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The night sky was shrouded in a thick blanket of darkness, and a biting cold wind howled through the narrow pathways of the wilderness as Duke Albaer and his elite knights made their way toward the hideout of the Cult of The Disgraced One. Albaer's eyes glinted in the dim light of the torches, and his breath rose in misty clouds as he led his men with a steely determination.

Albaer was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with piercing blue eyes that seemed to sparkle like ice. He was known throughout the land as a formidable warrior, with mystical powers of ice and frost at his command. His knights were handpicked for their bravery and skill, and they followed their Duke without question, eager to avenge the death of their lord's brother.

Albaer's mind was consumed with thoughts of his brother's murder, and the anger and frustration he felt towards the cultists who he believed were responsible. He knew deep down that there were other factors at play, but he pushed those thoughts aside and focused on the task at hand.

The cultists' hideout was a dingy, run-down building in the wilderness near an isolated town, surrounded by greenery and quiet. Albaer and his men approached the building silently, their movements swift and precise. The Duke's lips curled into a sneer as he listened to the faint sound of chanting coming from within the building.

Without warning, Albaer raised his hand, and a blast of icy wind shot toward the wall, shattering it into pieces. The knights surged forward, their weapons at the ready, and the cultists within the building quickly realized they were under attack.

The cultists were a motley group of men and women, dressed in tattered robes and adorned with strange symbols. They wielded crude weapons and had clearly been caught off guard. The Duke and his knights moved with deadly efficiency, cutting down their enemies with swift strokes of their swords and axes.

Albaer's powers of ice and frost were on full display, as he unleashed waves of freezing cold that enveloped the cultists in a layer of ice. His knights fought with a ferocity that was born of their loyalty to their lord, and soon the air was thick with the sounds of clashing steel and cries of pain.

The Duke himself was a force to be reckoned with, his sword flashing in the dim light as he cut through his enemies with ease. He moved with a grace and speed that belied his size, his muscles rippling with each movement. The cultists fought desperately, but they were no match for the Duke and his knights.

The cultists cursed in shock as they met these sudden adversaries out of nowhere. They didn't know who was targeting them that was so powerful to have found the hideout and perform a raid without a whiff of smoke.

Few even screamed out, asking the cold and brutal White Family's knights about their identity as they tried to defend themselves with their own set of tactics.

However, Albaer and his subordinates were quite familiar with the cultist's tricks as they countered and rampaged through the ranks of the cultists.

As the battle continued, blood-curdling screams echoed in the wilderness with the noise of weapons clashing and the torrents of various powers of elemental blessings surged.

There was so match between the two sides as the cultists were crazy and passionate about protecting their identities and beliefs but didn't have too much skill to offer. On the other hand, Albaer himself was enough to steamroll through all of them so there was no chance of resistance when he had his long-trusted comrades and companions with him.

As the chaotic, bloody battle raged on, it didn't take long for Albaer and his followers to gain an advantage. While the knights fought the cultists with swords and shields using the white family's Sword Arte, Albaer and his closest subordinates taught using their mystical powers of blessings.

In the end, the battle was swift and brutal, and when it was over, the cultists lay dead at Albaer's feet. The Duke stood amidst the carnage, his chest heaving with exertion, and a look of grim satisfaction on his face. His knights gathered around him, their weapons still at the ready, their faces smudged with dirt and blood.

Albaer surveyed the scene before him, his eyes lingering on the twisted forms of the cultists. He felt a sense of triumph and relief, but also a gnawing sense of doubt. He knew that there were still unanswered questions about his brother's death, but for now, he pushed them aside and reveled in his victory.

As the Duke and his knights made their way back toward the town, the moon rose high in the sky, casting a cold, silvery light over the blood-stained streets. Albaer walked with a sense of purpose, his mind already turning towards the next battle.

As he walked preoccupied with thoughts, he sighed looking at his bloody hands. Recalling the past months, Albaer couldn't deny his thirst for blood and the excitement of battle.

Looking at the vast sky, Albaer skilled wryly as he finally admitted to himself that perhaps at first he was doing this to avenge his brother's death. But along the way, he had begun to simply release his pent-up frustrations. Apart from that, Albaer was also noticing the growth in his comprehension of the ancestral blessing.

Thinking along those lines, Albaer's thoughts suddenly wandered towards the Duchy and the family. Weirdly, he was not worried at all. He had seen the glimmer in Ethan's eyes that day and he had seen Ethan's progress himself. Albaer had faith that nothing would go wrong. Even if something were to, he knew that Albert and others were capable of handling anything.

"Your Grace,'' one of Albaer's closest subordinates said.

Albaer suddenly woke up from his reverie and blurted, "Huh? What is it?"

"We have intel on where the next hideout is. It might be a bit tricky." The man said. 𝚏𝚛ee𝐰𝗲𝚋n𝐨𝘃𝗲l.𝐜𝐨m

Albaer pondered for a few moments and then spoke, "We will go into hiding for now, we have been hunting brazenly for a while. Cover up our tracks."

The man nodded and asked doubtfully, "And the hideout?"

"Just keep an eye on it and monitor their movements. We will raid them after some time when the dust settles." Albaer said as he walked up to the site where the group had left their horses.

Before getting on his horse, Albaer turned his head back, looking at the knight, and muttered, "Is there any news from home?"

The knight hesitated and said, "According to the last message we received, everything is well. However…"

"Hmm?"

"Here… Please read this." The knight muttered as he brought out a letter from his pocket and handed it to Albaer.

Albaer got the letter from the knight and he opened it eagerly. Then snatching a torch from one of the knights, he began reading the letter slowly with great interest. As he got to the end of the letter, his eyebrows were raised and his expression was stern.

After reading the letter, Albaer burned it with the same torch and sighed as he thought to himself, 'Who would have thought… That boy… Was he waiting for me to leave or something? A trading company and an expedition huh…'

Suddenly, a smile appeared on Albaer's face as his eyes grew gentle. He then got on his horse and said, "Prioritize news from home."

"Yes, Your Grace!" The knight bowed and also got on his horse.

Following them, everyone else also jumped onto their horses. Albaer's expression once again became stoic as he jolted the horse's reins. The horse neighed and jumped as it then galloped onwards. Following his leads, all the knights also ran their horses right behind Albaer.

***

While Albaer was hunting the cultists somewhere in the wilderness, all the preparation for the expedition was done and Ethan was saying goodbye to his family.

It was a sunny day with excellent weather as Ethan walked out from the mansion's gate to outside with his brother Luce.

The servants, Aisha, Naenna, and Ethan's grandmother were standing at the door as they watched Ethan and Luce step out of the mansion heading toward the large convoy outside.

Naenna had a smile on her face as she waved her hand and said goodbyes to both Ethan and Luce. Aisha wore a wry smile and she seemed stiff from worry, but she too encouraged Ethan in his journey. Ethan's grandmother had a stern yet calm expression as she repetitively urged Ethan to take care of himself. Finally, all the servants also bowed in unison as Ethan and Luce reached their carriage.

Ethan looked back once with a smile waving his hands back at his family as he said, "Everyone, I shall be back soon enough. Do take care of yourselves."

Saying this, Ethan turned around once again and Albert opened the carriage's door for him.

Giving Albert a meaningful glance, Ethan boarded a carriage with Luceryc. The door was then closed and the expedition finally began.

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