Barbarian Quest - C.167

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Even in summer, the people at the Arten outpost couldn't easily shed their fur coats.

The outpost was constructed at a high altitude and the cold stuck around all day long due to the chilly winds blowing from the Arten Gorge. The cold inspired the soldiers to call it by the nickname ‘Cold Wind Gorge’ instead of its original given name.

Duke Langster, the commander of the outpost, wrapped in thick wolf fur, led his knights. He looked at the bridge that was now wide enough for a double carriage to pass.

‘Yailrud, the Pioneering Road.'

It was a bridge that was built clinging to a cliff where only one person could barely pass. Building it claimed the lives of hundreds of workers. Later, slaves were used to make up for the dying workers to somehow continue the construction.

"They didn’t return this time either? These mountains are truly harsh."

Duke Langster clicked his tongue. Despite sending several scouts, one of which included a northern expedition team, no one had returned with news.

'Is it really because of these mountains, or...'

Duke Langster looked up at the Sky Mountains. Since ancient times, they were revered by the locals as a symbol of awe.

"No wonder it’s a symbol of awe. Even in the north, I’ve never seen such high and steep mountains."

Before being assigned to the Arten outpost, Duke Langster was the viceroy of the north.

Many nobles found it strange that the successful viceroy of the north was reassigned to the Arten outpost, but it wasn't a demotion; it meant that he was that much in the emperor's favor.

'Even Regal Arten, the original commander, is missing...'

Duke Langster smiled bitterly. His life plan was to retire as the viceroy of the north and spend his remaining years in the capital. That plan had now gone out the window.

"To be assigned to the frontlines at this age. And to the unexplored west, at that..."

"Being too capable is also a sin, my lord."

A knight said with a smile. Duke Langster was nearly fifty years old. The western expedition would take at least ten years, if not more.

‘This is too much, even for the emperor.'

Duke Langster clicked his tongue. He walked along the pioneering road Yailrud. The bridge, unfazed by the gorge's chilly winds, was incredibly sturdy.

"If maintained well, it could last even hundreds of years."

Yailrud was a feat for the history books. The bridge, extending along the sheer cliffs, was a spectacle to say the very least. It crossed the gorge without being affected by the mountain's elevations, serving as a means for the army to pass through the mountains.

"Aaaaah!"

A scream echoed in the distance. The sound reverberated through the gorge as it bounced off its steep cliff walls.

"There goes another one."

Duke Langster frowned and clicked his tongue. He didn’t enjoy it by any means, but it was the emperor's command.

"Great achievements in history come with many sacrifices."

Duke Langster had seen many achievements being born from sacrifice. The conquests of the south and north by the previous emperor were made on the sacrifices of both the empire and barbarians.

'Countless knights died, and even more barbarians fell to their knees.'

The knights secured the bridge's safety ahead of Duke Langster. Ladders to climb the cliffs were placed at intervals.

"Next time, we can move with a hundred men. It seems feasible now."

A knight suggested. There was no need to move in small groups like an expedition anymore. Yailrud had extended far enough that altitude sickness wasn't a concern.

Duke Langster reached the current end of Yailrud. Workers bustled about, extending the bridge.

"I'll go up and see it for myself."

Duke Langster said, grabbing the ladder. It was a dizzyingly high ladder.

"It's dangerous, my lord."

"No, I need to see for myself what the mountains are like."

No one could argue against Duke Langster. He climbed the ladder with knights in tow.

"Huff, huff."

Duke Langster breathed heavily, looking down.

‘If I fall, I’ll surely die.'

Duke Langster had survived countless life-threatening situations. The most recent was nearly dying from a surprise attack by northern rebels retaliating against the subjugation of Mulin.

'Urich.'

The man who saved him from that attack was none other than a barbarian named Urich. It was ironic that a northern barbarian saved him from a northern barbarian attack.

‘I wonder what that barbarian is doing now?'

Despite being a barbarian, Urich was a remarkable man. He was the winner of the Hamel Jousting Tournament and even had connections with the king of Porcana. Surely, he was enjoying wealth and glory somewhere.

Creak.

Duke Langster stretched his arms and climbed to the very top of the ladder. He looked down from above the gorge.

"It's just as cold up here," Duke Langster said, facing the wind blowing over the gorge.

"Just a bit further, and the terrain becomes gentler, my lord. Our current plan is to connect that area to Yailrud and build another fortress. That will be the start of the conquest."

A knight pointed ahead and explained.

The imperial army excelled in conquests. Both the north and south had knelt before them. Even the obstacle of the Sky Mountains was overcome with human will and technology.

"You'll become the viceroy of the west after the north, my lord."

"If I live to see the end of the western conquest, that is."

Duke Langster laughed, looking westward.

Ssssh.

The bushes rustled. The knights didn't miss the sound.

Clang!

The knights drew their swords, protecting Duke Langster.

"Cough, cough."

Someone emerged from the bushes. He was a deeply wounded man, but they were able to identify him as a member of the expedition team that was sent by Duke Langster. He was barely clinging to life.

"T-they are waiting for us," the wounded man said.

"Waiting? Who is?"

Duke Langster approached, dispersing the knights.

"Barbarians, they were hiding, w-waiting for us. It's no coincidence the other expeditions didn't return. My lord..."

The man spoke as he gasped for his last breath. It was too late for treatment; his face was already pale.

Duke Langster tried to extract as much information as possible before the man died.

"Speak clearly! I want details!"

"More than dozens of barbarians attacked us. They blocked the mountain mid-slope so tightly, not even a mouse could pass... It's as if they knew our plans."

Duke Langster's expression hardened. The fact that this man had run into more than dozens meant it wasn't a mere chance encounter.

"Are the barbarians setting up a barricade in the mountains?"

The man nodded. After coughing blood, he shut his eyes.

A knight checked the man's neck for a pulse.

"He's dead, my lord."

Duke Langster opened his eyes narrowly.

The barbarians were on guard at the foothills of the mountains. Constructing Yailrud without proper consideration could lead to unforeseen consequences. Building takes time and dedication, but destruction happens in an instant.

"Amass the troops and get them up the ladders."

Duke Langster rose and commanded.

* * *

Urich returned to the Stone Axe Tribe. He did not stay long within the tribe and immediately headed for the Sky Mountains. There was no time to unwind from the long expedition.

The Blue Mist, Stone Axe, and Red Sand tribes each picked a hundred and fifty warriors from their tribes to guard the mountains. They followed their respective chief’s orders and guarded the mountains for nearly half a year.

‘There it is.'

Urich watched the smoke rising. At the base of the mountains, there was the warriors' camp. Tents were pitched, and they took turns climbing the mountains to stand guard.

"Urich!"

The Stone Axe warriors recognized Urich and promptly stood up. Urich was accompanied by Vald and a few other warriors.

"Chief Urich."

Warriors from the other tribes also greeted Urich. They had heard the news of the expedition's conclusion.

"You've been working hard."

Urich praised the warriors for their diligence. They had silently guarded the mountains without the glory that those who participated in the western expedition gained. But in reality, their hardships were no less than those of the expedition.

"I guarantee you that none of them crossed the mountains to step onto our lands."

The warriors had repelled more than ten scouting and expedition parties trying to cross the mountains. Their pride was immense.

"Any captives?"

"We've kept about ten alive. We couldn't interrogate them since their language is different from ours..."

"I speak their language. Lead the way."

The warriors were impressed by Urich.

"Woah... he really is the one who crossed the mountains."

The warriors guarding the mountains showed respect to Urich. The mountains were harsh, and even after spending half a year there, they still didn't dare to cross. Urich, who had crossed the mountains back and forth, was a formidable warrior.

Everything was going as Urich expected. Running into the northern scouts with Gizzle was not a coincidence.

'The empire has been sending people to cross the mountains. Yailrud wouldn't have stopped just because I killed Regal Arten. If the warriors really managed to repel all the scouting parties, they shouldn’t have too much information on us yet.'

As Urich was deep in thought, he arrived at the tent where the captives were kept. The tent reeked of filth. It was clear the warriors hadn't managed the captives properly. Captives were seen relieving themselves in their trousers. Among them were northerners.

"Do you believe in Ulgaro?"

Urich spoke in Northern. A captured northerner widened his eyes.

"A-a brother? No, that can't be."

The northerner looked at Urich's face and shook his head.

"You must have had a hard time crossing the mountains."

This time, Urich spoke in Hamelian.

The captives stirred. The western barbarian standing in front of them was fluently speaking northern and the imperial language.

"Are you going to die here, wallowing in your own filth? You won't make it to the Field of Swords."

Urich mocked the northerner.

"G-give me a weapon!"

The northerner shouted with a flustered face. It was clear he believed in Ulgaro.

"Answer my questions, and I'll personally send you off honorably."

The northerner nodded repeatedly. Long imprisonment had drained him of life. He had held on just so he could reach Ulgaro's side.

"Boooo! Traitor!"

"Is betrayal the honorable path? This is why barbarians are..."

The remaining prisoners hurled insults at the northerner.

The northerner didn't care. What mattered to him was getting to the Field of Swords. He had been a hired hand to cross the mountains. There was nothing for him to be loyal to.

"Here, drink some water first."

Urich offered the northerner a water skin. The northerner eagerly drank and smiled with a more relaxed face.

"How do you know our language?"

The northerner asked, but Urich simply smiled.

"That's not important. Who's in command at the Arten outpost? Regal Arten should be dead."

The northerner's eyes widened further. The man in front of him, a western barbarian, knew the outpost's name and its internal affairs.

"Who the hell are you!"

He had to ask again.

"I'm Urich."

"Urich?"

He was the very barbarian who went missing along with Regal Arten. But no one knew Urich's name. Even at the outpost, it was just recorded that Regal Arten and his party disappeared.

"Anyway, that's not important. Who's commanding?"

"Duke Langster. He was also my employer."

"Langster the northern viceroy? What's he doing here? That’s basically a demotion."

Urich muttered in Hamelian. He was already acquainted with Duke Langster.

"No, really, who the hell are you..."

The northerner was even more confused. Here in the west, there was a man who immediately recognized the status of the northern viceroy Langster just by hearing his name.

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