The Eastern's Sea Sage had a grave expression, devoid of the mirth she shown in the Central Dark Forest, or the bravado and insolence after she learned about the new information regarding the Evil Gods, and the being behind their existence. Inside, her face was filled with seriousness and nervousness, even slight terror.
It was after a long time when she finally and slowly stepped out of the portal. However, before she could do so, the Legendary champion's feet suddenly caved—if she had not reacted in time and held on to a wall, she may have fallen to the ground embarrassingly.
"Hah… that dirtball Radcliffe… the madman, does he know what he's talking about?!"
When Vahina managed to stand up steadily after much difficulty and breathed deeply, she seethed with a melodious voice, "Evil Gods are 'just' an artificial phenomenon, and a being comparable to the Sage—or perhaps more powerful—was behind their existence. Doesn't he know what it means to be at the Sage's level? Does he want to frighten the world to death by dropping a bombshell like that out of the blue!"
Vahina naturally knew that it was simply Joshua's troubling attitude, after he had made the huge reveal of the truth behind the Final Battle between Evil Gods and the Glorious Era. It had frightened not just the Eastern Sea, but all Mycroft factions—even the Skypiercing White Tower was so shocked there were calls within for plans to 'otherworld migration', just as there was a huge chance that the Northern Empire's External Exploration Department had been established over the fact. And yet, that Infernal Count whose brain was no different from machine remained impassive, forcing everyone present and force themselves to calm, and stay impassive as well!
Perhaps, Joshua might even still believe the establishment of an otherworld exploration department was for the expansion of the Empire by searching for colonies. Vahina could not help developing such a thought, but after a moment of hesitation, she muttered to herself uncertainly, "No way?"
He was no idiot after all.
Still, Vahina's instinct found it plausible since Joshua's attitude had definitely never changed. After whimsically linking himself with the Evil God, he remained unfettered, unfearful, and unemotional, even openly revealing one astonishing mystery after another with his plain words. Indeed, the sage herself had wanted to hurriedly clamp down on his mouth at once… after all, such news would leave most factions despairing, henceforth losing all will for resistance!
Just imagine—if humans learned that there was an unavoidable and unstoppable apocalypse arriving in decades, with other forms of calamity that would keep coming and assaulting them without end even if they succeeded in stopping one… who would be able to hold a steadfast heart to resist? Those spirited would have prepared to flee, while the pessimistic would simply wait for their deaths.
And yet, Joshua had shown no emotion at all, revealing the bombshell as if he was talking about lunch. His calm and composed mentality had promptly pressed down upon everyone present, compelling them to joke and conceal their nervousness through various ways, avoiding embarrassment in front of other Legends. Vahina herself was really not used to such a grave atmosphere, and had virtually fled, teleporting back to her own residence.
At the very thought, Vahina took a deep breath, her gaze determined. "I won't ever believe anything when that fellow says 'there's something I have to tell everyone' or 'some tidbit', or he's going to frighten me to death."
The two other Legends—La Motte the Sword Saint and the Nature's Magister Galanoud were much the same way as well. The former had run off to a small tavern the edge of the Dark Forest, drinking overnight before finally slowly moving out to find Legends he trusted, spreading Joshua's information within a limited circle. Meanwhile, the Nature's Magister had kept to herself in the Elven Court before finally reappearing the next evening, her face laden with melancholy.
As for Joshua, who believed the Legends to be brimming with courage and held no fear towards the truth in contrast of his own great shock, the warrior was now spurring himself over Black's head, solemnly reflecting on issues… such as his lacking will.
Soon, the night has passed, and it was soon noon, the Fourth of January, Starfall Year 838.
Joshua was reviewing the Imperial External Exploration Department in Fort Ares, the elite party led by Priest.
The party constituted of five persons, with a spellcaster, a clergy, an alchemist and a close-range combatant partnering with their captain at their core. All of them had gone through hellish physical training, learning various disciplines such as biology, geography, and astronomy, along with innumerable miscellaneous knowledge. While their callsigns were 'Caster', 'Clergy' and so forth, each of them had the power to hold themselves bare-handed against fearsome creatures, building a small survival base out of nothing, create runic grenades without any materials and craft magical engines.
They could farm as well if it was necessary.
The party naturally revolved around Priest, who was a gifted closed-range fighter albeit nominally. After two hundred and seventy-seven comprehensive training prepared by Joshua himself, Priest was now a genuine warrior, well-versed in runes, evocation, and self-buffing spells. He was also able to create holy water through prayers, drawing evil-dispelling circles, communicate with animals, hypnosis, masquerade, infiltration, assassination and concocting twenty-seven types of lethal poison, reaching Silver-pinnacle through the accumulation of aura and various precious resources, a single step away from Gold.
This time, the elite party had perfectly accomplished the mission assigned by Joshua to the External Exploration Department, seeking out the lairs of three different descendants of Legendary creatures, minimizing destruction during the Dark Forest purge. Priest and the others also displayed their abilities in the operation, showing that they could survive safely even at Central Dark Forest, where Gold-tier magical beasts prowled everywhere, even killing one or two on occasion.
That meant Priest and the others are likely to survive and adapt. If there were to be seven to eight parties of similar class conducting side-by-side, their progress would be much faster than having Joshua wandering around the Void alone.
Indeed, the chief reason why the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds was not used to transport Legendary champions in their expedition efforts was mainly due to consumption. For example, the energy needed to send Joshua to another world was dozen millions the amount of energy to transport Priest's entire party—even the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds itself was unwilling to pay for such unnecessary use.
The elite party was standing on the city walls at the edge of Fort Ares, the Dark Forest that had been scorched into flatlands behind them. Joshua walked along the walls, arriving before them and observing their current conditions, walking past the members: Mage, Knight, Priest, and Alchemist consecutively, encouraging them to improve themselves while awarding them seventy-five hundred exchange points and a special B-class exchange clearance.
There was naturally no need to elaborate upon the preciousness of exchange points. Those were equivalent exchanges stemming from the Winter Fort Academy's 'Academy Points' system: a hundred exchange points was sufficient for a normal household's yearly expenses, allowing them to live comfortably if they spend it prudently, while more than two thousand could afford them to exchange for precious materials not easily available on the market.
Meanwhile, seventy-five hundred exchange points and B-class clearance would give the four of them present full-body equipment, promoting them from peasantry to riches as well as various special strengthening, even supernatural organs. Alchemist had murmured in delight that once that he would exchange for a 'Hydra Heart', which would give him extreme resistance to various toxins and alchemical substances harmful to his nervous system, greatly improving his daily research and combat efficiency.
Joshua certainly would not refute that transplanting the organs of extraordinary beings was a shortcut to strengthening. However, it could easily destabilize one's lifeforce, preventing them from venturing further on the path of aura, lifeforce or Steel Strength. Still, with said person being an alchemist and his strivings being different, it naturally did not matter.
Priest had his own reward too. As the team's core who regulated the party as they completed mission, and displaying great performance as a pillar, he was rewarded with ten thousand exchange points and two B-class exchange clearance. It was his privilege as team leader, one that other members would not find 'I could do that even if I'm in his palace' despite envy.
The party was dismissed after getting their rewards—this was a private inspection from Joshua, just as the reward points were awarded in his own name. That was why each party members' faces were alit and exhilarated: they were confident in ascending to Gold after attaining such incentives and the rich environment of the Great Mana Tide, and not just the typical 'pseudo-Gold' that stood just a class above Silver instead of typical Gold, but a true champion of Glorious Strength.
"Priest, stay behind."
However, just as Priest intended to leave with his teammates and show off his rewards to his sister and friends in Moldavia with the information terminal, a deep but clear voice called out, and he stopped in his tracks.
The others heard the voice too. They turned but did not say much, merely clapping Priest on his shoulder in admiration before leaving quietly.
In the meantime, Priest, having been kept by Joshua, turned in doubt and excitement to face his superior, Liege and Dean.
At the moment, Joshua was present as a clone, which was why both his presence and the terror he emanated was faint. And yet, that 'faintness' was relative to his true form—to most ordinary humans, it remained forbidding and extraordinarily subjugating.
Even so, Priest had become accustomed to that presence after staying in the North for a long time. That was why he half-knelt obediently, and spoke reverently, "My Lord."
"Arise. There's no need to be so constrained."
Joshua leaned over to clap Priest on his shoulder to get him to stand, something which almost knocked the youth out of his breath and made him fell on both his knees. Then, when Priest stood upright, Joshua said calmly, "My reports revealed that you have learned much in the External Exploration Department. Not only did you learn knowledge related to supernatural powers, even learning advanced mathematics, astronomy, physics theories, and alchemy."
There was curiosity in Joshua's tone. "In the process, you've spent more than a thousand contribution point, recruiting corresponding instructors for private tuition, purchasing books and experiment materials. That was cost worth ten-year long expenses for typical families, and according to what I know, your life before wasn't luxurious.
Priest could not help lowering his head when Joshua uttered the 'why' question serenely. He was apprehensive inside, unsure of the reason Joshua would ask the question, whether the warrior was pleased or finding him wasting his time. "…like you've mentioned before, Dean," he replied hesitantly, "knowledge is a part of power, a nation that divided scholars and warriors would host only souls of the weak and foolish warring."
Priest repeated Joshua's year-end speech, before continuing solemnly, "I do not wish to be weak… I want to be a champion like you, my Lord! That is why I find pour so much contribution time into learning worth it—I would never allow it to interfere with External Exploration Department missions, I guarantee it!"
"Haha. And I've said before, there's no need to be so nervous."
Joshua simply smiled and nodded in return to the apprehensive Priest. He appreciated the youth who had, in the brief time of half a year, had studied various disciplines to a professional standard, his gaze filled with the delight of discovering a fine seed.
Even after Mycroft had seen the appearance of spells for memory augmentation and accelerated reading at present, hiring instructors and purchasing study materials to truly master so much knowledge was definitely insufficient. One must consider at full-capacity to digest the contents recorded in the books, procuring it all as one's own… and yet, the little fellow before Joshua's eyes had actually taken the time between various missions, a true genius who was praised by a good few instructors.
'The kid… might have the talent to become powerful.'
At the very thought, Joshua could not help remembering his many memories of the Sage's Apostles.
Perhaps, in that time so long ago, the Sage had left so many legacies out of such appreciation.
Still, that was frivolous since he was not trying to imitate, but genuinely sincere in wanting to aid the youth, and to see what heights they could reach in the future.
"I was thinking I should move you to the college and learn with the System," Joshua said quietly, nodding slightly, "but it seems unnecessary now. Having you learn independently, along with applying it under difficult circumstances is the better path for you—very well, Priest, that is why intend to give you an opportunity."
The gray-haired youth looked up, leveling his gaze at Joshua's own as the warrior smiled at him. "You don't have to go through the External Exploration Department's exchange system. I would create and provide whatever you desire, anything you wish to learn. And I don't require you any additional payment as well, only the exchange points and clearances I've awarded you this time."
At those words, the warrior raised his right palm, where are silver luminous sphere was slowly whirling, swirling with Steel Strength radiance. And in that thin, pale illumination, thousands of phantasms flowed, as if they would become true with a flash, appearing in reality.
"Speak, though refrain from being too greedy."
Priest froze in that instant. He had thought that he was being given an additional award, a gift of appreciation from a Legendary champion—he never imagined that Joshua was granting him a 'wish'.
Having Legendary champion, Count Radcliffe realizing a wish of his… Naturally, the unthinkable would not come true, but was a wish—even when limited—comparable to mere award points and exchange clearances? Even kings would strive for such a chance, spending the price of cities.
And Joshua thus simply studied Priest, observing the gifted youth's every move. He wanted to know what Priest would actually choose under such a fine atmosphere.
"I've got it, my Lord."
After some time, the gray-haired youth closed his eyes and took a deep breath, before opening his eyes again, which held a determined gaze. "I wish for some knowledge… I want to learn something."
"Speak, Priest." Joshua agreed gladly, the silver luminous sphere whirling rapidly in his palm where phantasms of books began to appear.
"What you wished to learn?" The warrior asked, lifting his brow.
As for Priest, the youth's thoughts were not on himself, but his rear, his flanks, and his absent family in faraway Moldavia.
Thus, he spoke softly.
"I wish to learn absolute protection, my Lord."
[Priest has made a new status update.]
[Year 838, Fourth of January, 1447: taking a photo with a person you never expected! (Images attached)]
[Britney liked your new status.]
[Britney: Eh, that fierce-looking man beside you looks a little familiar… Britney must have seen him somewhere!]
[Dahl liked your new status.]
[Dahl: Feels a little familiar, when have I came across him (Thinking)]
[Factory Owner Rondeaux liked your new status.]
[Factory Owner Rondeaux: ???!? (Shock)]
[Ling (Admin's special purple ID) liked your new status.]
[Ying (Admin's special purple ID) liked your new status.]
[Ying: What?! Master never took a photo with us. Damn it, someone stole before us!]
[Syndicate liked your new status.]
[My Lord actually uses the Information Terminal too?]
[Lisa liked your new status.]
[Lisa replied to Syndicate: Mister Syndicate, it's best if you delete that message… It will be trouble if Master sees it]
[Central Admin Zero-Three edited the message.]
[This message had been locked and deleted due to violating Moldavian regulations for military secrecy.]
While Joshua urged Black to improve so that it would ascend as Supreme as soon as possible before finally becoming Legend, Vahina, who had hurriedly casted spatial magic to return to the Eastern Sea stood within the portal of her own residence, but did not strode out.