The heavy snowstorm raged on for four days in the north of Hocke before finally stopping. Even so, the temperature was still frighteningly cold. The bright-looking sun didn't give nearly enough warmth to the people of the land, but the northerners were satisfied enough to even have a bright day like this during the winter.
Giving a casual glance to a poster on the walls, Kurdak pulled his hood even lower. That action would definitely catch attention during summer, but people wearing hoods like Kurdak weren't uncommon in winter, so he went unnoticed.
"That stinking brat!" He had told Leguna that he would be turning to Stok in an attempt to get them to focus their attention there, but he underestimated how much he meant to him once more. Despite the pain he had caused him, Leguna didn't inform the empire about where Kurdak said he would go in hopes that he could survive.
He couldn't help but feel a little touched for that. He made up his mind to find a chance to apologize properly to Leguna once he survived this ordeal.
But now, he had more important things to do. He looked around before entering a dirty-looking inn.
The owner was a chubby, middle-aged woman dressed in dark green, thick linen clothes and a white apron which was yellowed with age and stained with disgusting black spots. Her face sported a few wrinkles and her smile revealed the holes in her teeth.
"Get me a room and some food. I'll have more beef. I can eat the serving of two large men," Kurdak ordered as he took out a few silvers carefully from his pouch, ignoring the chatter around him.
He did have quite a lot of money, but he had to pretend to look like the average person, and being poor is one of the best indicators.
The boss looked at the silver and cracked a smile, showing her black-stained teeth. "No problem. We have the best beef here and the cleanest rooms, which I'm sure will be to your satisfaction."
"I sure hope so." After some thought, he added, "Get me one bottle of liquor as well, a stronger one, please. I need something like that to keep me warm in this darned weather. Also, don't disturb me after I finish lunch. I will come down myself if I need anything."
"Sure thing. Your room is the innermost one on the first floor. I'll have your meal sent there later." The woman wrote in her account book and handed Kurdak some copper coins. "Here's your change."
"Thank you." Kurdak nodded and went upstairs.
The meal was soon served. Even though the inn did seem a little dirty, the food looked surprisingly good and the room was decently clean, which was still to his satisfaction. He took two bites of the beef before hesitating for a moment and taking a swig from the liquor bottle.
"Aaaacchhh!" He felt like he had swallowed a fireball. Licking his lips with satisfaction, he continued to gulp it down.
Soon, he finished all the food, but he only drank three-fourths of the liquor. He still had something important to do that night, so he needed to keep a level head.
The reason he drank was to warm himself up and let himself sleep better. The travels had worn him up considerably, but his nerves were too tensed up for any restful sleep. So, he needed a little bit of alcohol to help him with that, but he needed to make sure it wouldn't affect his condition at night.
Kurdak eyed the bottle of liquor greedily before gritting his teeth and closing his eyes.
The alcohol soon worked its magic on him like poisonous vines spreading throughout his body. Some ten minutes later, he fell deep into slumber.
It should've been a comfortable nap, but Kurdak was bothered by too many things. He woke up in the middle of it from a dream, or rather, a recollection of what happened a month or so ago.
It was still the start of winter. Lamir had just made her way into his camp. On the very day he met her, he got wind of shocking news. Vera wasn't with Leguna, so where was she?
The matter clawed at his heart and fueled his sense of unease. He considered many possibilities and decided to ask Leguna about it, but when he heard from Lamir that the brat had gone south alone, he almost panicked.
Just as he was about to write Annelotte a letter, a person appeared in his tent during the night.
The slight movement instantly caught his eye. He looked up and glared at the unwelcome guest.
But when he saw the silhouette, his glare was replaced by a look of wonder. Shaken, he asked, "Who… who are you?"
"You've forgotten me so soon? Brother-in-law?"
"You are…" Kurdak gave it some thought and his eyes constricted with shock. "You're Balor?"
"Yes." The figure nodded.
"How did you end up like that?" There was a hint of shakiness in his voice, but it wasn't because the figure exuded any killing intent. Instead, it was how he looked.
Actually, rather than a he, Kurdak felt that 'it' would be an more apt word. 'He' looked black from head to toe, both his clothes, accessories, skin and eyeballs. The person before him looked like he had crawled out of a pot of ink. There were only varying tones of black on him, no other shred of color. Kurdak saw nothing but a charcoal-colored humanoid.
"I can still change how I look. Wanna see?" Balor said, as he shifted form to look like Kurdak.
"What in the world happened?" Despite the cold, Kurdak sweated heavily. What in the world was happening? Did he learn a new morphing technique from Moonshadow? Leguna said that he had spared him, so why did he come back?
"It's a long story, but since there's still some time, I wouldn't mind having a chat." Balor returned to his original look. He made the expression of recollection as a human would. "It starts from the duel I fought with Leguna. Come to think of it, it happened some two years ago…"
The moonlight shone through the forests and reflected off the blade. However, the blade wasn't stained with any blood.
"You plan to spare me?" Balor was still paralyzed from the toxin Leguna used on him. He rolled his eyeballs up, hoping to catch Arikos's expression.
Arikos shook his head.
"That's impossible. The chairman said I must bring your head to him if you decide to leave the guild."
"Then what are you waiting for?"
"Do you really want to die so badly?" Arikos said, suddenly annoyed. He kicked Balor and angrily spouted, "I was the one who brought you back despite how much trouble you would give me. I was the one who took you along on our missions and watched you grow, and you're just going to die like that?"
"It's not like I have a choice… Uncle…" Balor sighed.
"That's right. I don't have a choice either," Arikos said helplessly, "I must finish what the chairman had me start. But before that, I can do you a favour. Make it a simple one, or I might not agree."
"Since that's the case… Release my Shadow Double!"
"You don't think you can defeat me with that, right?"
"You think I'm daft something?"
Arikos walked over to the shadow spear impaled on the Shadow Double and removed it. The freed shadow walked to Balor.
"Can you lend me your sword? I must do this myself," Balor said.
"Sure." Arikos nodded. Balor was already really badly injured. Even if he could stand back up, Arikos was confident he could slay him.
"Thank you," he said sincerely as he met Arikos's gaze, "Thank you for all the care you've given me."
When he finished, he no longer hesitated. He willed his double to pierce Arikos's longsword into his heart.
Blood splattered everywhere and Balor felt it covering his face whole.Previous Chapter Next Chapter