"We're almost there."
Kavos stopped walking as he wiped off the sweat on his forehead and scanned the surroundings. They were approaching the Land of Atonement. Although Kavos had never been there, he was very familiar with the conditions of this area as he was a seasoned mercenary. Due to this, Kavos ordered his men to patrol for Barbarians seeking to ambush after they entered the forest trail. However, the entire forest trail was unbelievably quiet. There was never a trace of the Barbarians, which was unimaginable for Kavos.
But that was fine too.
Kavos turned towards the group following closely behind him. Apart from the mercenaries dressed in fanciful equipment, there were a few other companions. The maidens dressed in Cleric robes sat in the chariot while under the protection of the Holy Knights, following tightly behind the mercenaries. Several luxurious chariots for nobles could be seen further back, as well as the private guards surrounding them. In addition to the miners and villagers right at the very end, this entire team seemed spectacular.
After all, other than the over two hundred mercenaries present from Starlight, 50 Clerics and 30 Holy Knights were also there. Not only that, but Matt's trade association also sent 30 of their men towards the fortress for the operations and construction of the trade associations. On the other hand, the Keller Family kept their promise with Rhode and sent over 60 workers for mining works. As they traveled through Deep Creek Village, some villagers expressed interest in heading towards the fortress. In the end, there were roughly 400 people in the entire team. From the start, Kavos had no intentions of leading so many people towards the fortress. After all, he would be held responsible if any accidents happened. But he eventually changed his mind. No matter what, these people would be the future partners of Starlight, and since they were willing to visit the fortress, Kavos might as well do them this favor.
However, Kavos was feeling anxious about any possible ambushes from the Barbarians after entering the forest trail. After all, if the Barbarians attacked, the situation might turn chaotic as no one except the mercenaries were familiar with one another. If things turned out that way, Kavos would totally be incapable of managing the situation.
But he was lucky that the Barbarians didn't seem to intend to give him trouble. This journey felt like an excursion for everyone, which caused Kavos to doubt his own judgment. Could it be that those legends about the nasty Barbarians were only rumors?
"How much longer before we reach our destination?"
Kavos turned towards Vinny, who was beside him. After the villagers from Deep Creek Village had joined the team, Kavos decided to let them lead the way as they were much more familiar with the path than him.
As Kavos scanned the front, the towering mountain blocked his farther field of vision. The natural force of order in this border was real. It was only noon, and yet, the sky was pitch-black. If it weren't for the flame torch, he wouldn't have been able to see the surroundings clearly. Initially, Kavos intended to continue the journey when it was morning, as it would be too dangerous to travel during the night, however, the villagers informed him that there were only a few hours of daylight in this area. Kavos was entirely confused with this logic, but he eventually ordered everyone to keep moving.
However, his heart was pounding as the time passed. He hoped that their destination wasn't too far away. If not, it would be extremely dangerous to have everyone stopping in this area.
"Don't worry, Mr. Kavos."
Vinny smiled before he turned to scan the surroundings.
"As long as we continue on this path, we will be able to see the fortress after bypassing this hillside."
"I hope so."
Kavos sighed and gazed at Vinny as he thought of something.
"Have you gone to the fortress before, Captain Vinny?"
"Sometimes we do camp overnight after our huntings."
Vinny nodded with a bitter smile as he patted on Kavos' shoulder.
"But, to be honest, that fortress was severely damaged, and there was debris everywhere. It's fine for occasional stayovers, but it's torturous for the long term."
Kavos sighed as he knew his guesses were spot on. He felt that it was ridiculous for Rhode to announce that he was going to construct a fortress over the historical remains in the Land of Atonement. At that point, he hoped that the fortress ruins would be much tougher and in a better shape. However, Kavos knew it was his wishful thinking.
Kavos shook his head at this thought and beckoned for his mercenaries to keep up. And at this moment, a mercenary with the duties of a scout hurriedly ran towards everyone from the front and shouted frantically.
"What's wrong? What happened?!"
Kavos immediately shivered, and he swiftly held onto the weapon hanging by his waist. Were those Barbarians finally here?
However, this mercenary wasn't nervous or horrified. Instead, his face was filled with shock and surprise as he frantically ran up to Kavos. He gasped for air before delivering the news.
"S-Sir, you should go and take a look!"
"What? What exactly happened?!"
Kavos was getting more nervous as every second passed. For unknown reasons, the mercenary didn't instantly report his findings. Instead, he even had the mood to wink and feign mysteriousness.
"I think, it's better for Sir to witness it himself."
"What are you up to?"
Kavos was discontented by the mercenary's odd behavior. However, it was also due to this that his curiosity was piqued. He stared at the mercenary sternly before striding forward to check out the situation himself. Vinny followed closely behind him.
After turning the corner of the hill, Kavos found the other guards and scouts standing sluggishly with widened mouths and eyes. The bows had slipped out of their hands and they didn't seem to be aware at all.
Kavos was infuriated. These guys were seasoned mercenaries and not only did they let their guards down, they stood there like idiots. Are they trying to shame me?
Eh? Hold up. There are no flame torches here, but why can I see so clearly?
Kavos looked forward. On the pathway, street lamps erected neatly on both sides of the road. The inlaid luminous magic stones were emitting gentle, saffron radiance, illuminating the path ahead. The path below his feet was made of slate and extended all the way until it reached the hillside.
Kavos shifted his gaze along the path and then, he froze entirely.
A shining, majestic fortress stood before him. Magical flames from the tip of the watchtowers disrupted the dark sky and illuminated this pitch-black world with unimaginable luster. The entire fortress seemed like a gigantic torch from a distance. Both glaring and eye-catching in the darkness.
Kavos stuttered as he couldn't express his thoughts. Although the fortress couldn't be seen clearly in the dark, Kavos witnessed the tall, smooth walls and the neat buildings behind them. Oh Lord. How is this an abandoned fortress? From the looks of it, there are no traces of ruins at all...
Kavos struggled to turn his stiff neck towards Vinny. He hoped that this militia captain could give him an explanation. However, he realized that Vinny was even more startled than him. Vinny stood on the same spot with an expression as pale as a sheet of white paper.
As Kavos patted on his shoulder, Vinny jumped up suddenly. As if he had gone crazy, Vinny pressed his hands against Kavos' shoulders and shook back and forth.
"Oh my god! This can't be! I swear that this isn't that fortress ruin. God, that Sir actually did it! How did he do it! How is it possible for him to build such a huge fortress in such a short time?!"
"Alright, calm down, calm down."
Kavos screamed as Vinny's sudden crazy behavior left him dizzy in the head. After Kavos had barely calmed this militia captain down, he gazed and questioned in a serious tone.
"Are you sure that this isn't the fortress ruins?"
"I can swear with my soul, Sir, this definitely isn't the fortress ruins that we're familiar with. Oh god, this fortress is so much bigger than that ruins!"
Without a doubt, those smoothened stone bricks couldn't possibly be the result of a long passage of time. And it was this moment that Kavos finally understood the surprise which Rhode said he was preparing back in the stronghold.
But... How did Sir do it? He didn't have any men or materials for it.
Kavos heard from the villagers of Deep Creek Village that, when Rhode rescued them from the Demon, it was still a broken fortress. How could it be possible for such a huge, majestic fortress to be here?
What exactly had he done?
Kavos felt his body slightly trembling from this excessive fright and excitement. He clenched his fists to calm himself down; however, his body seemed to have a mind on its own. Out of choices, Kavos punched on a boulder heavily beside him and his body finally stopped shaking. Then, he took in deep breaths before giving a command to the mercenaries behind him.
"There's no danger ahead. Go and get everyone here. Remember, tell those guys not to panic no matter what they see!"
The mercenaries returned to their senses and instantly nodded before scuttling back to the masses.
Kavos' warning worked. Amongst the people that witnessed the huge fortress, almost everyone was flabbergasted and unable to move an inch. Not only the mercenaries, even the Holy Knights and merchants were stunned. After all, everyone was mentally prepared for a laborious journey in the desolate Land of Atonement. However, as the enormous and completed fortress stood before them, the images they had of this broken place were smashed to bits. Am I really awake?
Although no one knew how this fortress was built, they knew the fortress must be real since it stood majestically before their eyes. Moreover, they were relieved for having such a gigantic fortress for their protection.
The ones with the biggest reactions were the group of villagers. The other groups of people had never been to Land of Atonement too, and they were stunned after witnessing the fortress as they didn't understand the conditions of this place beforehand. However, the villagers who had been hunting all their lives and generations were completely confused, as though their world had been denied. If it wasn't for Vinny's berate, these villagers perhaps would've turned around and headed home.
Harboring anticipation, excitement, and shock, everyone's footsteps began to lighten and they arrived at the fortress wall shortly after.
With the towering pitch-black walls before them, the dignity and oppression left them shuddering. Kavos was hesitant as he faced the rapid moat. Should I press the doorbell?
Suddenly, someone screamed from above the tall gates. Kavos' heart shrunk, and although he knew that this fortress should belong to Starlight, he was uncertain as the emergence of this fortress was too peculiar. It felt as though a beggar who was used to living in poverty got to know that he was would be moving into a new home, and while he would be satisfied with an ordinary two-rooms flat, he never expected that it would be a luxurious villa covering over a hundred acres... The uncertainty of personal gains and losses were hard to fade away. If Kavos took the wrong turn and arrived at a fortress that didn't belong to his own guild, what should he do? Kavos couldn't help but started feeling nervous.
"I-I am Kavos of Starlight!"
Kavos calmed himself down and answered loudly, before raising the guild insignia. The other party heard his answer and there were no activities.
This 'response' left Kavos in a perturbed state of mind. Could it be? Did I go the wrong way? Damn. I may be in trouble... But there shouldn't be other forces in Land of Atonement.
As Kavos was considering if he should retreat and observe the situation first, suddenly, loud gear crankings were heard. The huge gates gradually descended across the moat and formed a sturdy bridge. The entrance was wide open and the glaring radiance within the fortress forced everyone to squint. At this moment, a dark figure could be seen at the other end of the bridge and it began to approach them slowly.
"It's about time."
Rhode nodded at Kavos. After a few moments, Kavos returned to his senses and awkwardly coughed before lowering his head.
"Sir, Starlight Guild's third team, team captain Kavos reporting..."
Kavos paused and lifted his head in amazement before asking in slight fear.
"... Erm... Sir, is this really our fortress?"
"That's right," Rhode calmly nodded.
"Welcome to our fortress, everyone. From now on, this will be our home."