The Country of Skill, the largest country south of the Divine Hall.
As the train chugged along the endless tracks, it almost felt like I had transmigrated back to Earth; that monotonous droning and those occasional bumps were all fuel for my nostalgia.
It was noon on the dot by the time we got off the train. On the sides of a wide stone brick road were rows of white or sandy colored stone and mud structures. From a distance, they almost looked like concrete buildings from the modern era.
These squarish houses were mostly one to two storey high and leaned inwards forming a ladder-like shape that was both stable and sturdy.
Thin and tall trees of unknown origins were lined up in an orderly fashion in front of these houses, giving them the feel of a beach house along the coasts of Florida.
The bustling human traffic was in no way inferior to that of Honor’s, but what was markedly different however was that a notable portion of these people were dressed in combat gear, almost as if they were adventurers.
From time to time, the gaze of the crowd would fall upon the young officer in front of me before falling onto me.
Thinking about the adventurers(criminals) we encountered before, my body subconsciously tensed up.
Breman: There’s no need to be so tense.
Breman: The Three Battles Banquet is a magnet for experts from all over the realms. Anyone stupid enough to stir up trouble right now are powerless fodder.
Di Qi Ju: Let’s hope that’s true…
Truth be told, up until this point, no one had actually come up to flirt with us. Of course, the fact that Breman chose to travel down a snaking road along a small port could’ve helped with that matter as well.
As our train stop wasn’t that far from Reitdarke’s Corridor, it didn’t take long before we crossed the borders of the Country of Skill and entered Reitdarke’s Corridor.
The architecture style was completely identical to the one we saw in Skill. If not for the sign telling us that we had crossed the borders, I would’ve thought that we were still in Skill.
Breman: This is “Reitdarke’s Line.”
However, it didn’t take long before we encountered a group of people we hadn’t seen before while we were in Skill.
They were dressed in identical long robes with simple embroideries on them which reminded me of the apparel recently worn by Miss Poppy.
Each of them faced the north while adopting a cross pose with their hands. If it wasn’t for their focused gazes, I would’ve thought that they were all making a wish.
If I’m not mistaken, these should be the faithful followers of Westrealm.
Seeing these sort of people, made me wonder if I had inadvertently stumbled into a strictly religious country.
I remember Miss Poppy had said that there were no signs of decay within the internal structure of the Divine Hall; the faith in God had complete control over all of its faithful.
Can I truly fulfill Miss Poppy’s wish in the face of such a sanctimonious foe?
Breman: We’re here.
Di Qi Ju: Oh…
Unknowingly, we had arrived at a two storey high inn. On front of the store was a banner which had two large words on it that—I couldn’t read.
Breman: This is the “Checkered Path”.
Di Qi Ju: …thanks for that translation but it doesn’t help with the frustration (from being a previous honor student) I’m feeling right now.
Pushing open the doors of the Checkered Path, the first thing that greeted us was a spacious dining room with ten rounded tables arranged neatly around the room. From the looks of it, this room could nearly house a hundred people.
As we had arrived during the lunch hours, there were only a couple of tables left open. However, from the way the patrons were chatting unreservedly, their meals must’ve almost been finished.
Passing through the crowd, my eyes immediately fell on a listless hulk of a man sprawled on top of a bar. That man was Alvin.
During the appearance of Starfall, Alvin had gotten injured during the retreat. At the same time, the fact that he sneaked away from home was revealed to Ethan and he was thus sent back home.
He must’ve been really upset about this arrangement.
Seeing as he’s able to manage the front of the inn, his injuries must’ve mostly recovered.
Breman: Yo, have you been keeping to your alcohol prohibition Alvin?
He lazily raised his head and immediately froze; his body straight as a stick.
Alvin: Bre, Sir Breman!
Breman: Shh—I don’t want to attract too much attention.
Di Qi Ju: You’ve already done so, but most of it ended up injuring me instead.
Breman: Haha, are you trying to extort a sum of money from me?
Di Qi Ju: Well this entire trip is paid for by you, is there even a point in me doing so…
The chattering in the dining room went quiet for a moment before returning to normal a while later. After a short exchange, Alvin roughly got the gist of our trip.
Alvin: …so that’s how it is, I’ll arrange the quietest rooms for you two.
Breman: Alright, just give us a double room.
Di Qi Ju: …err, wouldn’t two single rooms be better?
Alvin: —Di Qi Ju, are you unhappy about staying in the same room as your commander?
Di Qi Ju: Hey…I never said I was dissatisfied…you don’t have to be so fierce.
Breman: Haha, it’s alright Alvin. Which reminds me where are your honored parents?
Alvin: They’ve…gone to the Country of Skill to advertise the inn. If it wasn’t for that, our inn wouldn’t be so packed, given our location.
Breman: That explains why the majority of the diners are dressed as adventurers.
Breman: Alvin, prepare a set of the chef’s recommendation for us. We’ll have our meal here.
Alvin: Oh, do you want me to move that giant chest to your room first?
Breman: It’s alright. I want to keep it by my side at all times.
Alvin: Err…are you sure you don’t want to have your meal in your room? The dining room is kind of…
Breman: —there’s nothing wrong with it.
Breman used a soft yet firm tone to reject his suggestion.
Breman: The livelier the spot, the clearer it will be…
Di Qi Ju: …?
Traveller A: What do you think about the odds in this year’s “Three Battle”?
Traveller B: Oh…I can’t say for sure. It feels like there’s a lot of anomalies in this year’s battle.
Traveller C: That’s exactly it. The first anomaly is that the previous year’s dual champion is missing. Whether or not she will turn up is still a mystery.
Traveller A: Are you talking about the “Sword Soul”, christened personally by the king of Skill?
Traveller C: Of course I am! There’s even rumors that changes have been made to this year’s “Three Battle”. Skill must be trying to create a triple champion!
Traveller B: But, hasn’t there been no trace of her since last year? Some even say that she has been assassinated.
Traveller C: You must be joking! If the “Sword Soul” can be assassinated, that assassin must’ve been able to massacre the entire Country of Skill.
Traveller B: Then…is it retirement? Maybe she secretly got hitched to an unknown guy and is busy having—
Traveller C: AHHHHH—don’t my taint my image of “Sword Soul”! How can such an expert fall for a man!?
Traveller B: But, no matter how strong she is, she’s still a woman. Isn’t it normal for her to want a man!
Traveller C: Screw you! You dare to sully her image? I’ll kill you!!
Traveller B: Are you retarded? You’re actually using your blade? You must be insane…
Traveller A: I say can’t the two of you see where…
Alvin: —dear sirs, what, are, you, doing?
Traveller C: ……
Traveller B: ……
Traveller C: I’m sorry about that…it’s our hometown custom…we have to use our blades to cut the meat before eating it…
Traveller B: Mhm mhm.
Alvin: Since sirs love meat that much, how about two more servings of high grade beef?
Traveller C: …sure…
Traveller B: Wait, if it’s high grade beef, my money…
Traveller B: ……
Traveller B: Alright, I want one too…
Alving: Thanks for your patronage, I’ll get it ready in an instant!
Traveller C: ……
Traveller B: My money…
Traveller A: …you deserve it.
Di Qi Ju: …
Di Qi Ju: ……
Breman: Haha, wasn’t that an interesting conversation? Plus, Alvin seems surprisingly dependable. With that burly physique of his, he can easily solve a number of problems.
Di Qi Ju: I think I’ll pass on the eavesdropping and stick to my meal.
Armed Person A: Where do you want to go in the afternoon?
Armed Person B: How about a look at the Grand Coliseum
Armed Person A: Isn’t it too early for that? And duels are prohibited there before the start of the banquet. We won’t be able to scout out the opposition even if we went there.
Armed Person B: Then, how about we apply for the Sacred Rite in the outer ring?
Armed Person A: Did you bring enough money?
Armed Person B: ….I guess you’re right. If we apply for it beforehand and end up not winning, our travel expenses would become a problem.
Armed Person A: I have a suggestion…how about we take a spin at the gambling den?
Armed Person B: Huh?! Are you mad??
Armed Person A: Don’t look at me like that, there’s no problem with earning some pocket money from a few small bets.
Armed Person B: You…haven’t you heard of the “Cold Wind Empress”?
Armed Person A: I’ve heard of her, what about it?
Armed Person B: You actually dare to visit a gambling den that produced such a monster?!
Armed Person A: Sigh, it looks like you’ve put off gambling for too long. You’re no longer up to date on the gambling scene.
Armed Person A: The “Cold Wind Empress” has retired from gambling three years ago. Her presence has long disappeared from Numbers, Skill and Reitdarke’s Corridor.
Armed Person B: …is that true?
Armed Person A: She probably earned so much money that she could retire. I have to admit, she’s pretty smart for a gambler.
Armed Person B: But…
Armed Person A: Hmm? What’s the matter?
Armed Person B: Wasn’t the neighboring table just talking about the disappearance of “Sword Soul”?
Armed Person A: And?
Armed Person B: First it’s the disappearance of “Cold Wind Empress” and now it’s the disappearance of “Sword Soul”…doesn’t it all seem strange to you?
Armed Person B: No matter how you look at it, the consecutive disappearance of two leading figures within their own fields, is a suspicious occurrence.
Armed Person A: Now that you mention it, there does seem to be a story behind this. But it doesn’t really raise much eyebrows given that this is the Country of Skill.
Armed Person A: The top figures tend not to last very long before they are replaced by someone new. Isn’t that the charm of Skill?
Armed Person A: With the “Three Battles” starting, none of these strange events or monsters are surprising at all.
Armed Person B: When you put it like that…for all we know, those two monsters might just reappear once more!
Armed Person A: Mhm, mhm, and the next leading expert would be you.
Armed Person B: You’re making fun of me again! Being able to enter the main competition can already be counted as a blessing by Westrealm.
Armed Person A: Hahaha, well putting that aside, let’s have a spin at the gambling den! Boss—the bill!
Di Qi Ju: ……
Di Qi Ju: ………
Breman: What’s the matter? You want to visit the gambling den as well? Or are you interested in the “Three Battles”?
Di Qi Ju: Neither.
Breman: Alvin, we’re done eating.
Alvin: Leave the cleaning up to me.
Breman: I’ll be bringing Di Qi Ju to the Divine Hall in the afternoon. At the same time, I’ll look for a school for him.
Breman: I’ll also visit the first investor on the list. We probably won’t be back before a quarter of the sun is left.
Alvin: Alright, do you have any other instructions?
Breman: It’s fine, we aren’t in the expedition right now. Just relax. Then, we’ll be heading off.
Di Qi Ju: See you later, Alvin.
Alvin: Mhm, have a safe trip.
Alvin: Oh sh*t…I forgot to warn them about that “woman”.
Alvin: …I just hope they won’t get targetted.
Special thanks to Steve Granger!!
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.