21st Century Archmage - Chapter 60
Chapter 60: Meeting the Dwarves
‘We’re almost at the boundary with the Temir.’
The Corvain Merchants traversed the territory as they approached the dwarves.
Surprisingly, there were almost no people in Nerman who knew the location of the Dwarven Village. Dwarven villages didn’t even use illusion barriers like the elf village, but people who knew of their whereabouts were few and far between. That must be how they were able to survive the greedy humans until now.
So what did I do? I followed the trail of the Corvain Merchants, of course, maintaining a wide distance. The caravan was so large in scale that the plains traveled by the carriages had obvious marks of their passage.
‘For them to even throw away ogre leather…’
Each one would add up, but the monsters in their path were annihilated and then left to rot. As long as they didn’t cross paths with the Temir, who had wyverns, they were an invincible force.
‘The merchant group must be all ready to go by now.’
Executive Jamir took the helm and was waiting for my command.
And every day, I flew to check the path traveled by the Corvain Merchants.
A week had passed in that manner.
The caravan that passed Denfors went deep into the Rual Mountains.
‘I have to get close.’
There was a limit to how close I could get with Bebeto. Even at night, the mercenary Skyknights ran night patrols and kept up a strict guard. It was bothersome to avoid detection from them.
“Bebeto, let’s go down.”
From here on out, I had to approach the merchant group and keep a close eye on them. I landed Bebeto in a field of wildflowers.
“Head to Orakk Castle. I’ll arrive soon.”
On our way here, we passed Orakk Castle. I gave an order to the Skyknights stationed there that if they happened to meet the Corvain Merchants while on patrol, they should act like they didn’t see them and go a different direction.
At my command, Bebeto rubbed his long horns on my body, an emotion called worry in his large, golden eyes.
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll never do something like leave you and die on my own.”
It hadn’t been very long, but Bebeto and I had been through thick and thin together. It was to the point that I could no longer imagine life without him.
“Don’t cause trouble and just wait. Don’t push your ugly face into some female’s hangar, you hear me?”
The worry in his eyes disappeared and Bebeto feigned indifference instead.
While I was gone, he would probably get himself into trouble. It was the logic of the human world to treat a dog of a prime minister like a quasi-prime minister. And Bebeto was a fellow that was more than capable of pulling a stunt like that.
Flap, flap, flap flap flap.
He spread his wings and took to the air, he circled around my head once, before disappearing.
Once I couldn’t see him anymore, a corner of my heart became cold. Even a brief parting was a parting.
“Derval should be able to hold out for a few days.”
Janice and the other Skyknights flew patrols every day. The land they had to cover was rather large, but the southern region was pretty well defended, at least. And thanks to supplying plenty of wages and provisions, the North was in a state of high morale. Moreover, a Skyknight with a wyvern in Nerman was as reliable a support as a high circle mage.
“It’s my first time going on foot in a while.”
I was around 4 km away from the merchant caravan. I slowly walked towards them while enjoying the warmth of Nerman’s late spring sun.
* * *
“Order the mercenaries to set up a line of defense with the carriages in the middle.”
‘It’s been a year.’
The position of deputy could be called the highest rank in the Corvain Merchants.
It wasn’t a position just anyone could attain.
Only those who could exclusively carry out an important trade route like the trade with the dwarves could attain the deputy position.
And with it, came enormous benefits. One could amass wealth no inferior to most nobles, and even after retiring, one could easily ride on the accumulated money and personal connections to live at the level of a kingdom’s noble.
‘The armor we asked for last year must be all done now.’
It was finally time—tomorrow morning, once they finished their secret rendezvous with the dwarves, the job would be mostly done. The dwarves valued faith, so unless the merchant group betrayed them, they would continue to trade.
‘There can’t be a trade as good as this. With these goods that don’t even add up to a few coins, we can get a profit of almost one thousand times the expense…’
The price of the wheat, salt, fabric, and various daily necessities loaded in their carriages didn’t even reach 10,000 Gold, even when purchased at the highest quality.
However, the price of the products they would receive tomorrow in exchange was unimaginable. Even a piece of homemade jewelry made by a dwarf would net thousands of Gold, much less a mithril armor and various products made using mithril ores, which would start at tens of thousands of Gold, many of them reaching a million Gold.
‘If he interferes on our return path, I’ll kill him. How dare a mere baronet rookie block our path!’
While the carriages were being used to complete a circular line of defense, Deputy Theske suddenly recalled a certain face. That bastard, Kyre, had made him feel annoyed and irritated the entire way here. He had somehow managed to swallow the useless Nerman, but Theske had never imagined that he would dare to demand a toll from a major merchant group that traded on a continental-scale.
Moreover, the arrogant prick said he would take a 10% development “donation.” Even if Theske quietly stomped him to the ground, no one in the Bajran Empire would be able to say anything. The Imperial Family and high nobles would help the Corvain Merchants and take his side.
“Have we arrived?”
Just then, one man approached Theske’s side. He was wearing a grey robe like the merchants, but the atmosphere he exuded was quite different. Also, he did not use honorifics with the deputy of a major merchant group.
“Yes, Harkline-nim. The mountain you see there is the place where the dwarves live.”
The way the man treated Theske was sometimes infuriating, but Theske responded politely. This man was someone that even a major merchant group of the continent had to fear. Harkline was a 6th Circle Master and a Vice-master of Gauss Magic Tower, the strongest of the 7 Magic Towers on the continent.
“That bastard… Just know that if we meet him on our return, I will personally take care of him. To think he dared to declare war on the Gauss Magic Tower…”
“Thank you for enduring your rage. Even before you said anything, sir, I was of the same mind in sending him to hell if he provoked us on the way back.”
The rumor spread truly fast, the rumor that the rookie named Kyre dared to brew enmity against various magic towers, including Gauss. They were holding back for now because of the peculiar state of Nerman, but the leading executives of the magic towers were likely already grinding their teeth. If it was a territory of any other empire or kingdom, it would have been thoroughly isolated or simply manipulated into a territory war.
‘It would be better for there to be no lord. Then we could trade with even better conditions. Huhuhu.’
When they first made the contract with the dwarves, the dwarves had lived while farming on barren soil and hunting. But now, they could no longer live without the grain brought by the merchant group. Of course, as that change occured, Corvain’s profits were maximized.
It was as if the market price for one dwarven-made sword was ten sacks of wheat.
* * *
‘That guy is a mage.’
From a forest far away, I used mana scope magic to examine the Corvain caravan. And I could tell from the glimmering energy of mana around the person talking with Theske that he was a mage.
‘He must be at least at the 6th Circle… enviable bastard.’
For someone who hadn’t yet been able to overcome the wall of the 6th Circle like me, a 6th Circle mage was like a rich dude with a model-level girlfriend.
‘That aside, shall we get to work now? Kuku.’
These people were trying to scrape a profit for free on my land. I couldn’t just let that happen.
‘It doesn’t look like they have any summoners, so first… With Undine…’
I rapidly sketched out an evil plan in my head. They were covered with a magic cloth that repelled water, but the wheat and provisions were incompatible with water…
I leisurely awaited the right moment while chewing on a piece of jerky I brought with me.
Considering their actions, it seemed Corvain was planning on resting here for the night. Wyverns were flying above with no breaks in between, and the smell of the wyverns resting near the carriages would definitely prevent monsters from drawing near.
I bided my time watching them. Tonight, it just so happened that the moon wasn’t even out. They would never be able to discover the seeds of discord sown by me.
Just like my soundless laughter, everything would go unnoticed until it was too late.
* * *
‘Ara? Only a few guys are moving?’
Late at night, I summoned Undine and ordered it to sweetly caress the wheat. It wasn’t an intermediate spirit like Undanae, so the water spirit Undine had to move busily all night long with its small body.
On this moonless night, most of the mana-capable mercenaries were fast asleep in their sleeping bags to avoid the sound of the rather strong wind blowing from the mountains.
Only a fellow summoner would be able to detect the presence of Undine, who was careful to avoid exuding any of the cold energy used for attack. After sowing the seeds of discord late into the night with Undine, I waited for the Corvain to move.
‘They’re merchants wearing swords, so… they’re the ones that can be trusted, huh.’
Most of the mercenaries stayed back to stand guard. Among the caravan, only Theske, the mage, and three merchants with swords on their hips, making a group of five, walked towards the mountain.
‘Thanks to the wyverns flying all night long, there aren’t any monsters in the near vicinity… They’re handling the job well.’
If they weren’t a major merchant group with the continent in their pocket, this was something they wouldn’t dare to try. These people were able to commit a force rivaling a ducal house and go for the desired trade in a short amount of time even in Nerman, the monster haven. It was obvious why it was inevitable for Corvain to become the top merchant group in the continent.
‘Are the dwarves closer than I thought?’
We were at the very ends of the Nerman Plains, where the boundary with the Temir was located. What I could see was a huge lump of stone as big as Mt. Bukhan standing right in front, marking the beginning of the Rual Mountains. Theske’s group was walking inside.
‘But hm, did someone farm around here?’
From my hiding place in the mountain, I could clearly see past traces of farming. A water channel made of stone and neatly spaced out plots were left intact as traces of the past.
Even while I was confused, I carefully maintained my distance as I followed Theske’s group. The wyverns flying in the sky above were already far away.
‘Eh?’ The five men passed the brush without hesitation and climbed the mountain. They stopped in front of a huge stone wall that suddenly appeared. ‘What are they doing?’
Among the five, Theske cautiously approached the stone wall.
Thump-thump, thump thump-thump!
And then, he raised a pestle-like stone in front of the wall and pounded the stone wall with a certain rhythm.
‘Holy! T-that is—!’
It wasn’t even some kind of secret thieves hideout that could be opened with an ‘open, sesame,’ but a short while later, the stone wall opened with the grinding of stone. A nearly 3-meter large opening emerged from the stone wall as it slid sideways.
‘It’s a dwarf!’
And then, I saw them—bearded grandpas around 140-150 cm tall wearing chainmail with silver axes on their back appeared from the opening. They were the dwarves that I had only heard about! I saw with my own eyes a race of people that hid themselves after the race war with humans and rarely revealed themselves in the world, as rare as elves.
‘Heh, the fairytales were all bullshit, as expected!’
Compared to the dwarves depicted in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the real deal had similar beards, but everything else was a world of difference apart. In the fairytale, the dwarves had been much smaller than Snow White, but these dwarves weren’t that much smaller than a human, and their muscles were developed to an astonishing degree.
Eyes the size of saucers and round noses the size of a fist, as well as enormous muscles that would make even Rambo cry.
Even orcs, which were known as a war race, wouldn’t be their match.
“Greetings to Cassiars-nim, Child of the Mighty Rock.”
Theske bowed towards the dwarf with the longest beard among the ones that showed up.
“It has been a while, Theske.”
The dwarf named Cassiars skillfully used the continental language used ubiquitously these days. He was looking at Theske with indifferent eyes that showed neither happiness nor complaint.
I carefully erased any traces of my mana and crept forward until I was only 20 meters away. In preparation for a moment like this, I had shed my armor and was wearing an ordinary, thin grey tunic worn by commoners. Then I sharpened my ears with mana to eavesdrop on their conversation.
“This gentleman here is a Vice-master of Gauss Magic Tower, the 6th Circle Master Harkline,” Theske said, gesturing to the mage named Harkline, a bearded man with a head of wizened dry hair.
“Haha, nice to meet you.” Harkline gave a hearty laugh that didn’t match his frigid mien.
“‘Tis a relief. It so happens that we urgently needed a mage… Please, let us go inside.”
Unlike when he saw Theske, Cassiars brightened at the mention of a mage and extended his hand to welcome Harkline inside.
‘Ara? They’re all going in.’
The unimaginable dwarf village lay beyond that stone wall. They had maintained their secret so thoroughly that there were no rumors of a dwarf village underneath this big stone mountain up until now.
‘Sigh. Looks like I have to wait.’
The situation had progressed so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to prepare.
I went up a large tree and laid down. After working hard all night with Undine, it was now time for me to rest.
‘But that rhythm…why was it that rhythm… Jeez…’
The rhythm Theske pounded with the stone…
… Was that very famous rhythm that rang out all over the world during the 2002 World Cup.
Clap-clap, clap clap-clap! South~ Korea!
It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime coincidence.
* * *
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* * *
After who knows how long had passed, I woke up abruptly from my nice, long nap to the sound of grinding stone. I was still tired, but I knew that grabbing onto a rope sent down by the heavens to save me, someone facing financial disaster, would be no walk in the park.
‘Did they eat something expired inside? Why are their expressions like that?’
Their faces were as bright as a little girl full of dreams when they went inside, but when they emerged, they looked as if they had downed a bottle of soured milk.
“Getting a Grade 2 magic crystal aside… Fixing a heated magic furnace is also a problem… It seems the only method is for the Tower Master himself to come.”
“Geh! T-The Master himself?!” Theske’s face turned black.
“Why do you act so surprised? Are you telling me you cannot invest even that much? Even though the profit left from the trade with the dwarves appears to be so huge…”
“N-no, that’s not it…”
‘Ara, do I smell internal conflict right now?’
I didn’t know the exact details of what happened inside, but from what they were saying, it seemed a significant problem had arisen.
“Fortunately, there should be a lumikar bird for emergency messages at the Denfors Branch. When the news reaches the tower, the Tower Master will come on a wyvern. It should take around ten days.”
“Urk… Ten days…”
“Why? Don’t like it? If you don’t like it, then contract with a different magic tower,” the mage said haughtily with no regard for Theske’s expression.
“N-no! If the Tower Master is willing to assist us, it would be an honor for our merchant group.”
Theske quickly returned to merchant mode, straightened out the color of his face, and rubbed his hands together. It wasn’t just me who saw the mage Harkline’s stick-dry face twisting into a smile at that.
Just then, there was the sound of someone running over, and the merchants equipped with swords hurriedly drew their blades.
“S-Something terrible has happened!”
“What kind of terrible thing are you talking about?!”
The stone door had already silently closed, and several merchants rushed from the direction of the carriages while shouting.
“All of the grains, including the wheat…” The merchant, who had run so fast that his face had gone bright red, was unable to continue.
“What happened!! Speak up, or else!”
Theske, who was already irritated as it was, shouted at the hesitating merchant.
“They are all wet. And so very wet that they cannot possibly be used…”
“W-What?! All of the wheat is wet?!” yelled Theske in alarm.
“Tsk tsk, what kind of incompetence allowed for this to happen,” tsked the disrespectful mage Harkline, snubbing Theske’s wrenching heart.
It really allowed me to once again see that birds of a feather truly flocked together.
“Un-unbelievable. They were clearly perfectly fine yesterday, how could this…”
Deputy Theske looked completely stupefied.
“What will you do? Rather than standing dumbly like that, wouldn’t it be better to quickly turn back to Denfors and try to sort things out?” The mage Harkline sent reality crashing back onto Theske with cold words.
“I have to confirm it with my own eyes!”
Theske ran over with an incredible speed that revealed his shock.
“How can they handle matters with such incompetence? These damn merchants…”
The merchants hastily trailed Theske and disappeared, leaving Harkline alone to frown as he followed them.
‘Hmph! That’s what you get for looking down on me.’
The wet wheat could be dried again, but as long as it was wet, the value of the wheat would fall sharply. Theske would probably run towards Nerman with his butt on fire after checking the state of the goods.
‘Shall we try meeting them once now?’
After confirming that all of the annoyances had disappeared, I stopped in front of the stone door. My heart thumped as if I had become Alibaba standing before a cave full of treasures.
I raised the pestle laying on the ground.
Those with courage would win the beauty.
And today, with that courage, I would win the hearts of muscular grandpas instead of a beautiful woman.
Thump-thump, thump thump-thump!
I energetically thumped the stone door in rhythm.
‘What might possibly be inside?’
Obviously there were dwarves, but I was more curious about the interior itself.
The stone door began to open.
When there’s a will, there’s a way.
I ran towards the opening door with all my might.
It would be better to get chased out after seeing the inside than to get chased out from the entryway!
* * *
“H-how could this be…”
Though they had wrapped up the wheat inside the carriages tightly with specially produced magic tarp to prevent water damage, every carriage full of provisions and fabric, not just one or two, were wet. It was a relief that the dwarves had agreed to fulfill the contract as long as they brought someone who would fix the magic furnace, but if Corvain had simply given these goods without checking or the trade had continued today, their contract with the dwarves would have come to a bitter end.
“Seeing as even the inside areas are thoroughly wet, it seems like the doing of magic or a spirit.”
Cedrian, the leader of the Herz Mercenaries, which were second to none in the Mercenary Kingdom, gave his conclusion as he touched the wet wheat.
‘Even if we were to dry it, they would only be low-grade in value. Dammit, who the hell did this?!!’
Theske felt like going crazy and jumping in a hot rage.
He looked around for anyone who could do this while deceiving the mercenaries who could use mana.
And his gaze landed naturally on a certain someone.
‘Did that guy…’
The mage Harkline was feigning innocence as he watched the clouds drift past, his hands leisurely behind his back.
Theske couldn’t help but be suspicious. The dwarf village’s magic furnace just happened to break a few days ago, and it could only be fixed with a total rehaul rather than a regular repair. However, the 6th Circle mage, Harkline, said he could not fix the magic furnace. He said that unlike usual, the broken, massive magic furnace of the dwarves could only be repaired by a mage of at least the 7th Circle.
‘Hiring this one bastard cost us a whopping 1 million Gold. But if the Tower Master were to come personally, it wouldn’t just be 1 million, but several million, and if we have to get a Grade 2 magic crystal at that, then…’
Theske’s head throbbed painfully at the mere thought of it. The goods they would get from the dwarves were already reserved by nobles of every kingdom and empire. In noble society, you would be looked down on if you didn’t have decorations made by dwarves, so the nobles vied aggressively to acquire dwarf products, with no heed to price.
‘If the trade fails, I’ll be killed. But if I can safely take care of matters, then…’
The profit wouldn’t be as big as before, but as long as the contract could be safely fulfilled, there would be a second chance. However, if he failed, it wouldn’t just be his merchant rank at stake, but even his life.
‘That dirty mage bastard!’
He was the most suspicious one, but with the Gauss Magic Tower at Harkline’s back, Theske couldn’t do anything but harbor doubt.
“Turn the carriages! We’re moving to Denfors!”
According to the rumors, there was an enormous influx of provisions there.
‘We’ll toss the wheat on the way. Then we’ll acquire the goods at once and return.’
It would take around seven days to get to Denfors from here. If he sent word ahead of time, the branch in Denfors would acquire the goods on their own. Then, everything would be fine if they returned here before the Tower Master arrived.
‘You arrogant dwarves…one day, all of you will be turned into slaves!’
Those dwarves only had their obstinate pride.
Even as he inwardly cursed in his heart, Theske turned the carriages. There was no time to waste, after all.
* * *
As soon as I stepped into the cave, I met eyes with a single dwarf. I was expecting to see one, but my breath stopped in my throat when I really did end up meeting one face to face.
The dwarf was also standing there blankly while looking at me.
“W-Who are you?”
Unlike the dwarf Cassiars and the dwarven warriors from before, the one in front of me was a dwarf with a black beard. He met my ‘hi’ with a quizzical ‘who are you.’
‘Who is this guy?’
“I’m a mage. I heard there was a broken magic furnace…”
“Ah! So it was a mage-nim. I heard there are humans worth trusting among the Corvain Merchants, but it seems they are truly quick as well. Please, come inside.”
This dwarf had a sturdy physique quite a bit taller than the other dwarves, standing at around 160 cm tall. Unlike the white-bearded dwarf named Cassiars, he looked very green and young. Though he still looked like a ripped neighborhood grandpa.
“Please watch your step.”
The dwarf took the lead, advancing as he stepped on protruding parts of the wall or ground. He walked carefully like that for the entire length of the approximately 50 meter path.
‘If I had just run in… Urghhh.’
Everywhere I turned, there were sharp iron stakes and lumps of metal. I would have definitely become skewered or flattened without even being able to escape by the sturdy rock and metal laid out all over the place.
‘T-This is the dwarf village!!’
It was shocking.
After clearing the cave, a space of enormous size opened up before us. It was heaven and earth from those oh so great caves on earth; those couldn’t even compare to what I was seeing now.
First of all, it was huge.
At a single glance, it was clear that this underground world boasted an enormous size of at least a small town. It didn’t have a castle wall, but the houses clustered together numbered a thousand at the very least, and just the dwarves moving around that I could see numbered in the hundreds.
And everything, absolutely everything was a perfect union of aesthetic sculptures and architecture. It felt like seeing the architecture of ancient Rome, but underground.
‘Even the wind is refreshing. And wow, that sunlight!’
The cavern was filled with the fresh smell of the mountain wind, and radiant rays of light shone down from the ceiling. The sunlight wasn’t coming straight down, but the light was barely any different from the light outside.
‘Mirrors that amplify the light? Haah, it’s surprising, truly surprising.’
No wonder humans had been unable to discover the dwarves, when they were holed up in a place like this.
“But what are you called? I am Nerpopo of the Luhalumere, Clansmen of the Big Rock.”
The dwarf named Nerpopo seemed to have as much curiosity towards me as I did towards him. Unlike his bulging muscles, his eyes reminded me of a simple cow.
“My name is Kyre,” I said with a bow and a grin.
“Ah! So it was Kyre-nim. It is my first time personally talking to a human.”
The cave and the massive underground city were connected by several hundred stairs. As we climbed the stairs, Nerpopo said this and that while looking at me in fascination as if seeing an alien.
‘This is way bigger than I thought.’
The height of the ceiling reached several hundred meters. There was even a lake made with underground water, and there was even edible flora growing on that side.
‘Hooh, for the sculptures on the houses to be this artistic…’
The landscape of the Dwarven Village was so incredible that anyone thinking of Auguste Rodin would become a Nodin, and a sculpture of the Goddess of Beauty, Venus, could be used as a manhole cover here.
Masterpieces imbued with the breath of a master craftsman were sitting here and there like stones on the side of a road.
“Nerpopo! Who is that human?”
We reached the entrance to the city with me still staring in awe, and a few dwarves blocked our path.
“Kyre-nim is a mage. He says he has come to fix the magic furnace.”
“What did you say? Mage?”
“Hmf! Unbelievable! How could a mage that young fix the magic furnace!”
“He must be an intruder!”
I was about to get busted.
“K-Kyre-nim is…” At the enraged words of the dwarven adults, Nerpopo’s face turned pale.
“Haha, hello everyone. I will fix your broken magic furnace, communication device, or various other magic goods at a cheap price.”
I had grown up hearing the confident bellows of salesmen hawking their wares in alleys. Imitating those ahjussis, I sent a greeting to the dwarves.
[TN: Ahjussi is a Korean term for an older, usually middle-aged man.]
However, the response that came back was the sharp ring of steel from heavy axes being drawn from their sheaths.
‘These heartless dwarves who have no manners!’
I was smiling widely while trusting the saying ‘you can’t spit on a smiling face,’ but the dwarves were glaring at me with utter iciness, ready to wield their axes.
“I wish to meet Cassiars-nim.”
“!! Y-You know the Patriarch?”
“I know him well. So guide me to him at once.”
Straightening my shoulders with confidence, I acted like I was here to see the ahjussi from the neighboring house. It was the rule of the world that leaders should speak to leaders, after all.
“Follow me. But if you do anything strange…”
Ten dwarven warriors surrounded me with nary a gap in between. Nerpopo called my name with a worried face.
“What, there’s not much to ‘fate.’ As long as you know their name and know their face, that’s fate, isn’t it?”
Nerpopo looked as if he was rendered speechless by my lame “logic” of fate.
“Nerpopo, you come too!”
Of course, sometimes the strings of fate could entangle in strange ways, like now.