21st Century Archmage - Chapter 17
Chapter 17: Dreaming of Skyknighthood
“Keep your eyes peeled!”
“Oi! You guys! If you don’t wanna croak, hurry up!”
Frowning, Leader Heath hurried the mercenaries. Normally, the mercenaries would be cursing a few times with a leisurely air, but now, they were silently peering into the distance while grasping their weapons.
‘Now they finally look the part.’
Sometimes it was hard to tell whether these Black Wyvern Mercenaries were really mercenaries or just local small fries. With tense expressions, they were exuding the serious air of a mercenary.
‘The atmosphere in this Orc Valley is pretty bloody.’
The Orc Valley took up a portion of the Zarre Mountains. Only by passing through here could one cross over to Idbal Kingdom territory.
‘I won’t have to do recon with Fly, right?’
Around 100 meters wide and 3,400 meters high, it wasn’t a valley but a huge gorge. We had to pass through this gorge, which would take half-day. Even I felt like something would jump out at us at any moment. From the destroyed carriages laying knocked over here and there, I could guess that quite a few people had gotten injured here.
“Kyre, get off the horse and walk. You’ll just become a target for orc archers otherwise,” Ron said, holding his axe and shield.
‘This tension, it’s no joke.’
My heart was racing more than that time I hunted the demon beast. The mood of the others was really contagious. The mercenaries and even the merchants were holding up shields while cautiously hurrying the carriages along.
‘Shouldn’t soldiers be guarding a path like this?’
We were still in Dapis Kingdom territory; having passed the Fiore Territory, we were now in a barony on the Zarre Mountains. Although a place like this which was often used by merchants should be protected by those rich-with-taxes lords or royalty, soldiers were nowhere to be found.
‘They’re just saying that you should protect your own life, eh? I’ll keep that in mind as a reference.’
Knowing something was different from experiencing it yourself. I was getting used to Kallian Continent’s customs one by one.
‘What’s that sound?’
A very faint noise entered my ears. As my mana grew, my physical abilities, starting from my senses, grew stronger. Right now, I could hear the whinnying of horses and the shouts of people. It seemed something was happening not too far from us.
‘Will we be alright like this?’
I hadn’t fought with any other monsters besides the taveliger before, but knowing their skills, I was somewhat doubtful that the Black Wyvern Mercenaries could handle a fight. It made me worried, since even though we had only been together for a short while, they were still my colleagues.
“Ron, can you fight a few orcs on your own? Maybe three? Or five?”
“Th-three? Ahem, of course there’s no problem even if ten of ‘em come running at once. Even if they’re orcs, this great Ron’s battle axe will split their heads like ripe watermelons! Uhahaha!”
‘Ten orcs? Even though it looks like it’ll be a close call with just one?’ Judging from Ron’s forced laughter and false pretence, I could grasp the fighting power of the orcs.
“Stop the carriages!” called out Leader Heath, his senses sharpened.
“Leader Heath, is, is there a problem?” said the merchant Hamer tremulously while leading the merchant group.
“I’m afraid that we’ve got the worst luck today. It seems there’s a battle going on in the valley.”
“I’m certain that other merchants are getting attacked. I can hear shouting on the wind.”
“An, an attack…? Then what should we do?” asked Hamer with fright.
“That’s something the employer should decide, isn’t it? What will you do?”
The merchants had hired the mercenaries for moments like this. Heath passed over the decision to Hamer.
“We have to get through here today…”
Merchant Heath looked very troubled. A merchant group couldn’t just come and go whenever they wanted. Deadlines were quite pressing.
“Then we will forcefully rush through.”
“Please. If we can just go through here safely, I’ll add extra to your commission fee at the castle.”
“Understood,” said Leader Heath, nodding with a dependable air. “Fellows, you all heard that, right? The boss wants us to break through! Mercenaries of the Black Wyvern! Can you do it?!”
“No problem, we’ll break through!”
“What’s one or two orcs to us!”
“We are the invincible Black Wyvern Mercenaries!”
“Then watch your lines and depart! Go!”
After rousing up the group with false confidence, Heath raised his shield and stood at the very fore, followed by the next strongest mercenaries.
‘It seems like a pretty big battle though…’
I understood the merchants’ feelings, but no matter how you cut it, it was too much to expect to get out scot-free with the Black Wyverns.
Licking my lips, I followed the carriages next to Ron. In any case, I was bound to the mercenary group right now.
If we were gonna do it, I had no choice but to follow along.
* * *
“Everyone, prepare for battle!”
Around 200 meters into the gorge, I suddenly saw a broad, open lot laid out between the walls of the gorge. A horrifying scene awaited us there.
There was a small merchant convoy with ten or so carriages and around 30 people, including mercenaries, coachmen, and merchants. The group was in fierce close-combat battle with hideous orcs whose lower bodies were clothed in leather.
“Attack! Save the people!”
Upon seeing the people getting attacked by orcs, Heath gave the battle command with a seething voice. Even as the words left his mouth, he was already moving.
‘There’s more than a hundred of them.’
The orcs fought fiercely, wielding rusted spears and swords clearly taken from humans. All of them were only about 160 cm (5.2 ft) tall, but their bulging muscles and mottled skin was a sight to see. Fangs protruded from their faces, their noses boasted huge nostrils, and their eyes were filled with insanity.
“O-orcs! Uwahhh!” cried Ron, though he had just said even ten orcs wouldn’t be his match.
“Ron, aren’t you charging in?”
“I, I want to, but who will guard the carriages?”
While the other mercenaries were all running forward, Ron gave the carriages as an excuse and stood there trembling.
As for me, I unsheathed my sword and ran forth.
“W-where are you going, Kyre?!!”
“Can’t you see! I’m going to catch some orcs!”
“It’s dangerous! Hurry and come back!”
‘It’s more dangerous to be with Ron!’ But I kept those words to myself and just ran.
“Everyone, fight on!!”
Scores of bleeding men lay collapsed on the ground. Their brainless massacre interrupted, the orcs shrieked upon seeing the Black Wyvern Mercenaries.
The Orcs communicated with ear-shattering squeals. At least half of them turned around to face the Black Wyvern Mercenaries.
“You bastards! Get a taste of this!”
Heath ran at the forefront. A blue Aura Blade bloomed like a thin thread from his blade.
According to the criteria here that I had heard from Ron, the strength of an Aura Blade was divided into several levels. Heath wasn’t a Blade Knight who could color his entire blade with Aura Blade, but an Aura User.
He swung his large bastard sword at an orc that was plunging its spear forward.
With a splattering sound, the orc was cleaved in half at the waist. Blue blood spurted out like a fountain as the orc gave out a dying howl, its yellow teeth gleaming.
“You rotten orcs! Kill them all!”
“How dare you, you shitty orcs!”
Here were the invincible Black Wyvern Mercenaries, whose mouths were fiercer than their skills. They began to brawl with greater liveliness than I expected.
‘Why do they have to look like humans…’
Though they were orcs who were killing humans, they still walked upright. It didn’t feel great to watch them die.
However, no one waited for me to make a decision. The orcs outnumbered us. Before I knew it, one of them was thrusting its rusted glaive at my neck.
Despite my feelings of reluctance, my body reacted rapidly. My weighty longsword, normally used by knights, swung down forcefully on the orc’s glaive.
Sparks flew as metal met metal.
The feeling of colliding with simple muscular strength revealed the orc’s stupidly enormous power. It was like hitting a wall. Looking at these orcs, who could proudly look down on bodybuilders, I could finally understand why Master had laughed at my skills and asked me if I wanted to become orc poop.
The Orc’s yellow eyes were blazing with fierceness. Looking at the eyes oozing with discharge and the mouth full of yellow teeth spitting thick gobs of saliva, my feelings of pity flew far, far away.
‘This isn’t a joke right now! This is a battlefield! If I want to live, I have to kill! I have to end this guy!’
Having judged that my muscular strength was weaker than its own, the orc bared a fanged smile at me.
“Hah!” With a grunt, I drew a little mana and filled my sword with it. Then, my sword cutting through the air with its speed, I let loose a horizontal slash.
Slashing horizontally, the sensation of cutting through flesh and bone traveled from the hilt to my hand.
Trembling seized my body for a moment, leaving me unable to pull out my sword from the Orc’s body.
Demon beasts just looked like four-legged animals, so I had no qualms, but orcs were similar to humans. My heart raced and my breathing accelerated.
But even my horror lasted only a moment, because another orc thrust its long spear at the person who had just killed its comrade, me.
Clenching my teeth with a grinding noise, I pulled out the sword from the orc. The moment I did so, blue blood spurted out with a gushing noise. The enormous force of the blood drenched my clothes.
‘Kill to live!’
My mind was shaken awake.
Drenched as I was, I whirled with my sword and cut down on the orc’s forehead.
* * *
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* * *
“Ohh! Newcomer, aren’t you impressive?”
“Did you see it? His blade was filled with a bluish Aura Blade!”
“What? How could that be possible at that age!”
“I’m telling you, I saw it with my own eyes!”
‘I got too worked up.’
The bloodthirst exuded by the Orcs and mercenaries had gotten to me, too. As a result, ten or so orcs lay lifeless on the ground near me.
“Th-thank you! If it wasn’t for you all, we would have…”
“Many thanks! The Wakhan Mercenaries sincerely express their thanks to your mercenary group.”
“We merely lent a shoulder. But, did you not take Orc Valley too lightly? To attempt to cross with just twenty mercenaries…”
The stares of the Black Wyverns moved to the merchants and mercenaries attacked by orcs.
“T-that is our fault. We had to pass through here suddenly but couldn’t acquire enough mercenaries…”
“It is all due to our mercenary group’s incompetence.”
The small convoy with only ten or so carriages was accompanied by the small Wakhan Mercenaries. To my eyes, the Black Wyvern Mercenaries wasn’t all that different, but Leader Heath was standing very tall and proud.
“Ughh, please save me.”
‘There are so many injured.’
Thanks to Heath’s and my contribution, the Black Wyvern Mercenaries had only accrued a few injuries, but the merchants, coachment, and Wakhan Mercenaries who had taken the brunt of the orcs’ attack had suffered huge damage. Many were injured or dying.
‘So this is death.’
For the first time in my life, I saw someone dying. I saw the bodies of the people whose red blood contrasted with the blue blood of the orcs. Regret and some strange other feeling blocked my chest.
“Please use a potion and treat the injured,” said Leader Heath, his brows furrowed.
“But if we use a potion, it won’t just be a problem of orcs; other demon beasts could attack us.”
The surviving merchants trembled in fear as they rejected Heath’s proposal.
“That’s true. Once we pass Orc Valley, it will be several days before we can reach a village with a temple where we can acquire another potion. If they die, then it’s just their fate.” The leader of the Wakhan Mercenaries, a sideburns man, agreed with the merchants.
‘So they have to throw away their comrades in order to survive.’
The mercenaries’ expressions were dark as they looked at the people with severe injuries. There were five or six people who looked like their breaths would stop at any moment without the help of potions or healing magic.
“If only we had a mage at a time like this…”
“What are you talking about, what kind of mage would join a third-rate mercenary group like this? Even first-rate mercenary groups are bending backwards to accommodate a 3rd Circle mage.”
“Yeah. If it were me, I wouldn’t choose to enter a mercenary group that can’t even protect its own. You’d have to be empty in the head to do so.”
Though it wasn’t their own colleagues who were dying and it wasn’t related to them, the Black Wyvern Mercenaries were watching on with pained expressions. Today, it was other mercenaries who were dying, but they knew it could very well be themselves the next day.
“Jeron, hold on! If you die to a wound like this, who will take care of the wife and kids you love! Fight on, Jeron!”
A man was holding back tears as he pressed his hands against the bleeding belly of his friend Jeron, a man in his early thirties who had taken an orc’s spear to the abdomen.
“M-my friend, I’m sorry but… my wife…” Blood surged from his mouth as the light began to fade from Jeron’s eyes.
“Please move aside.”
I couldn’t stand still and watch anymore.
“Move? My friend is dying right now and you want me to move aside?” Jeron’s friend was biting his lips hard while fighting tears.
“If you don’t want to kill your friend, then… please listen to me.”
“Are you a fucking priest? Or a mage? How dare you keep me from watching my friend’s last moments! Geh–!”
Without discerning friend between foe, the man directed his rage towards me.
I raised my fist and punched him right then and there, my fist connecting with a thump.
At the considerable force behind my punch, the man flew back and fell onto his butt.
‘It’s no time to be considering the consequences. My decision here can save lives.’
The lives involved weren’t evil people who wanted to kill me, but regular third-rate mercenaries with families. They were precious lives that gave me no choice but to reveal the truth, which I had been concealing for my own comfort.
At my sudden impulsive actions, everyone’s gazes converged on me, and as soon as I brought forth the yellow light of life with magic, cries of shock exploded from the mercenaries.
“Please hold on a bit. You won’t die.”
The intestines were deeply injured by the spear attack. Thankfully, besides the guts, Jeron didn’t seem to have any other injuries.
‘That’s a relief.’
No matter how often I saw it, the shocking power of magic fascinated me. The powerful mana that stabilized after ascending to the 5th Circle was transferred to some extent and treated the injury. Foam bubbled up on the injury as if disinfectant had been applied. Within the foam, the injury was being healed to perfection and new skin was formed on top.
“He, he’s a 5th Circle mage!”
Having accrued plenty of experience traveling the world, the mercenaries could tell my level of magic. Heal magic was possible even at the 2nd Circle, but it seemed the mercenaries had a rough idea of the Law of Mana Proportions, which stated that the level of magic would correspond to the number of circles and the amount of mana one possessed.
“A,ahh! Thank you, sir Mage. Sob!”
Despite receiving healing magic, the mercenary named Jeron thanked me with a face that still looked like he was in utter agony.
‘If you’re thankful, then live well!’
There was no doubt that this man, Jeron, had taken up mercenary work in order to provide for his wife and kids. The hope of life began to blaze again in his eyes, replacing the despair that was there only moments before.
‘For things that go against my conscience, if I don’t do them even though I can, that too is a sin.’
Just like that, I realized one of my guiding principles. It was a little presumptuous for a seventeen-year old boy like me to think this, but I was gradually becoming an adult on Kallian.
In this world, where the law of the jungle truly reigned, I had to live to the utmost with my own power…
* * *
“I deeply apologize for anything that may have offended you up until now,” said Hamer, the leader of the merchants, as he bowed low.
‘This is why I hid it.’
It was because I found out what kind of treatment mages received on Kallian from the villagers that I decided to hide my skills. However, my identity was revealed due to this situation where I had no choice, and the merchants and mercenaries who had grasped the truth were looking at me with fearful gazes even as we continued traveling.
“No, please. It was my bad for concealing the fact that I am a mage.”
“N-no! Please don’t say such a thing!”
Waving his hand with a look of utter seriousness, it was painfully obvious how fearful Hamer was.
“K-Kyre-nim, could you perhaps tell us which magic tower you are affiliated with…?”
Leader Heath, who had thumped my shoulders while guffawing that I should just work hard under him only a few hours ago, was now cautiously asking a question about my identity.
“It’s a secret.”
“Ah, yes, I understand.”
He didn’t even ask twice. Heath nodded his head with a completely submissive attitude.
‘Are mages crime bosses? Why is everyone so afraid?’
I hadn’t met any other mages yet, but I could get an idea of what kind of existences mages were from the fearful countenances of the mercenaries, who weren’t even normal civilians.
“Is that Chadour Castle?”
“Yes, that is the castle of Dapis Kingdom’s Marquis Rohan de Chadour.”
While taking a short break after coming out of Orc Valley, I could see a castle on the plains far away.
“He seems to be a person with a rather good reputation.”
“That is indeed the case in the Dapis Kingdom. The northern lands protected by Marquis Rohan embody the most important strategic foothold in the country, so all the kingdom’s citizens, including His Royal Majesty, respect the marquis.”
We were still pretty high up on the mountain ridge, so the huge plains were stretched out before us. Above Chadour Castle emerged ten or so dots that flew towards us.
“It’s the Marquisdom’s Skyknights!”
We still had half a day of traveling with the carriages to go, but the Skyknights and wyverns were able to cover that distance in just a moment.
This was a coordinated group; it couldn’t be compared to Fiore Viscount’s wyvern, who had flown alone. Ten wyverns flapped their wings together in crane-wing formation. Just looking at it made my heart stop in my throat.
My heart thumped at the mere mention of Skyknights.
“Long live the Marquis!”
“Wooohoo! You’re so cool!”
In a flash, the wyverns were near us. Each one was equipped with magic armor and bore the dual-swords emblem of the marquisdom. Gripping reins atop the wyverns stood ten Skyknights, their red mantles flapping behind them.
My hands turned into fists.
‘I will definitely become a Skyknight with the coolest wyvern!’
This was a promise that I, Kang Hyuk, made to myself. As I watched the wyverns fly over our head and flap away, I resolved myself once again to become a Skyknight.
* * *
“W-what did you say? The egg alone costs 200 thousand Gold?”
“It’s true. On top of that, top-grade holy water is poured onto them daily until they hatch in order to purge monster traces, and the costs to nurture them and train them to fly for just 1 year adds up to tens of thousands. In addition, to protect your wyvern, you have to purchase mithril alloy armor engraved with weight reduction and protection magic, which costs 100 thousand Gold alone, as well as the magic armor used by Skyknights, another tens of thousands of Gold. To acquire a single wyvern and start flying it, the initial costs are around 400 thousand Gold.”
With 400 thousand Gold, you could even buy yourself a small territory. The people of Luna Village had been crying tears of blood over 50 Gold, but Hamer was spitting out a number like 400 thousand as if it was nothing.
“That’s why the place most central to every empire and kingdom is the Skyknight academy and its associated facilities. They can earn hundreds of thousands of Gold by breeding wyverns, and even if Skyknights with formal training didn’t shell out huge fees for hatched wyverns, the country would do their best to maintain these facilities.”
‘Leader Heath, you liar!’
I gave the stink eye to Heath, who was off to the side drinking himself to death with the mercenaries.
“Come, drink!” Heath cried out. “For us, there’s no such thing as tomorrow!”
“Kuhaha! That’s right. To our Black Wyvern Mercenaries, there’s no such thing as the future! Only today exists!”
“To our special-grade Black Wyverns which will one day possess a Skyknight, cheers!”
‘Maybe I should just report these guys for kidnapping young teens!’
It wasn’t just me– whenever we reached a village, the mercenaries enticed others to join them. Heath took advantage of the dream of most young men on this continent, the dream of becoming a Skyknight, to grow his mercenary group.
‘What nonsense are they spouting while drinking themselves away like that.’
Since the merchants were paying this time, Heath and the Black Wyvern small fries were all looking deeply into their mugs. Now they were drunkenly causing a stir.
“But why did you ask about Skyknights…?” Hamer glanced at me with a look that seemed puzzled as to why I asked about them when I already knew everything.
“Haha, I was just wondering how the market is these days. My magic tower also has a considerable interest towards Skyknights.”
“Ah! So that’s why. I did hear that these days, most magic towers were fostering mages to be their exclusive Skyknights; so that was true.”
‘What’s this all about now?’
At my quickly spun excuse, Hamer nodded his head in understanding.
“Will the empires and kingdoms stand still and let the magic towers gather Skyknights?”
“Huh? You would know more about that, right, Sir Mage? Whether they’re an empire or not, it’s a simple truth that they can’t mess with a large magic tower.”
As expected of a merchant, Hamer seemed to have noticed something from my words.
“I just asked out of curiosity. These days, there are many mages who think that the magic towers are being looked down on due to Skyknights, so I simply asked once.”
“So that’s the case. They are Skyknights who receive more preferential treatment than mages, after all…” said Hamer, watching me carefully for any reaction even as he spoke.
“Hey, did you hear that rumor?”
“That in order to pick out talented people, every empire and kingdom has opened their Knight school and Skyknight academies wide open this time.”
“Does that mean civilians like us can also enroll?”
“Yeah. The Bajran Empire has always focused on ability, so I expected it from them, but I didn’t know the other empires and kingdoms would allow this too.”
Thanks to being on the border, Chadour Marquisdom enjoyed a healthy nightlife. The inn Hamer had chosen was large, and even with all the mercenaries and merchants, there were around a hundred other people drinking alcohol and chatting.
From this crowd, I could hear an attractive line of words from the back.
“If things keep going on like this, won’t it turn into a big matter? Why are they all scrambling to gather military power like this…”
“This is just between us, but I hear war merchants are making a killing these days. The price of weapons and every kind of metal has jumped twofold all of a sudden.”
“If I’d known this would happen, we would have switched from grain to war goods…”
‘Is something happening on the continent?’
From the Ayran Merchants and other merchant groups’ words, the continent’s tension was palpable. It wasn’t blatant just yet, but the stirring tensions were definitely an elephant in the room.
While I was immersed in thought and grasping my mug of beer, Merchant Hamer covertly called my name.
“I’m overstepping myself, but may I ask where you plan to go next?”
“Why do you ask?” I said politely. Though I was treated with great respect as a mage, it still wasn’t right to speak down to an older person.
“If perhaps our paths converge, then if you could assist our convoy a little…”
‘They said Bajran Empire had Black Wyverns, right?’
Heath had spouted a lot of bull, but it didn’t seem like the stuff he said about Black Wyverns was wrong. And from what I heard from the merchants in the back, Bajran Empire was a place that valued ability more than heritage.
“I am heading to the Bajran Empire.”
“A-all the way to Bajran?”
“Yes. Why, is it bad for me to go?”
Hamer was unable to conceal his look of disappointment as he said, “No, that’s not it, it’s just that it’s different from where we planned to go.”
‘Huhu, that’s a relief.’
God was helping me by delivering me a golden chance to bid this silly mercenary group farewell. I’d be an idiot to miss it.
“It’s truly a shame. It would have been great if you could perchance come with the Ayran Merchant Group.”
“Truly regretful. Alteus, check if there’s a reason for our mercenary group to go to Bajran.”
“Ah! To think of it, the wine transportation merchant group led by master Lumes is departing from the country border tomorrow.”
“Is that so? Then that’s a relief. Go and quickly inform them that an outstanding mage is going with a low commission fee to Bajran.”
‘Fudge, these old guys are trying to eat me alive! A low commission fee?’
The gears in Hamer’s head were sure turning quickly, as if he was afraid someone would accuse him of not being mercantile enough.
“Alright everyone, cheers! To our long, continued friendship!”
Rising from his seat, Hamer raised his glass towards the Black Wyvern Mercenaries and the merchants.
“To, to whatever you just said~~!”
All the mercenaries were dead drunk. Yelling ‘To friendship,’ they knocked back more beer.
‘You guys, bye bye!’
It was a shame, but I couldn’t keep following this dead-end mercenary group and cheap-ass merchant group.
‘Bajran Skyknight Academy! Uhahaha! Wait for me! This Kang Hyuk is coming to you!’
Thinking about it in modern terms, it would be an elite course like the Air Force Academy. Dreaming about the glorious future ahead of me, I drank the refreshing beer.
I prayed to the gods that my life would be as smooth as the Silk Road from now on, as smooth as the alcohol flowing down my throat.