After Starfall Year 833, the Western Zone had become an official high-end business district after a large-scale expansion. Here were the most exquisite enchanted ateliers, the most elegant of jewelry and the most advanced of magical armaments. Countless adventurers and factories supported those few bustling streets, and anything could be bought here as long as there was gold.
The man was very familiar with the western district. He strolled along the broad avenue, which contrasted greatly and made him conspicuous compared the other pedestrians. Still, the ordinary humans and adepts all ignored the rather unusually burly man—even the guards patrolling the streets appeared to not see him. In return, the man appeared to find it normal, and would instead pause from time to time and survey the business in the shops around him.
He was standing in front of an alchemical shop that mainly traded in enchantment services and alchemical accessories, watching as the shop personnel arranged a near hundred-meter long queue. "So many are here buying enchanted jewelry?" He murmured in slight awe, tipping his hat. "Looks like the citizens are definitely becoming richer."
There were many who appear to be normal civilians in the queue who were looking at clothing. Some of them had brought along their children while others their companions.
The man, whose hearing spans across the city, naturally could hear the whispers wafting from inside the shop.
"Daddy, I want that red gem locket!"
"Darling, I never thought that there'd be so many people here today. I'd have come to queue up myself instead of troubling you to wait with me…"
"Hmph. At least you're aware. To actually stand here for half an hour with your silliness… you'll be cleaning up this weekend!"
"But don't I always clean up?"
The man nodded slightly. Typical Moldavian civilians were purchasing jewelry that cost almost three hundred gold coins without hesitation, a purchasing power comparable to Central Redwood City or even the Imperial Capital. The little trend was a sign of the bigger picture, that the domain was developing prosperously.
He left and kept walking along the avenue.
Brand-new pyroxene lights lined both sides of the streets and emanated dazzling radiance. Nearby, the grid-shape energy storing constructs on a twelve-story tall prism tower whirled, supplying power to all enchanted machinery from range. That service certainly was not without cost—the prism towers would collect data of power it transmitted, with each resident whose premises uses magical machinery would be sent a 'mana power bill', with any who did not pay having their mana supply cut in a month.
That man was assuredly Joshua. He walked past pet shops selling eggs of magical beasts, security companies where security personnel were available for hiring, shops for raw ingredients that purchase or sell materials gathered from magical herbs and enchanted creatures, with another shop solely for auctioning it—adjacent to them was pawn shop and the Moldavian official bank, forming a straight line for loaning, pawning and auctioning.
However, the most popular was clearly an elven druid-style shop for virgin herbs. The reason was simple too: their merchandise could cure hair-loss, fights suntan and also include energy elixirs that allegedly had no side effects—indeed, many middle-aged people could be seen nervously entering and leaving the premises.
The number of people on the streets did not dwindle despite the coming of night. It was in fact increasing, with several shops that had been closed lighting up their magical signs by the street junction: those were shops opened for business come evening.
Joshua was assured with the development of his domain. Although he never actually managed any actual matters, anyone would have to admit that seventy percent of Moldavia's prosperity was built upon his ability—without the overseeing of a Legendary champion, the little town in the North would never have developed to such a state in a brief few years.
However, compared to bustling business, Joshua was more interested that almost everyone had an Information Terminal in hand.
"Hello? I'm on Firefly Street, the Western District. Oh? Right. I'll be there in a bit."
"I'm telling you, the potion is very effective. I've got you covered this time too, brother—don't say I'm insincere."
"Sigh. If I'm not penniless, I wouldn't have pawned my precious family blade…"
Veins of spiritual ripples unfurled in the air. Those were oscillations stirred by the Information Terminal transmitting data to the Mana Net Server—though Joshua did not intend to spy upon the privacy of others, his ability allows him to hear everything clearly from the spiritual ripples formed from thoughts alone if normal beings did not empty their minds.
Although Moldavia the first to see widespread use of the Information Terminal, which was a jointly developed magical tool by Joshua, Barnil and other Legends, Joshua had assumed that not many would buy it given its costly pricing. And yet, almost everyone in the western avenue alone was carrying one.
Nevertheless, that was normal too. Joshua suddenly remembered the crowd who had been purchasing jewelry—if he used a long-obsolete standard to consider, there would naturally be mistakes since civilian purchasing power had become so much higher. Furthermore, function aside, the Information Terminal was an aesthetic gem in appearance alone, and buyers could pick its color. To a certain extent, it may not be an epoch-making sorcery creation, but a special luxury item.
"Maybe I should tell Israel and the others."
There was no loss in purchasing something valuable even if one did not know how to use it—Information Terminals might be easier to be popularized than Joshua himself had imagined.
Still, Joshua was here today not for some nonsensical clandestine inspection to observe nightlife in Moldavia… In fact, he was in the Western District for a mundane but helpless objective.
And that was to find someone.
"This should be it."
Standing by a street junction in front of a rather discreetly decorated tavern, Joshua looked up at the tavern's sign that read 'Smelter and Fire'. Reaching out with his senses, he confirmed that his target was within, and hence strode inside.
The tavern was bustling extraordinarily—being at the crossroads between the western and eastern districts, many were wanting some rest after finishing work, accomplishing missions or spending a long time in their shopping. That was where the Smelter and Fire came in: apart from crowds of adventurers making a ruckus at the hall, there was laughter filling the private cubicles as well, and certainly those fellows who were getting themselves drunk over certain troubles. Waiters would hurry here and there from time to time, dragging some drunkards who were screaming and scolding anything and anyone unintelligibly, keeping them at the rest area behind the tavern.
Joshua, however, did not mind such frivolity. His gaze was focused in a corner of the tavern which was unusually noisy, where rows of Fairy Card Tables were placed, and people were dueling cards with friends while drinking. There were no lack of dwarves or elves apart from humans, and Joshua could even see a female elven ranger facing off against a certain dwarven craftsman. Their expressions were relaxed and they occasionally made exchanges, which probably made it a good recreation.
Still, elves and dwarves were no special sights on the Mycroft Continent. The three races had lived together for a thousand years: twenty-one percent of humans were settled by the elven core cities around the Lake of Eternity, just as there were no lack of dwarves and elves living in the important human cities.
That was why the most conspicuous things here in the tavern was not pointed ears or large mustaches, but a pair of straight, sharp dragon horns, along with the luminous orb which was jingling happily between both dragon horns.
Even so, the unusual scene of the black dragon girl holding the luminous orb aloft with her head did not attract much attention, perhaps because she was a familiar face there… at the very thought, Joshua approached slowly, intending to check out what Black was doing.
And what else was there? Card games, naturally!
"I'll discard one hand this turn to activate the White Dragon Knight's special effect, dealing three damage to your Great Gargoyle."
The black dragon girl's calm voice could be heard as she immersed herself into the Fairy Card battle, as for her opponent, a…
Joshua blinked. He had been paying full attention to Black just now, never paying attention to her opponent sitting on the other side. Still, those dragon horns, and the swaying tail behind her… although there was something different about her from before, was that not Lisa? She would actually come to taverns to play Fairy Cards as well? Or more precisely, she had yet to come of age—how could she enter a tavern?
Still, Joshua was aware that this being a world of magic and extraordinary races, it was impossible for barmen to guess the age of the two dragon horned girls who clearly had dragon blood in them, regardless of how formidable they would be. Indeed, it was as impractical as trying to differentiate elves and dwarves by appearances.
'A duel between two dragon girls? Interesting.' At the very thought, Joshua threw away the idea of dragging Black away, moving quietly instead to stand behind the black dragon girl and watch how the game would turn out.
However, it was in that very moment when Light noticed Joshua's presence. Though the luminous orb had three hundred and sixty-degrees vision and could ignore Joshua's technique to reduce his presence, Light saw Joshua put a finger to his mouth and hence promptly silenced, before shrinking a little.
Naturally, neither Black nor Lisa noticed Joshua's arrival, having fought to a critical juncture and could not be distracted.
Black was using a dragon warrior deck which revolved around discarding and dealing field-wide damage, with each minion having special effects that could only be activated through discarding hands. Lisa, on the other hand, used a mid-range demonic mage deck which dominated the playing field through demonic spells and chain summons, suppressing the opponent by waves of minions.
Both were evenly matched and fighting to a climax. Each time Lisa pressed forward with a wave of aggressive, Black could always clear the field with spells that ignores both allied or enemy forces. Nonetheless, the problem remained that Black's deck could only break up the field of play, completely unable to counterattack or set up a winning field.
In the end, both summoning and field-clearing were swift. As the Fairy Card Table displayed its special exquisite effects in magical projection, both sides had almost reached ten mana cost—but that was when Lisa smiled coldly and played 'Ultimate Sacrifice', the ultimate game-ending play of her demon deck.
[Ultimate Sacrifice, 10 Man Cost, Mage, Epic]
[Destroy all your own minions, reduce your life points by 8, summon a demon of 8 health and 8 attack, randomly revive two demons from your grave, randomly summon two demons from your hands, randomly summon two demons from your deck.]
[—The price, this time, is my soul.]
As a red '-8' special effect appeared conspicuously on the health points of Lisa's hero, a magical circle which appeared to be blood mixed with magma appeared on her half of the battlefield. Amidst shrill howls, all minions that had attacked that remained Lisa's field were all destroyed as the circle swirled. Searing tempest arose, and two cards flashed at once on Lisa's hand, grave and deck, and seven demonic summonses were hence played into the field amidst hellish gales!
The field was filled at once. While costly, it was completely recompensed with the summoned demons' effects as the demons on Lisa's field taunted or charged. Even if some were weaklings, there was no harm to the bigger picture.
Bang! As the 'Infernal Balrog' with the charge ability directly attacked Black once, while Lisa's own hero attacked with a weapon to cause nine damage, Black was left with only twelve health points. What was more, Lisa's summoned minions had more than 30 attack points in total—Black's fate was sealed next turn if she could not clear the board next turn, even if her health points were full.
The scene was hopeless, and yet Black had no intention of conceding. She laughed and made a mysterious expression. "Your 'Ultimate Sacrifice' must have been from the new series 'Void Worlds', right? Building a deck from it right away… tell me, how much money did you spend?"
"Why'd you care? I could afford it!" Lisa retorted brusquely. "You're losing next round—what are you blabbing about!"
Another curious sensation arose in Joshua's mind. Lisa was different from her usual friendly and mild demeanor, but the warrior did not care for such small matters. He turned to Black interestedly, intending to learn how she would wipe out Lisa's summonses.
"Heh. I've bought new card packs too… And I got the card I wanted most.
Just as Lisa ended her turned, the black dragon girl's lips curled up in a prideful smile. "Most importantly, this card counters your board of monsters!"
With a click on the 'sorry' voice button, Black simply drew a card and played another from her hand without hesitation.
Boom! With a dull magical echo, Black's half of the table was a scorched land cascading in flames after she played the card. Crimson flames ignited the land as if an ignited goatskin paper, scorching all things into blackness and then into ash.
And in the center of the flames, the silhouette of a black-haired warrior hence appeared on the field!
Boom. The dull reverberation quaked the entire playfield, and every summoned beast, regardless of whether they belonged to Lisa or Black instantly lost all words or special abilities, just as both heroes' weapons were incinerated into nothing amidst the blaze. A gloom cloud shrouded the heads of all minions, where a huge '-8' appeared! At the same time, a layer of steel shield appeared over Lisa's health points with a huge '8'.
[Radcliffe, Destroyer of the Dark Forest (Warrior, Legendary)]
[10 Mana Cost, 8 Attack, 10 Health]
[Battlecry: Silence both players' units and weapons. All summons' attack decrease by eight, the player gains 8 armor]
[Chain: If both players have summons, both players can't summon minions]
[Deathrattle: place two 'Skyfalling Wasteland' into the hands of both players]
[This card cannot directly attack enemy heroes. Whenever each enemy minion is destroyed by this card, deal offensive damage of the card's attack minus the enemy's minion]
[—Forests wail, creatures howl. Despair, for the silent destroyer approaches.]
The black-haired warrior stood in the skies. Pale grey clouds gathered in the skies, while a black forest and land wafted into the air just as it burned, amidst shocked gazes of countless magical beasts within.
[Skyfalling Wastelands. Legendary curse, cannot be played.]
[Lose 3 Health Points at the end of every turn.]
[—This is the empty wasteland after the destruction.]
Lisa gaped in the burning wasteland. None of her summonses had attack power about 8, and all of them were reduced to zero with the single debuff by the Dark Forest Destroyer! Furthermore, each minions' ability was silenced, meaning all were blank sheets that could neither taunt nor counter!
"End turn." Black smiled at her opponent's expression as she ended her turn. Though the Dark Forest Destroyer was ability, it could only attack in the next turn.
Even so, waiting for the Dark Forest Destroyer's attack on herself was nothing other than postponing an inevitable death! Lisa gritted her teeth as the thought struck her—but she was not helpless, and simply played a card with a shuddering hand.
[Void Vortex, Neutral Spell, 10 Mana Cost.]
[Destroy all minions, secrets, and weapons]
[—The vortex of nothingness, the grave of worlds]
A gigantic vortex that resembled an entire galaxy abruptly raged across both sides, and everything from the Dark Forest Destroyer to all minions on Lisa's field were wiped out, with four cards being added to both player's hand with the demise of the Dark Forest Destroyer.
"Urgh! End turn."
The function of the two 'Skyfalling Wasteland' activated at once, and a huge '-6' appeared over Lisa's health points. She eyed the curse cards in her hand, before glancing at Black who appeared nonchalant with the perishing of the Dark Forest Destroyer, her expression changing at once when a thought appeared to struck her.
"Heh, that's right!"
The black dragon girl grinned enigmatically on her turn, and handily threw out a card. "I summon 'Black Dragon Awakening, and end my turn!"
[Awakened Black Dragon (Warrior, Rare)]
[6 Mana Cost, 4 Attack, 4 Health, Taunt]
[Discard your hand, each card gives this minion +1/+1]
[—The time for the long-slumbering dragon to open its eyes has come]
Black did not hold many cards in her hand: there were just five including the Skyfalling Wasteland, along with the card she just drew. Still, that meant the summoned Awakened Black Dragon would be buffed up to 9 Health and 9 Attack, which was frightening enough. Having just a few cards in hand, Lisa paused for a while in thought and conceded.
"I admit defeat this time," the Drakonid girl pouted rather acidly. "I didn't get a Legendary card."
"Haha, I win!"
The black dragon girl laughed boastfully with victory. But before she could say anything else, a hand pressed gently on her shoulder, a familiar strength patting upon it, promptly changing Black's expression.
"Quite happy with your game I see."
The hand moved down to grasp the black dragon girl's slender hip as Joshua arched his back, his head moving past Black's shoulder to whisper into her ear, "Not going home for dinner? Zero Three mentioned that she's very angry."
"Well… Master, listen!"
Joshua's affectionate treatment was making Black quiver instead. Not only did her thoughts emptied, her body and voice began to shake instead. "Well, there's a reason for all this! Right, my friend was inviting me for an offline duel or something…"
At that, the black dragon girl quickly pointed opposite the table, and said vindictively, "That's right, she's the one who invited me to play cards! I myself actually wanted very much to train, but I came so that the Liege's Residence doesn't lose face… Eh?"
Black stared blankly—there was no one opposite her table.
'Lisa', who had been sitting opposite the black dragon girl had quietly disappeared when Joshua had appeared, as if fusing into the air. She was outside the tavern in the very next instant, but just as she breathed a sigh in relief, a huge silhouette appeared at once.
It was Joshua, who had Black held by the hip. The warrior looked at his own student, and said curiously, "I'm not stopping you from playing. It's just that not only Black was playing truant, she was also not going for dinner—though both of you are not of age, you are after all self-sufficient adolescents. As long as you don't drink, going to taverns are fine. I am an open-minded guardian after all… Lisa?"
After Joshua appeared, 'Lisa', who now knew that there was no hope of escape kept her head down and said nothing, prompting Joshua's suspicion. She had been behaving unusually from the start, completely unlike her usual self… And if what Black said was real, the Drakonid girl who never really used the Information Terminal had actually invited Black out on her own initiative?
That was rather unusual.
At the thought, Joshua took a step forward, intending to take a look from her up close—but when he mustered 'seriousness', Steel Strength vision that sees through everything naturally drew everything into sight.
Therefore, Joshua's eyes widened.
"Wait." He exclaimed, bewildered. "Syndicate?"
A man dressed in a dark trench coat was walking upon the evening streets of West Moldavia. He wore a jazz hat, but beneath the shade of the hat, rigid facial lines were vaguely visible.