Book 1 Chapter 18

The First Mercenary Mission

"A crimsonblood bear?"

Kurdak brought the mission up when the group was gathered for dinner.

"That's right," Kurdak said with a shrug, "The request was made from a small town up north. Lately, the townsfolk have been harassed by a crimsonblood bear. Even though it's never managed to breach the town before, many were torn to pieces when they left town. The town guards will have to pay a huge price if they attempt to hunt it down. After some consideration, the townsfolk decided to pool their savings and hire mercenaries to deal with it."

"Reward, location, and request please," said Cyranos.

Kurdak brought out the request notice.

"They'll pay 50 gold coins. It's not a lot but the request said all we have to do is bring the bear's head back. In other words, the rest of the bear is ours to keep."

"Oh, that sounds good," nodded Vera.

Even though crimsonblood bears were terrifying, the party was still more than capable of dealing with them. The bear itself could easily sell for around 50 gold, which wouldn't be taxed by the Mercenary Association. The mission could net them around 100 gold in total, definitely worth their effort.

After getting Cyranos and Vera's agreement, Kurdak continued, "They didn't ask for anything beside the head. They don't want the bear captured alive, nor do they care about how it's killed or what's done with its body. It is a bit of a travel to get there, though. The bear shows up near Shimmer Lake in Nightsong Forest. It's the location they gave us, so we would have to track it down ourselves. The whole trip may take us around 12 to 15 days."

When Kurdak brought up Nightsong Forest, Leguna carefully gave Vera a glance. Her home used to be near the forest, after all, and bringing the place up might remind her of her painful experiences. It seemed apparent, however, that if Vera was upset, all three men in the party would feel a little bad for her. It was something Leguna learned only recently.

"You don't have to look at me like that. I'm not that weak," said Vera without looking at Kurdak as she continued to stuff a piece of beef into her mouth.

"Hehe, I have to pay more attention as the party leader too, you know," Kurdak said with a laugh, "Then, as for a guide..."

"I left that place more than seven years ago. I was small back then as well. My father didn't take me into the forest often, so I'm not confident about navigating the area," said Vera as she shook her head.

"That's fine. We can use maps, I'll buy one tomorrow so we can give it a good read."

"I have something I need to remind you of though. There might be orc activity near the north of the forest. Even though we haven't heard much about them in recent years, it's best if we're careful," Vera warned.

She had a glint of hatred in her eyes.

"They are a bunch of cold-blooded animals that know no mercy. If we encounter them, we have to be prepared for battle immediately."

"Naturally," Kurdak agreed.

He couldn't help but think, Starfall uses a lot of orc labor as well. Even though they're a rowdy and short-tempered bunch, they don't really cause trouble if they're well-fed. In fact, those simple-minded yet able-bodied hairy creatures are a rather helpful bunch. They can even carry around more than 200 kilograms without breaking a sweat... Even I'm impressed.

"Boss, I have a question," said Leguna, raising his hand.

"What is it?"

"You mentioned this is a fetch mission. Anyone can complete it, right? How can you be sure the bear won't be killed by someone else first? What if we make the trip for nothing?" asked Leguna.

"You don't have to worry. Even though the crimsonblood bear's materials can net us quite a bit, most people will ignore it considering the risk. Truly strong people won't bother to waste their effort on a few measly gold coins, since taking apart the carcass is troublesome. Given how rural the area is, I think most others wouldn't bother to go for only 50 gold coins either. What's most important here is that no matter who ends up killing the bear, only the one who accepts the mission will be rewarded. In other words, us," explained Kurdak.

"How so?" Leguna didn't understand how one could be rewarded without putting in any effort.

"In the past, missions from the Association were announced publicly and anyone could complete it and be rewarded. There was no system of accepting missions, you just did it and brought the necessary stuff back to prove you did. That way of doing things caused many mercenaries to kill each other to get the rewards. Think about this: if you encounter a group of mercenaries that have the proof of completing a mission, you could kill them easily and get the reward, along with their stuff. Wouldn't you be tempted?" asked Kurdak.

Leguna gave it some thought.

"Nope. Even though I've stolen before, I would never kill for coin. I don't think it's something I can do, especially not since I haven't killed anyone before."

"Fine, maybe tens of gold coins aren't worth it. But what if you got a few hundred, or a few thousand?" Kurdak was somewhat surprised when Leguna still maintained some form of innocence despite having been raised in the slums. Perhaps it was naïveté or ignorance, or even immaturity, but nobody could deny how precious and rare this kind of attitude was. There were some things in the world which couldn't be abandoned no matter what.

Kurdak didn't know when Leguna would shed his innocence, nor did he know whether it would be a good thing. One thing was for sure. Leguna would definitely feel regret when he did, just like Kurdak did that year.

"I..." mused Leguna hesitantly.

"You aside, I doubt I'd be able to resist the temptation," Kurdak said with a laugh, "Greed makes up a big part of man, so don't underestimate your desires and overestimate your resistance to temptation."

"Well, maybe..." conceded Leguna.

"Do you have any other questions?"

Vera tapped on her head with her slender finger.

"Even though crimsonblood bears have tough hides, they're rather slow and clumsy. We won't have trouble if we prepare properly. At least, I wouldn't."

Cyranos gave it some thought before he nodded.

"Vera and I are both bowmen. So if you are confident you can take on its attacks, we won't have a problem. As for Leguna..."

Leguna looked around with confusion.

"What about me?"

"What Cyranos means is even though you're more used to close combat, facing a brute like a crimsonblood bear will be dangerous. You're not as big as Kurdak and only wear leather armor. If you're careless, you might not walk away with only a few injuries. The bear might just cleave you in half."

"What?! It's that powerful?"

Cold sweat ran down Leguna's back.

"Of course. Even I have to half kneel if I take a hit head on. You'd be knocked flying with your frame," Kurdak said, looking at Leguna.

"Given our opponent, and the fact that it'll be your first mission, you just have to scout. Also, do you know how to lay traps?"

"Traps?" Leguna gave it some thought before he nodded.

"I think so. I can give it a few tries while we head there. Sis bought me some of the tools I need."

"Great! Just make a few traps on the way."

"What else?" asked Leguna excitedly as he looked at Kurdak with a yearning gaze.

"Just wait for us to kill the bear."

Kurdak was slightly baffled at why Leguna would be so happy.

"What about me? What do I do then?" asked Leguna hopefully.

"Well, find a place to hide. If you don't want to, you can watch us from a tree nearby," Kurdak said before he added something to protect Leguna's pride, "If anything strange happens around us, make sure to warn us."

"Basically I'm just a lookout?"

Leguna was crestfallen.

"Who said that? Aren't you also in charge of scouting and laying traps?" consoled Vera.

"You guys can do those things yourself too. Boss, if you only let me do so much, I don't think I deserve 15 percent of the reward," said Leguna, shaking his head.

Kurdak patted his shoulder with a laugh before.

"It's not that we don't trust you. It's just that this mission really doesn't leave any room for you to perform. Crimsonblood bears are no joke. Each paw is as large as a wash basin. You'll be a goner if you get hit, even just once. It's also your first time doing a mission with us. It couldn't hurt to watch and learn from the sidelines first, could it?"

Seeing Kurdak's sincerity, Leguna no longer kept it up. He merely nodded.

"Alright, but I'll only take ten percent then. Let's use the other five for booze afterwards."

"Great, it's decided."

They finished their meal and went to their respective rooms.

In the following days, the party members ran a few tests to grasp the abilities of their new member. Apart from training with the rest, Leguna also studied traps the best he could, piecing together and dismantling the traps he made time and again until he could put them together blind. He did so just in time as well, they departed that very day, fully prepared.

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