21st Century Archmage - Chapter 42
Chapter 42: Dammit…
‘In the end, it’s not even a small city. Sigh…’
Thanks to Bebeto, whose full belly had improved his mood, we arrived early in the skies of Denfors. Seeing the enormous castle that showed just how much expectation the Bajran Empire had placed here in the past, I couldn’t help but let out a sigh. If there had just been an excellent leader, this place wouldn’t have been reduced to such a state. Countless thoughts tangled within my mind.
While I was lost in thought, Bebeto slowly landed in front of the Weyn Covert hangar that had become his home. He wasn’t even Lassie, but he found his way home well.
[TN: Lassie, the famous rough collie from Lassie Come Home. A very loyal fictional dog.]
‘Hooh, it’s been nicely cleaned up huh?’
Besides the soldiers standing on strict guard around the hangar, there were around ten other people who looked like workers fixing up the hangar or cleaning the area around it.
Derval greeted Bebeto and I with a bright smile.
“Derval, nothing happened?”
“As you can see, sir, besides this, nothing happened,” Derval grinned, pointing to the surroundings.
‘For enlisted men, their discipline is pretty good, huh?’
In the morning, I hadn’t been in the right state of mind, so I hadn’t taken a close look at Janice’s men. Even after seeing Bebeto and I, they were keeping strict watch without a hair out of place.
“But Kyre-nim, it seems you will have to accompany me outside for a moment.”
As I jumped off Bebeto, Derval told me we had to go back out.
“We need to acquire goods necessary for daily life here, and I believe we should recruit some mercenaries who can guard us for the time being.”
“That so? I guess you’re right.”
One couldn’t entrust their home to the neighbor’s dogs. I nodded my head at Derval’s words. I wanted to sightsee in the city, anyway.
“Then, let us depart at once. I have already prepared the horses.”
Derval’s preparation mentality was always so outstanding. He brought out two horses from within the hangar.
As soon as the horses appeared, Bebeto’s eyes sparkled. He must be remembering the taste of the horse meat he’d gotten at Kirphone Covert, because his golden eyes were gleaming brightly.
‘You brat! Leaving the free meat all over the place and wanting the expensive stuff instead!’
Just a few wingbeats from here, there were free-range organic(?) orcs playing around. Since that was the case, I had absolutely no desire to offer Bebeto horsemeat just to satisfy his palate. It wasn’t because I was stingy or narrow-minded, okay?
“I leave things to you, Chase-nim.”
“Haha. Please don’t worry and have a good trip.”
Derval made a quick bow to the knight in command of the soldiers. Seeing him do so gave me a good feeling. He didn’t cling to a useless thing like pride. He was reliable and trustworthy.
“Bebeto, keep an eye on the house for us!”
Guoo. Responding with his own wyvern language, Bebeto nodded. His cuteness didn’t suit his size.
The horse saddle was worlds different from Bebeto’s back. It felt just like going from a Hyundai Equus to a Daewoo Tico.
[TN: Equus is a higher end, streamlined sedan, Tico is a bulky, boxy car.]
* * *
“Please, just give me 1 Copper… my siblings at home are crying from hunger…”
“Sir, please give me work, any work! If you give me anything to eat, I will work with my life on the line!”
“Watch what you grab with those filthy hands!”
After leaving the covert, I saw an almost destroyed road and broken buildings, as well as the scenery of the ravaged city.
‘It’s really this bad?’
The season was changing from spring to summer, so it wasn’t that cold, but there were groups of kids begging on the streets with bare feet, feet that had probably been bare throughout the winter as well.
Mercenaries were resorting to violence without hesitation as if annoyed by the kids as they desperately latched on.
“At one point, there was a gold rush in the Nerman Plains. It was a place with sea access connecting it to other continents, vast and fertile land, and mines getting discovered here and there. The empire actively started an immigration policy to send everyone and their mother to Nerman. But the invasion of the monsters, enemy countries, and pirates have turned the land into what it is now,” said Derval, his voice thick with regret.
“I-It’s a Skyknight!”
The kids begging or gathered in the alleys screamed after seeing me and fled. Not just them, but the mercenaries and regular civilians also rapidly ducked their heads or hid in the alleys with hurried steps.
‘The buildings are old and the people are hungry, and their hearts are filled with fear.’
Seeing Denfors up close was completely different from seeing it from above. My feelings became complicated. This city was poorer and dirtier than any city I’d seen so far.
“It looks like the commercial street is over there. I heard that because of all the monsters in the area, there are quite a few monster hunting mercenaries, magic towers acquiring magic ingredients, and specialty merchants there.”
Thanks to everyone scattering at the sight of me, the street had become desolate. Only the buildings, still looking clean on the outside, were left.
“I saw from going around, but it seems there isn’t any farming except in the vicinity of the city; how does the city get its food?”
“It seems that merchants come and go through the Havis Kingdom. Because of the Kesmire Islands’ pirates, ocean travel has likely been blocked for quite a long time.”
‘It’s more of a mess than I thought.’
Piles of trash and filth were lying around everywhere, as if there weren’t any people maintaining the city. It made me think that this was a haven for rats and cockroaches, not people.
“If the monsters could just be blocked, there would be no place on the continent with conditions as good as here. It would have been fine if the empire had put in a little more strength, but just as the empire was preparing to focus their forces here, the allied Kovilan Kingdom was attacked by the Temir and pirates, so the strength was diverted. It is truly a shame.”
Derval sighed in regret as he gave his evaluation.
‘If I became the lord here…’ A conjecture suddenly appeared in my heart. ‘…I would probably have to pour in money by the millions, right?’
But I was no rich megamillionaire, and with what power could I possibly take care of almost hundreds of thousands of monsters on my own? Moreover, the Nerman Plains looked like a broken jar. Even if you poured in water, it would simply drain right back out.
“This looks to be the Mercenary Guild.”
I realized with Derval’s words that we had arrived at the commercial street. Worn-down buildings at least two stories tall were sprawled on both sides of the street to my left and right. I saw around a hundred seedy-looking mercenaries standing in front of a 3-story building.
Derval and I approached the Mercenary Guild, which naturally drew the gazes of the mercenaries out front. They were startled by the sight of my crimson Skyknight cloak and silver airplate.
“I haven’t seen this Skyknight before…”
“Ah! It’s that new rookie Skyknight who fucked up Viscount Lukence’s soldiers yesterday!”
“Looks like he’s determined to die. To offend Lukence-nim without any fear… Tsk tsk.”
My sensitive ears caught the mercenaries’ whispers. Gossiping amongst each other, their faces changed as soon as they met eyes with me, scorn and ridicule in their eyes. The only thing these nobodies had was their bravado.
Clunk. I descended from my horse as the mercenaries watched.
‘This ain’t even some kind of mobster wedding ceremony.’
The mercs were carrying scars on their faces and bodies like tattoos. Even though I didn’t frown, just looking at them made me lose my appetite.
I gave the reins to Derval and entered the guild.
“Kuku, acting tough for a bastard about to die…”
“Kekeke, looks like even dogs and cows can become Skyknights these days.”
As I was quietly passed by, two of the mercs mumbled behind my back without a shred of fear.
I let loose my specialty, the roundhouse kick.
I sent one guy flying far away with a single kick. Then I proceeded to throw my right fist directly into the face of the other guy who disrespected me.
Th-thump. Without even being about to cry out, the dude rolled down the stairs with all his teeth gone.
The mercenaries let out small cries of astonishment.
In response, I simply smiled coldly. No other words were necessary.
Having tied up the horses, Derval ran over and opened the guild door.
I turned my back again and walked inside.
This time, there weren’t any jeers.
* * *
“You say that guy went into the Mercenary Guild?”
“Looks like his guts have grown past his ribs. For a bastard kicked out of the empire to come here and act so high and mighty…”
“What do you wish to do, sir? We have also confirmed that his wyvern is in its hangar… Should we take care of it?”
“No. Yesterday was enough. We must not move without the permission of Lukence-nim.”
Within Viscount Lukence’s mansion inside Denfors, Palmir, a Skyknight dispatched from the Lukence Viscounty outside the city, was speaking with a knight.
“Keep an eye on him for now. Every move he makes, all the people who interact with him, what kind of secret plot that bitch made with him, find out about it all. Never, ever look away.”
“As you command!” shouted the knight at Palmir’s order.
‘Try having some fun, rookie.’
Palmir was well aware that if it was bad enough that he got sent all the way here, then there wasn’t a single person who would pay attention to him if he died.
Moreover, he was someone who had a hybrid wyvern, a taboo for Skyknights.
Because those Temir bastards came attacking on all kinds of hybrid wyverns, there weren’t many people who would be surprised by the sight of hybrids here, but in the end, someone riding on a hybrid could not be considered a perfect Skyknight.
‘His name is Kyre, right? Come crawling if you want to live, instead of hurting yourself trying… Kukuku.”
* * *
At my Skyknight armor and cloak, the gazes of everyone in the building focused on me.
“Who’s the Guildmaaster here?” With smooth informality, I asked for the Guildmaster.
“P-Please wait a moment,” responded a young mercenary as he scrambled up to the upper floor.
‘It’s pretty tidy for a mercenary guild?’
Mercenaries were synonymous with ignorance. Despite that, the interior of their homebase was tidier than I expected.
While I was inspecting the inside of the guild, someone descended from the upper floor.
‘Is he really a mercenary?’
Unlike the mercenaries, who flaunted scars all over their bodies like tattoos, the young gentlemen had a neat and slender face. The man, who looked as if he had barely reached the second half of his twenties, was coming down with an annoyed expression.
“For what reason have you come looking for me?”
Unlike the mercenaries, who were daunted by me, a Skyknight, the handsome man spoke without a care in the world. His bluish curly hair and eyes were memorable.
“Are you the Guildmaster?”
“Well… These days, yes,” the man said, giving me a half-assed response.
‘His mana is considerable!’
I didn’t try a mana scan, but I could faintly feel his vigor. Considering the intangible energy wrapped around his body, he was definitely someone strong.
‘He doesn’t look like a mercenary…’
I could feel dignity in each and every action of his, to the extent that I would believe it if you told me he was an Imperial Guard Knight. He definitely had some extenuating circumstances.
“I want to acquire some mercenaries.”
“Mercenaries? If that’s the case, you could just talk to these guys here…”
The Guildmaster made an expression complaining about why I called him over for nothing.
“Double the wages for every grade. Mercenaries who can use aura and mages will be decided on after an interview. In particular, if a mage wants it, I can provide a spellbook.”
“Hooh, if you mean indefinite employment… are you looking to enlist soldiers?” the Guildmaster said, his eyes sparkling.
Instead of responding, I laughed quietly.
My eyes met with the Guildmaster’s in the air.
At that moment, the Guildmaster smiled.
I felt a strange sense of kinship with this person.
* * *
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* * *
“Is that going to be okay, sir?”
Unaware of my financial situation, Derval cautiously asked me if things were okay like this once we left the Mercenary Guild. He probably thought it was extreme that I wanted to recruit mostly third-rate mercenaries that would cost several Gold each every month for twice the price.
“Derval, if it were you, would you want to work for me?”
“If they come, then I’ll take them, and if they don’t come, then that’s that. Why does each and every thing need to be so complicated? What I need right now are numbers.”
Viscount Lukence was probably keeping an eye on my movements. If it were me, I wouldn’t leave a baby lion trespassing on my territory like an idiot, either.
‘Sigh, this isn’t even some strategy simulation game.’
For a while, I was addicted to a tactical role-playing game called Romance of the Three Kingdoms. My situation felt more and more like I was a character in a game similar to it.
‘The business district is more impressive than I thought?’ After leaving the Mercenary Guild, we walked to the road where the stores were gathered. ‘The buildings are old, but they should be usable with a little repair…’
From explanations I had heard, I knew that Denfors and the Nerman Plains were places that actually had pretty good conditions.
(PR/N: Just a criticism to the author, we don’t need to know how good it could be here every few paragraphs, jeez)
“Kyre-nim, it looks like we can acquire goods from there.”
Derval pointed to one of the general stores among the countless storefronts.
‘Eh? Isn’t that the Rubis Merchants?’
On the sign was the Rubis Merchants, the group I was familiar with. Like their reputation as one of the Big Five on the continent suggested, there was a Rubis Merchant building even here.
“They’re famous for their honest trade, unlike other merchant groups. Instead of being owned and operated by the market prices of every empire and kingdom, they’re a company of pure merchants worth believing in.”
Derval praised the Rubis Merchants, his voice full of trust.
‘Derval, I’m registered as a close friend of one of their executives. Kuku.’
Derval didn’t know much about me. We stopped in front of the Rubis Merchants.
Unlike the other places, there were ten armed guards solemnly standing guard here. Because the city was akin to a lawless land, it seemed they were taking a lot of precautions to protect themselves.
Ring ring. Greeted by the guards’ courteous reception, we went into the building.
The inside of the building, which looked to be several hundred pyeong large, was filled wall to wall with goods. There was weaponry like armor and swords, various utensils like pots, and supplies like flour in stacked up burlap bags.
[TN: 1 pyeong is 3.3 sq. m.]
‘It’s no different from a superstore.’
“Greetings to you, honorable Skyknight-nim. I wish to sincerely thank you for coming to our Rubis Merchant Group. I am the branch manager of Denfors, Lenkis.”
As soon as we entered, a bald mister in his mid-forties came running over and bowed deeply.
Derval stepped forward. “We have come to buy some goods.”
“My liege, Baronet Kyre, has been newly assigned to the covert and wishes to cultivate some soldiers. He wishes to purchase all the products needed for that as well as various goods necessary for daily life. This is a list of items necessary.”
Who knew when Derval, ever well-prepared, had written it up, but he passed over a paper crammed with letters and numbers.
“Mm… It is quite the list. 200 suits of identical chainmail, 300 halberds, spears, and long swords. And even war horses at that…” The bald manager’s face became disconcerted as he read the paper. “As you probably know, here on the Nerman Plains, it is difficult to acquire identical suits of armor and weapons because of the mercenaries. It will only be possible if you give us at least a month’s worth of time. The rest are ordinary goods, so they can easily be acquired from our branch. And… I believe this amount of military items will require the permission of Viscount Lukence…”
The branch manager made a troubled face.
“Branch Manager, it would be good if we could speak quietly to the side somewhere…”
“Pardon? U-Understood. Please come over here…”
The branch manager was startled by me butting in. His characteristically weaselly merchant face stiffened into a block of wood.
‘Mister, I won’t kill you, so relax, alright?’
On this continent, anyone with a rank was like a gangster. It was probably a big deal for a commoner to face a noble.
“Derval, take a close look and see if there’s anything more we need.”
“Yes, my liege!”
Derval had named me his liege. He was truly a respectful young man.
“If there’s anything else you need to say…”
“Branch Master Lenkis, how long have you been with the Rubis Merchants?”
“It has been around 20 years, but…”
“Tsk tsk. But to still only be a branch manager in a dangerous place like this and not be a supervisor yet…”
[TN: Merchant hierarchy is as follows: merchant < branch manager < one of 12 supervisors < one of 3 executives.]
Lenkis’ eyes went round at the sound of my tongue clicking.
“Please cooperate actively with me. If you do so, I will make you a supervisor within a few years.”
“S-Supervisor? That is absurd. I am more than happy with my current…”
“Hush! Wyverns leave their hides when they die and humans leave their names behind! How can a man have such feeble aspirations! If you’ve been born in the world, shouldn’t you let your name be heard at least once before you die? Moreover, as a branch manager sacrificing yourself to serve the merchant group in a dangerous and remote place like this, I would think you have the right… Don’t you think so? Dealing with ignorant mercenaries day after day with the fear of monsters barging in, struggling in this city that is no different from a lawless land… Don’t you think you absolutely deserve at least that much regard?”
I poked his pride to the point that Lenkis couldn’t even open his mouth properly and was just gaping like a fish.
“Th-That is…” Lenkis’ expression wavered at my words.
Everyone’s feelings were about the same. If it were me, as long as some kind of sense of loyalty wasn’t involved, I would want to work as a superior somewhere safer, too.
I quietly revealed a token in front of the conflicted Branch Manager Lenkis.
“Gasp! T-This is—!”
“This is a Supervisor Token given to me by Executive Manager Jamir.”
“T-That’s correct. It is engraved with Jamir-nim’s seal,” said Lenkis, nodding as he looked at the token.
“Do you understand now?”
If only in name, he was the merchant in charge of an entire region. After confirming the token, he was quick to understand the meaning behind my words and his eyes gleamed.
“In fact, not to brag, but the Executive Manager was able to reach his current station thanks to my help, also.”
“I-If that is the case, then were you perhaps the person who acquired the madir and the demon beast leather for him…?”
“Oh! The news has spread this far?”
I wasn’t an elder, but my manner of speech had completely turned into that of a noble. I made a slightly surprised expression as I gave a big flourish.
“Please take good care of me! I… I request your guidance in the future!” Branch Manager Lenkis immediately folded in half.
‘Kuku. This is why connections are important.’
There was no need to say much more. I wasn’t someone who would indecently rip them off, but a good customer who was trusted enough to borrow credit in their name.
As long as he listened to my words well, even if he didn’t score the big bucks, he could still ride on my coattails.
* * *
“Have a safe trip back, sir. If there are any goods you require, please contact me at any time and I will come running right away!”
“Haha. It was a very delightful exchange.”
“It was truly an honor to have met you, sir.”
Everything had gone as smooth as silk.
From the side, I could feel Derval’s gaze of intense admiration. I guess it was impossible for him to feel otherwise towards me, someone who had solved the impossible within the blink of an eye.
‘A 20% discount and a no-interest payment plan! Jamir, I’ll buy you a drink next time.’
“Derval, let’s go.”
“Yes! My liege!”
Still receiving the farewell of the guards and the Branch Manager, who was still in 90° position, I turned the reins towards the covert.
‘I’ll grow in no time, to the point that you, Lukence, can no longer fall asleep at night.’
At first, I just wanted to quietly catch monsters and gather the funds to buy a territory without drawing any attention. But there was a new enemy who would simply not leave me be, Viscount Lukence. For the sake of my peace, he was a big thorn that needed to be removed.
“Derval, since we’re already out, shall we eat before going?”
“Let us do as you wish, my liege.”
That title, “my liege,” was sweeter to the ears than I imagined. It was difficult to receive someone’s voluntary allegiance, an allegiance formed not of coercion or money, but sincerity. Especially from someone like Derval, an educated elite in his own way.
“How many soldiers does Viscount Lukence have again?” I asked, sure that the smart Derval had asked Janice’s soldiers during my absence.
“Including the viscount himself, there are twelve Skyknights, around fifty knights at the Blade Knight level, two 5th Circle mages, one Intermediate wind summoner, and about 4,000 regular soldiers.”
‘4,000? Quite a lot.”
Even on the empire’s mainland, this much military force would put them on the same level as a count.
“But there is something unique.”
“It is something to do with Baroness Janice.”
‘Janice was a baroness?’
“Baroness Janice is not a noble exiled from the mainland, but a Nerman native.”
“A Nerman native?”
“Yes. I am told she is the formal successor of Baron Jadran, who possessed a territory in the Nerman Plains.”
“In particular, after being appointed here, the man named Lukence was on very good terms with the baron who was Janice’s father. But one day, the relationship between the two of them soured, and not long ago, the baron passed away in a manner that left room for doubt.”
“I do not know the details, but it is because of that issue that Baroness Janice has a very poor relationship with the viscount. I believe there is some kind of connection between the previous baron’s death and Viscount Lukence.”
‘So that’s why she was exuding such a murderous aura.’
I thought I now understood why Janice, who had shared a drink with me yesterday, had emanated such bloodthirst.
“I think the reason why she came to you yesterday was also connected to that matter, my liege. She wanted to win you, a Skyknight, over in order to oppose Viscount Lukence.”
Derval shared his conjecture.
“Does Viscount Lukence have his own castle?”
“He does. His base is the Gadain Castle an hour on horseback from Denfors. And Baroness Janice is at the fort visible from the port.”
They should be busy combining their strength to fight monsters and enemies, but instead, these two parties were butting heads in a power struggle amidst the indifference of the empire. I didn’t want to get squeezed between them.
‘Let’s not make things complicated. Because you might trigger a nerve…’
The Nerman Plains were too good to hand over. I tried my best to suppress the strange emotions squirming and growing deep within my heart. This place wouldn’t make any money and was just a headache. It was far too lacking for me to make my dreamed-of paradise here.
“My liege, that place looks decent.”
Derval gestured towards a clean two-story inn in this desolate and worn-down city.
A middle aged man suddenly came crashing out from one of the stores we passed, breaking the store door into pieces. A wailing woman and a little girl around ten years of age came flying out after him.
“Huhu. As the interest for the money you borrowed for the months-long due protection fee, we’ll be seizing this store from now on.”
Five soldiers wearing hard leather and a knight walked outside from within the store.
‘Ara? Those guys, I’ve seen them often before.’
They were uniformed just like the reckless soldiers of Viscount Lukence who messed with Derval.
“Y-You can’t! This store is the entirety of our family’s fortune! Where is my family supposed to live if we get chased out like this? Please, just give us one more month as a chance! When the leathers come in today, we can make goods from them and sell them to pay off our due interest! Sirs! Please, save us!”
His mouth must have gotten hit, because the man who flew out was bleeding profusely as he crawled to the knight on his knees.
But the knight met the crawling man’s face with his steel-armored shin.
“UWAAAAAAAAAHHHH! You meanies! Stop bullying my daddy!!!! UWAAHHHHH!”
A woman rushed to the man bleeding as he tumbled on the ground and brought him into her arms. The kid was wailing piercingly.
“If you borrow money, you should pay it back. You think money grows on trees? If you really have nowhere to live, why not become serfs receiving Lukence-nim’s protection? If you do that, at least you’ll be fed, given a place to sleep, and protected from monsters, how very nice. Kukuku.”
The dirty and shameless knight jeered as he said despicable things.
I couldn’t believe such a person was wearing a knight uniform. No matter how much of a lawless land this place was, the conscience of this era was one where a knight should be bound to protecting the weak and being loyal to one’s lord, but this person was no different from an evil loanshark.
“Why are you bullying my daddy! You meanies! Uwaahhh!”
The clueless girl ran up to the knight and pounded his armor with her tiny fists.
“You rude brat!” A soldier at the side swung his spear at the child.
A hot emotion surged up from the very depths of my heart, suddenly billowing up and heating up my whole body.
“Ah! T-That guy is—!”
Only then did the knight and soldiers see us, their faces full of alarm.
Thump. I flew straight out of the saddle.
And threw my right fist.
The soldier collapsed to the floor with one hit.
The knight unsheathed his sword.
My crisp roundhouse kick stretched out, followed by a painful cry.
At my mana-charged blow, the knight flew five meters into the air and rolled on the ground.
After subduing the knight and his comrade with moments, the remaining soldiers turned pale as their teeth chattered.
“Go tell Lukence… not to live life like this.”
The soldiers were trembling too much to respond.
A short two words.
As soon as they fell from my mouth, the soldiers collected the collapsed knight and soldier with frightening speed and turned tail without a single look back.
“D-Darling… sob sob.”
“I’m.. I’m sorry… Urgh…”
His face black and blue from how hard he got hit, the man limply held the woman’s hand and apologized.
Before long, the kiddo had come running back to her parents. The three family members sat on the ground embracing each other as they cried.
At some point, a crowd of Denfors residents had gathered to watch. Everyone’s faces were hard as they blankly stared at the three people, clenching their teeth and enduring the rage of the powerless who could not possibly oppose enormous power.
One side of my chest tightened.
I had just witnessed the sorrow of those with nothing.
I turned my head to look at the sky.
And from my mouth came a single curse.
The sky was damn bright.
On a day like this, it looked cruel.