That's the fortress of the Land of Atonement.
Sol sucked in a deep breath of cold air and placed his hand on his chest. He had never felt this nervous before. The Demon Hunter Squad had decided to try their luck in the Land of Atonement and everything went smoothly. They brought the badge included in the envelope and found the massive chariot. Even though they were interrogated several times along the way, they were let through safely after displaying the badge. Fewer and fewer of them believed that the invitational letter wasn't deliberately sent by their enemies or from one trying to play a prank on them. But it was due to this that they grew more nervous as they approached the Land of Atonement, and even the livelier ones became uncharacteristically quiet.
Sol shook his head. He knew what was going through their heads and in fact, he felt the same. They were assured that this Mercenary Overlord was indeed sincere, but would they be able to take up this heavy responsibility? What if their performance failed to satisfy the overlord? Would they be driven out by him?"
We can't fail.
Sol clenched his fists. This was their first and probably last chance.
At this moment, the chariot came to a halt. Then, a frail voice sounded.
"Alright, everyone, please get down. Chariots can't enter the Fortress unless they have special approval."
Sol pulled down his hood and beckoned to his companions. Although Rhode's letter clarified that they wouldn't be judged in his Fortress, they were used to letting their guard up after living in isolation for years. They put on their cloaks and concealed their faces before jumping off the chariot.
The Half-Demons exclaimed in awe as soon as they looked up at the majestic, towering fortress. They murmured under their breath. Even though they had seen several cities and fortresses along the way, none of them were as magnificent as this fortress in the Land of Atonement. The solid walls, gigantic arrow towers that shot into the clouds, and straight, pitch-black sword piercing the ground. The group couldn't breathe in this pressurizing atmosphere. They had never seen such an imposing fortress, especially when they spotted the towering walls blending into one with both sides of the mountain range.
It was noon and there weren't too many people roaming outside the fortress. However, the Demon Hunter Squad's strange outfits attracted a lot of attention. Shortly after, two to three fully-armored mercenaries approached them from the huge entrance. They pressed their hand on the sword hilt and vigilantly scanned the strange-looking group of fellas wrapped up in cloaks.
"Who are you guys? What business do you have with the fortress?"
The Demon Hunter Squad flustered instantly, but Sol gestured for them to remain calm and pulled down the edge of his hood to ensure that his face was fully covered. Then, he took large strides forward, but he was astonished after scrutinizing the mercenaries.
As Half-Demons, Sol's sensitivity toward magical powers was naturally sharper than others. He instantly sensed traces of magical powers emanating from their equipment. The badge on their chest and sword by their waist let out a faint aura and even their armor let out an indistinct radiance. If the mercenaries were equipped disorderly, perhaps it could be said that they were wearing their own items. But the magical undulation spreading from their bodies was similar and this explained that the magical equipment was prepared specially for them, which left Sol astounded. He had been living the life of a nomad and seen lots of situations. With his experiences, he knew that even the official private soldiers perhaps wouldn't be gifted with that much magical equipment! But now, even the mercenaries on gatekeeper duties were treated this well in this fortress?
Sol was terrified by this thought, but he calmed himself down, taking large strides forward and displayed the badge.
"We're not suspicious personnel. We've received an invitation from Sir Overlord to come here."
The leading mercenary was surprised. He took over the badge and narrowed his eyes to scan it in detail. Then, he nodded. "Yes... This seems right. But..." the mercenary looked at Sol curiously and shifted his gaze to the group of people wrapped in black cloaks. He puckered his brows.
"Why are you guys being so secretive? What's there to not show yourselves? Pull up your hoods! Not anyone can just enter the fortress like this. How would we know who you are if you don't show your faces!"
Sol felt rather helpless. He let out a cough and considered risking it. Suddenly, an aloof voice sounded from behind the mercenaries.
"Ah, Madam Agatha."
The mercenaries instantly stood upright and turned back with respectful expressions.
"This is what happened... These people said that Sir Leader has invited them to the fortress, but they are all wrapped up so tightly and seem to be up to no good..."
Sol and the other Half-Demons followed the gaze of the mercenaries. Then, they were rooted in their place.
A young lady emerged from under the shadow leisurely. She had a cute face with fair skin and her light blue eyes revealed an indifferent glint. If they were to look at her upper body only, she would no doubt be an adorable lady to their likings. However, as they shifted their gaze down, even they, the Half-Demons, were left speechless.
Countless slippery tentacles swayed below her waist, sliding the young lady forward in silence and a few drops of water flowed down from it. Unlike the Human's straight long hair that draped over their shoulders, her hair was curled up and tiny suction pads of the tentacles could be clearly seen under the beaming sun.
W-What is that?!
Logically speaking, the Half-Demons who were feared by Humans shouldn't have too much of a reaction toward Half-Human creatures. However, they stepped back in fright as soon as they witnessed Agatha. They couldn't be blamed though. Even though the Half-Demons appeared different from Humans, there weren't too different, after all. They would at most grow horns on their heads or have a pair of goat hooves on their feet. But now, this young lady looked nothing like a Human at all!
On the contrary, the mercenaries weren't astonished by her looks and they bowed respectfully before passing the badge over. Agatha took over the badge gently and 'drifted' toward Sol after scrutinizing it. She approached with a calm, indifferent expression and brought along an ice-cold air that sent a chill down the spine of this robust Half-Demon.
"You represent the Demon Hunter Squad, right? Master has been waiting for your arrival. Please follow me."
A tentacle extended from her side and returned the badge to Sol. Sol took half a step back and realized that his behavior was rather embarrassing... Therefore, he gritted his teeth, pulled up the hood that was covering his face and accepted the badge.
"Thank you, Miss."
Even though Sol revealed his face, Agatha's expression remain unchanged as though she were an expressionless statue. The mercenaries looked at Sol's face curiously. They exchanged a few words with one another and returned to their posts. This surprised Sol's group as they expected the mercenaries to yell out in horror and draw their swords while surrounding all of them. They had experienced such a scenario in many other places.
Most of the Half-Demons felt relieved. They carefully pulled up their hoods and followed Agatha into the Fortress. What astonished them was that even though there weren't many people in the Fortress, no one was giving them weird looks. Although some passersby would look curiously, they quickly turned back as though it was just another normal day. Some of the Half-Demons felt glad yet disappointed because this was the first time that they had revealed their faces in public and they didn't gather too much attention. Although this was the treatment that they had hoped for, they felt some conflicting emotions when their wishes had come true.
Of course, they didn't think that the people here hadn't seen any Demons before. In fact, some of the people had indeed revealed horrified expressions, which the Half-Demons had gotten used to. But instead of running off, these people only subconsciously kept a distance.
As Sol's companions were sizing up the residents and fortress with curious gaze, he attentively examined everything. He had discovered that the reason why his people didn't gather too much attention. There were too many 'abnormal' presences in the entire fortress. He saw a dozen 'people' who were extremely similar to Agatha passing by them and no matter the mercenaries or residents, they were already used to them...
But who are they exactly?
Sol shifted his gaze from a 'young lady' who was extending her tentacles and wiping the statue on the plaza to Agatha. He was sure that he had never heard or seen these 'people'. The young ladies' adorable appearance and pointy ears were similar to that of the Elves. But... was there such a race in the Elves?
As Sol thought about this question, Agatha came to an abrupt halt. Then, her apathetic voice sounded.