Chapter 72

That same night, soldiers brought five gold bars, saying that they were found underground in the Valt family’s house in Moncha. The gold bullions emitted a rapturous glow under the torch and were beautiful, but Raven could swear he had never seen them before.

But the gold bars served as clear evidence, and his father and brother died in the dirty underground torture chamber. Even after death, their heads were cut off and displayed on the castle gate. All the members of the Valt family shared the same fate. All except Raven.

Ruv Tylen had begged the count to give Raven a second chance to make up for his family’s sins as the boy had been forced into the incident regardless of his will and because he was not yet an adult.

Thus, he was dragged into the den of demons like a dog. But even as he was being dragged off, he didn’t know why this was happening. He knew only one thing. His greed had killed his father, and brother… as well as everyone from his family.

“Sir Valt, Sir Valt…" Isla softly called out.

Raven returned to reality.

“Sorry, I was just thinking about something else…”

Raven suddenly frowned as he replied to Isla. Something was strange. The pub, which had been buzzing with activity just a little while ago, had become eerily quiet.

Raven turned his head slightly. All the 20 or so mercenaries had stopped what they were doing and looking towards him. Their expressions displayed surprise and caution.

‘Damn it…’

Raven looked down at the table and saw the reason for their gathered attention. As he was reminiscing the past, he had accidentally crushed the wooden cup on the table with his bare hands and let off his spirit in agitation.

One shouldn’t let off their spirit in the pubs that the mercenaries frequented, especially in villages that were ruled over by lords. Even if there was a quarrel, the dispute should be settled with bare hands. It was an unwritten rule.

It didn’t matter if mercenaries fought and killed each other outside of the gate or the village, but if they committed murder inside the village, it was considered a challenge towards the lord who ruled over the village, and ultimately a challenge of authority to the high lord who ruled over the territory.

But he had broken his mug and emitted his spirit as well…

“Come on, let’s have another drink!”

The mercenaries, who were looking warily in Raven’s direction, went back to enjoying their drinks as soon as someone spoke. But they didn’t hide their gazes that kept flickering to Raven’s table. Everyone now knew that the handsome young man with an average physique was not someone to be taken lightly.

Raven gave a bitter smile inwardly and silently ate his meal. Then, someone walked up to his table.

“Hey, brother. I do not think you are new, but you should not do that here. It seems like you have a magic weapon or something, but you could get mugged as soon as you leave town.”

Raven turned his head towards the owner of the husky, harmless voice. A man in his thirties with ruffled hair was looking at Raven with a good-willed smile. Raven and Isla glanced at the man, and instantly, their gazes turned sharp.

The man was wearing rough leather armor with thin steel plates covering his vital spots along with an old pair of boots. The knife on his waist looked old, but the handle was smooth, which was indicative of its long journey with the owner.

Isla tried to stand up to face the man. He was clearly an experienced mercenary. Raven stopped Isla by raising his hand, then spoke to the man.

“Thanks for your advice. But I am rather suspicious of you. I do not think you are new, but you are showing kindness to someone who you’ve never seen before. Isn’t this too obvious?”

“What…?”

When Raven retorted with the same words, the man opened his eyes wide. But then he turned his head back and burst out into laughter.

“Hahaha! See? My hunch is never wrong.”

Raven turned his gaze. A young woman with short black hair and a thin-eyed mercenary who looked to be around Isla’s age were staring in his direction with a sigh.

“Hoo-hoo! You are quite extraordinary for a young man. You are right. All the nice people here are either thieves or scammers.”

Then, without any hesitation, the man pulled up a chair beside Raven and sat down. Isla’s eyes glowed. He was sending out a warning through his eyes and facial expression.

“Oops! This guy over here is so scary. Anyways, let me introduce myself. Jonathan Beerson. People call me Jody.”

The man started to introduce himself without waiting for a reaction, then raised his hands shoulder-high and stretched out his palms as if he were surrendering. Then, he flipped his hands back and forth with a smile.

“……”

After watching him, Raven gave a light nod, then mimicked the action by raising his hands shoulder-high, showing his palms, then clenching and opening his fists one by one. Not only Jody, but the others belonging to his group became wide-eyed at Raven’s action.

“Ho! You look quite young, but you know the greetings of the northern mercenaries. Where are you from?”

“I don’t think I need to tell you that.”

“That’s true too. Still, why don’t you tell me your name?”

Jody was persistent. Anyone could see that he had come with a purpose. And knowing this, Isla kept his guard up. Nevertheless, Raven looked at Jody for a moment and spoke without hesitation.

“Raven.”

“Ho? A crow… Well, it does not seem like your real name, but I suppose it does not matter. And these people…?”

“Sol and Elkin. They are siblings. Sol is also my wife.”

“Ho? A family of mercenaries? That’s quite rare…”

Raven cut off Jody’s words in a cold voice.

“Why don’t you tell me what you want?”

“Whew! You are a shrewd fellow. Well, it is not a big deal. I was just wondering which side you guys were planning to take to?”

“You mean in the conflict between Ramelda and Tylen?”

“Of course. That is why most of these guys are here. Hm, are you not here to participate in the conflict?”

Jody was still smiling, but his eyes gleamed with a subtle sharpness. Raven shrugged in response.

“Well, this and that. But why are you asking me that? Isn’t it obvious to stick to the side that pays more?”

Jody smiled at Raven’s probing response.

“Kkuet! Money? Money is good, but life is more precious than that… Anyways…”

Jody stopped talking and slowly glanced over the three people at the table before continuing in a hushed voice.

“I thought I could live longer if I stick to the side that you’re going to. Like I said earlier, my gut feeling has never been wrong. Ah, can I eat some of this?”

Raven looked silently at Jody, who started eating the dishes on the table without waiting for an answer with a giddy smile.

***

The inn operated by the pub owner was located on the second and third floors of the same building. It was cleaner than expected.

Raven took two rooms, the big room for Soldrake and himself, and the other room for Isla. The three people unpacked and gathered in one room.

“Are you really thinking of joining them, Lord?”

Isla was someone who would believe in Raven even if Raven said he would make steak out of flour. But still, he carefully brought up the topic. He simply could not comprehend the reasoning.

“Why, do you not like it?”

“I believe that it’s enough to have you, Lord, Soldrake, and I. If we get more company, it might become troublesome for you, my Lord.”

“To obtain something, sometimes you have to put up with a bit of annoyance.”

“…With all due respect, I’m not sure what it is that you can get from them.”

“New information. Not only Sisak, but regarding the entirety of the empire.”

“If it’s that, then I could also…”

“You aren’t aware of the situations here in the east, as well as the north. Most importantly, we can completely deceive our identity if we go along with them.”

“Hm…”

Raven’s gaze turned to Soldrake, who had just taken off her hood. Isla looked alternatingly at the two, then nodded with a somber look.

Soldrake could change her hair color and hide the jewels in her forehead with a scarf, but that was the extent. She still retained her incredible beauty. It was an incomprehensible thing when one considered that famous wizards and sorcerers could change their appearance at will. But there was a reason.

It would be possible to change ordinary people’s appearances, but for Soldrake, who had already morphed into her human form, it was impossible to change her looks any further. It would simply require too much power.

Moreover, Raven had contracted with Soldrake, so a change in his appearance was difficult as well. The limit was simply to cast a spell to provide a hazy feel to the overall impression of the two. Even then, it was impossible to make any alterations to the eyes, which were a gateway to the human soul. In other words, the two still had unusual appearances.

“And as you know, there’s a limit with just our identification tokens. To serve as mercenaries, you need someone to guarantee your identity.”

Their identity tokens were made by Ian with the symbol of a collapsing barony in the central region of the empire, so there were no problems with the tokens themselves. Their identities wouldn’t be doubted, no matter where they were in the empire.

But it was different for mercenaries. They were widespread and traveled far and wide, so their ears and eyes were always wide open. In particular, most of the mercenaries who were active in Sisak and Elma were quite experienced in their field. This meant that most of them had at least heard of each other’s names.

It was highly likely that the three people would arouse suspicion if they were traveling alone. Moreover, it was uncommon for men and women to be together in a mercenary group, so they needed to be more cautious.

But the mercenary named Jody and his party seemed quite skilled and experienced. It was evident from how they had familiarity with some of the other mercenaries in the pub. In other words, if they accompanied such a group of mercenaries, they could obtain information and solve the issue with their identity.

“I understand. With all due respect, I would like to ask you one more question. My lord, why did you have to use the last name Valt?”

Isla had heard that the man named Gray Valt was the main culprit behind the incident in Sisak there years ago. He had wondered why his master had used the same last name with such a person.

“To make the rats come crawling out.”

“Hm…”

“No matter how incompetent Baron Nobira is, he’ll hear my name within five days. Then he will be reporting to High Lord Count Bresia about it. He’ll try to dig up information, especially on the Valt family…”

A mercenary with the same last name as the traitorous family had appeared. Unless he was a fool, Baron Nobira would try to investigate.

“Then…”

“We’ll make them crawl out. There is nothing better to provoke those who planned the treason three years ago. A man named Raven Valt is hired by Ramelda and fights against Ruv Tylen who took over Gray Valt’s land. Isn’t that pretty exciting?”

Contrary to his words, Raven’s eyes were icy and calm.

“Ah…!”

Isla nodded several times in awe and understanding. For those who were involved in the incident three years ago, they would feel like they were being struck by thunder on a clear day.

They were already worried and confused that Prince Ian was bringing up the incident from three years ago on his way back to the imperial city. But now, to add to that, a person who used the last name “Valt” appeared in Sisak. It was obvious that they would become agitated.

“What do you think? Does that answer some of your curiosities?”

When Raven replied with a smile, Isla suddenly stood up and fell on one knee.

“I, Elkin Isla, dared to doubt my lord’s wisdom. Please forgive me. I was just trying to…”

“What is there to forgive? I know your concerns stem from your loyalty to me. Stand up, Sir Isla.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

Though Isla seemed as indifferent as ever, Raven noticed that Isla was deeply moved, and patted him on the shoulder a couple of times.

“Good. Then tomorrow, we will head for Toro village where Ramelda is located. Take a rest today.”

“Yes. Have a good rest. I’ll see you tomorrow as well, Miss Soldrake.”

When Isla closed the door, only two were left alone in the room – Raven and Soldrake. It had been a while since they were alone. Raven looked at Soldrake and gave a smile with a twinkle in his eyes.

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