Becoming a Mercenary
"Boss, how far is it to Starfall from here?" asked Leguna as he walked around using an old wooden branch as support.
After spending a few days together, Leguna and Kurdak's party had started to become better acquainted with one another. When he found out Kurdak was the party leader, Leguna began calling him 'Boss', much to the huge man's delight, who even thought Leguna was a 'kid who knows his stuff'.
Kurdak took the map out for a look.
"Hmm, we'll exit Silvermoon Forest soon. It'll take us a day or so to get to Polo Plains. What's wrong? Are you looking forward to it?"
"Nah, not really. I just feel my body still isn't quite right yet. Keeping this pace up for too long will be my end," said Leguna as he shook his head.
"Tch, to think you'd have the guts to say that. Had it not been for you, we'd have arrived at our destination already."
"Fine, thank you so much for keeping up with me, Boss," consoled Leguna, before he turned around, "Naturally, good people like Big Sis Vera and Big Brother Cyranos definitely wouldn't leave me unattended."
"Hmph, at least you're not a complete idiot. The way you've been sucking up to Kurdak over the last couple of days makes me think you're gradually becoming his minion," said Vera.
"What minion? That's not the way I like to look at things. Ley's personality just happens to sync well with mine, that's all! Also, given how sensible a person Ley is, even he can see how harshly you've been treating me. It's so bad he'd stand up against your tyranny for my sake, ain't that right, Ley?" muttered Kurdak.
"Of course!" accompanied Leguna right on cue.
"Huh?!" groaned Vera as she tilted her head.
"No, I meant the opposite! Big Sis Vera's the best person I've ever met! When did she even treat you harshly, Boss?! You're going a bit overboard," said Leguna the moment he felt a chill down his spine.
"That's better," said Vera as she nodded with satisfaction.
"You filthy traitor! All the care I've shown you is wasted... To think you'd rebel against me so soon... You won't have any dinner tonight!" barked Kurdak angrily.
Without the slightest look of shame on his face, Leguna walked to Kurdak's side and whispered, "Well, Boss... I'm sure you know Big Sis's personality better than I do. I had no choice! Don't worry, no matter what I say on the surface, I'm always standing on your side. You shouldn't fight with her in the future. Even if you talk better than she does, it doesn't matter when her claws and teeth come out!"
"Hmph, what are you saying?!" Kurdak said spiritedly, "I'm a proud man. I would never submit to such a barbaric woman! Don't get the wrong impression. I'm just letting her do so because I don't want to teach her a lesson in front of you! When we return to Starfall, I'll show you how I deal with her! I'm her leader after all. If I can't even make sure my party members are in order, how would I be able to finish my missions?"
As Kurdak tried to show his tough side to Leguna, his voice gradually got more audible along with his soaring excitement. The moment he snapped out of it, he realized Leguna had already shrunk four meters behind him, looking at him with pitiful eyes. When he turned around, he saw Vera's squinted eyes closing in. It ended with Kurdak crying in pain.
"Hey, Vera... Listen to me explain! I was just joking around with Leguna... Ouch! Stop scratching, just stop! Let's talk, okay?! Argh! Don't go overboard, Vera... Yeow! I'm gonna get mad if you keep this up! Ack! Fine, it's my bad, okay?! Aaah! Darn it all, Leguna, why are you staring at the skies and not stopping her for me?! There ain't no stars in the sky at this time of day! And Cyranos! Don't you remember what I did for you when you pissed her off? Come over here and help me! Aaah! Save me, please!"
Leguna didn't respond to Kurdak's desperate cries for help and asked Cyranos, "Do you have moments like this too?"
Cyranos merely smiled without replying.
Two days later, everyone finally arrived at the city of Starfall. Leguna had managed to find out much about the continent from their conversations along the way. Unlike Chino, the western continent, legend stated that humans didn't use to live in Lance. It was only after humans developed maritime technologies and disciplines like sailing that they discovered Lance. Many volunteered, or were forced, to move to the continent to make a new life.
Despite the passage of time, Lance didn't become the territory of any nation. Instead, a unique form of government emerged: a federation of cities.
There were nine human cities in total on Lance. Due to the threat posed by elves, orcs, and other races, the relationship between the cities was rather tight-knit despite their autonomy. Whenever any of the cities were invaded by another race, the humans from other cities would send reinforcements unconditionally. Starfall was one of the cities and it had the largest territory and the greatest population. It was the most developed of them all.
One thing worth noting was that the cities of Lance didn't forbid non-humans from staying there. Some non-human races friendly to humans could live in the cities and were even welcomed. After all, many of the races' talents were greatly appreciated in human society. Two such talents were the impeccable smithing skills of dwarves and the deep understanding elves had for magic.
According to Kurdak, half the residents of Starfall were non-humans, who also represent one-sixth of the people traveling in and out of the city.
When Leguna first saw the place for himself, he was truly amazed that such a majestic place could exist.
"Why are you acting like such a bumpkin? You're from Hocke, aren't you?" asked Kurdak curiously. Actually, Leguna had good reason to be awed; even Melindor paled slightly in comparison to the splendorous Starfall. The only thing about the imperial capital that could rival Starfall in terms of age and history was the millennium-old ancient capital of the Empire of Stok.
"Oi, Kurdak, you've finished your mission?" asked the guard warmly.
"I have, I'm finally back. I'm definitely gonna rest for a good few days first," replied Kurdak with a smile.
"Oh? Who's this kid?" asked the guard as he looked at Leguna filled with curiosity.
"This fellow was lost in the forest. We picked him up on our way back. Well, I really need to go get a nice bath and a good rest. I'll treat you to a drink in a few days!" said Kurdak as he waved to the guard and entered.
As he walked on the clean streets with Leguna, Kurdak asked again, "So, have you thought about what you're going to do from now on?"
"I... I still don't know," replied Leguna blankly.
"If that's the case, I have a suggestion for you," said Kurdak.
"Feel free, Boss."
Kurdak looked at Cyranos and the two nodded at each other before Kurdak began, "Well, since you've been calling me Boss for so many days now... Why don't I become your real boss?"
Leguna launched into a flurry of questions.
"Boss, are you going to start a gang? Will I have to collect protection fee on your behalf? How much will we collect a month? Which area will be our territory? And is protection fee that easy to collect? I'm afraid I can't bully people if they're too strong."
"What the heck are you talking about?" Kurdak asked with an exasperated look, "What I meant was you join our party as a mercenary."
"Huh? A mercenary?" muttered Leguna with hesitance.
"What? Are you looking down on mercenaries now?" said Vera as she furrowed her brow.
"It's not that," Leguna said with a bitter smile, "My entire life was in the slums. It was hard, but never really dangerous. I've heard mercenaries are always between life and death. I've even heard they are always dancing on the tips of blades. If I was honest, I'm quite cowardly and afraid of death. There's no way I can be a mercenary..."
Had it been the Leguna from a month before, he would've never agreed to Kurdak's suggestion no matter what. However, after everything he had experienced since, especially the three days he spent stumbling around in the forest, Leguna's will had been polished and toughened quite a bit. He also felt while traveling around with Kurdak and the rest was rather dangerous, it was far more rewarding and happy. He didn't refuse the suggestion right away and only regarded it with hesitation.
"Bullcrap! The peace in Melindor has made you an idiot!" Kurdak exclaimed, rolling his eyes, "If you really think you can mess around in the slums and survive like you did in Melindor, I guarantee you'll die in half a month without anyone knowing better! This is Lance, the eastern continent, and nobody as half-witted as you can survive here! Had I not thought you a decent person with a bit of skill, I wouldn't have bothered inviting you."
"But working in this line is kinda..." Leguna paused when he reflected on the time he was chased down and surrounded by the quickshadow drakes.
Such an experience was no doubt a part of a mercenary's daily life.
"With risk comes reward, understood? I've heard one only manages to survive barely by struggling in the slums on a day-to-day basis. But look at me, I've earned tens of gold coins easily by finishing only one mission, and that's enough for us to feast on delicacies for a whole month without worry! Also, I've been living like this with Vera and Cyranos for more than six years and we haven't encountered any setback so far."
"Tens of gold coins?!" exclaimed Leguna, eyes gleaming.
He had grown up in the slums from as young as he could remember and only got to earn a few copper coins at best. Occasionally, he would sneak around in the homes of rich people and 'borrow' some items and sell them. But even so, all the money he had gained from such endeavors in a whole a year only amounted to two gold coins. Kurdak's income was nothing short of staggering for Leguna.
"Kid, I think you still don't realize your own value," Kurdak said, "After all, you do have fifth stratum impetus. Even though impetus users aren't as rare as magi, you're still someone who can take three to four people on your own. If you want to, you can even hunt in the forests for a vocation. For instance, the skin of the quickshadow drakes sells for 20 silver coins each. You'll definitely be able to take them on with your skills. I've truly never seen someone as useless as you who won't even utilize the abilities they have and are satisfied with doing menial work for a few worthless coins."
"I... I didn't know I was that capable," said Leguna, a little annoyed.
It was no wonder he was so timid. He had only gathered impetus in the last half a year. As he was used to being oppressed, his habit of treading carefully carried on even after he gained impetus. Because nobody could recognize the abilities he had, he was thrown into jail after a silly mishap and transported to Lance on a whim. However, he didn't tell Kurdak this. He worried the man wouldn't believe someone could possibly train impetus up to the fifth stratum in half a year.
"So, have you made up your mind? I wasn't lying when I said what I did. Since you don't have any family to rely on, there's little chance you'll be able to start a business here. Heck, given that brain of yours, doing business will only see you on your path to bankruptcy. There's also no way you'll be able to become a gang leader and collect protection money given how cowardly you are. And you'll definitely be unable to work as an administrative official since you're not educated. With the job market as tough as it has been lately, only good students can find employment. You'll only be looked down on given your low intelligence. And, young as you are, I doubt anyone would hire you to become a guard. Your young face makes you look like a person who just graduated from kindergarten. Let's forget becoming the male pet of rich female nobles too; you don't have the looks. I think even orcs would find your dirty state distasteful..."
"Boss, boss! That's enough, I already feel more worthless than a piece of crap..." Leguna cut him off.
Leguna felt like he could bury himself in a small hole after hearing Kurdak describe him.
"Your only redeeming factor is your strength. Adventure with me, and I will make sure you'll have more delicacies than you can ever eat!" tempted Kurdak.
"Well..." Leguna still looked rather hesitant.
"Sheesh, what's there to hesitate about? Do you think your sis will let you suffer? Don't worry, I will definitely protect you from any danger," encouraged Vera.
Leguna looked at the two of them before he turned to Cyranos, who was smiling at him slightly.
"Very well! Boss, I'll join your party as a mercenary!" said he finally.
"Wait a second, do you think we're begging you to join us? Do you think that's all you need to do to join? Whether you can come with us or not is not that simple!" said Kurdak.
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