked.
“Of course, my lord.”
The Marquis clenched his jaw thoughtfully.
“...Our current system stands—but pay attention to that spot. Additionally, ambushes on the escort wagon are permitted, especially the ones headed to the basin. Smash them into pieces. I don’t want an extended battle, so cut them off.”
“Yes, my lord!”
“And—” Marquis Crombell pointed to the red line. “I’ll leave this to you.”
“My lord, I will do everything in my power, even if it costs me my life.”
“Then we’re done for today. Make sure everyone completes their objectives without delay.”
The meeting was cut short and the vassals went to their work.
But what they didn’t realize was that Icarus and Jackson had drawn their lines in the same place.
Joshua sighed as he approached the mercenary guild in the heart of Haiburi Castle. The more he walked, the more attention he gathered. He hadn’t planned for this.
“He’s not human! He can’t possibly be human!”
“An elf! Using an artifact to make his ears look normal!”
People were dropping things on the ground and staring at him, regardless of age or gender—although it was particularly severe for the women.
[Hey buddy, why don’t you grab yourself a robe?]
Joshua grimaced at the familiar voice in his head.
“I thought I warned you about jumping out whenever you want, Lugi,” Joshua mumbled under his breath.
[And I thought I told you that I don’t want to be called that! Call me Lugia! How dare you use nicknames for me. Do you know how famous my name is in the demon world? You treat me like your neighbor!]
“I’m going to shove you back into your subspace—as a bonus, I’m not going to let you out for a week.”
The voice bouncing around in his head immediately shut up.
Joshua smirked as he ducked around the corner and donned his robe.
“There’s a lot I need to be careful of.” Not just his family history, he knew; people were reacting in all sorts of ways he hadn’t had to deal with in his past life. Joshua was no longer a kid from a peasant household, contempted and neglected. He hadn’t worn his feet down against the mud and the unsanded wooden planks after his mother died. He hadn’t taken up his spear and spent his life on the battlefield.
In retrospect, my life was pretty unpleasant. He grinned grimly.
Somehow, he’d come back from a horrible death and all he thought about was revenge. He still did, of course, but he was beginning to consider his life beyond vengeance.
[You’re forgetting something: my life after your vengeance. After all, we are in a contract. Should we go take over the demon world? After all, this body is still a spear—OH MY GO—]
Joshua shoved Lugia into its subspace.
[Master! Master, no! Brother… please! It’s cold and stuffy—]
The subspace shut, cutting off Lugia. By now, the awe of encountering Lugia had worn off and Joshua was beginning to question if Lugia was the real deal.
In his other life, Lugia had manifested itself once Joshua passed the fourth level of Spearmanship and reached the equivalent of an A-Class knight. Naturally, this life was much different.
Stop thinking about it. Joshua shook his head. What mattered right now was finding a way to hide his identity. A mercenary card would make for a good alter ego, but his appearance would give him away and jeopardize his mercenary status.
There are definitely artifacts that can change someone’s entire appearance. One of them was made by a girl from Avalon, not from Terra or the Tower. He didn’t know the details, just that the girl was born with a natural aptitude for mana and created that masterpiece in the middle of a crisis while also being pursued for years.
Joshua grinned sourly.
“The cold-blooded killer, Ice Flower.”
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