Having no Choice
Time continued to flow past without anyone noticing. In a blink of an eye, winter came and left. Soon, spring shot past and summer soundlessly arrived.
It was a rather hot afternoon. The streets were hot like red metal plates. Not many were willing to head out in weather like that, but Kurdak still had good business in his tavern. Per Manhattan's suggestion, he hired some apprentice magi for a low price from Moonshadow to constantly use ice-aspect spells to cool down the temperature in the tavern.
Quite a few mercenaries were willing to go there to cool off with a beer or two.
"You really are different, pops. How did you learn how to enjoy something like this?" Kurdak couldn't help but praise.
Manhattan had come to Lance with the intention to retire and relax. Every day he took leisurely walks, had lunch and took naps. When he woke up, he would go play chess with the old fellow running an antique shop nearby and utterly dominate without showing mercy. He returned home later for dinner basked in his sense of victory before enjoying the nightly breeze before his sleep.
Even though he was superbly talented, he was completely bored with Hocke. He couldn't even bother with Kurdak's business and only went about eating, sleeping and playing chess all day. Even the idea with the magi was unwillingly thought up by him thanks to Lamir's pestering.
However, Kurdak didn't complain about it in the slightest. Even if Manhattan wasn't related to Lamir, he still wouldn't mind taking care of the retired old man who gave up his position and saved his life.
Then again, days like these are pretty enjoyable, Kurdak thought. Even though he wasn't living as busy or fulfilled a life, he found the peace and tranquility surprisingly pleasant. Perhaps he was worn out too.
"Bring a cold brew here!" a huge, bronze-haired mercenary said as he entered right as Kurdak was about to doze off.
"Hey! Marvel! I haven't seen you in a while!" Kurdak said, reenergized. Marvel was someone he had gotten to know since his mercenary days. That fellow was straightforward and direct, something Kurdak appreciated. Only, he was a little too much of a chatterbox. Anyone within a few meters radius of him knew exactly what was going on with his life and matters.
Marvel had been working the whole time as a mercenary, but he wasn't nearly as talented as Kurdak was. Even though he was almost thirty, he was still stuck in the mid-order. However, he did have quite a good reputation in Starfall thanks to his rich experience, though, it couldn't compare to Kurdak's own infamy for going against the Eye.
Now that Marvel found out about Kurdak's return, he couldn't wait to drag him back into the mercenary business. Little did he know that Kurdak would actually start a tavern with Vera, another girl he didn't know and an old man! That troubled Marvel for a long while, but that didn't mean he didn't frequent the tavern often.
"Sigh, don't bring it up! I almost lost a limb during my last mission. I had to recover for more than a month. I only came out for a little drink cause I can't take it no more." Marvel was wearing a sleeveless leather vest. He pointed at his left arm where a long cut was visible. It seemed like the bone would be hurt if the cut was any deeper.
"Oh? What kind of mission could get the great Marvel hurt?" Kurdak said uncaringly. He had been in the line of work for quite some time and knew that losing limbs wasn't all that uncommon. Marvel's condition looked terrifying, but it was just another day being a mercenary. They wouldn't make that huge a fuss over it.
"It's the matter with the Eye," Marvel said with a shrug.
Kurdak laughed. Thanks to the suppression from Moonshadow, Eye of Arcana became rather scattered. They used to be the strongest guild on Lance but the sudden rise of the new thieves' guild almost toppled them. It was no surprise there would be those who were dissatisfied by it.
Due to that, certain members of the guild chose to leave. According to the regulations, however, initiated members leaving was considered treason. So, those people had become enemies of the four great factions of Lance. They were on the run and constantly hiding. It seemed like Marvel was involved in the matter.
"Have you heard about Bloodblade Arduino?" Marvel asked in a low voice.
"I have. Isn't he a high-order warrior? You dare to challenge someone like him?" Kurdak said with a start. Arduino used to be a famous warrior commander in the Eye. He was called 'Bloodblade' due to the twin crimson blades he used.
Even the current Kurdak wasn't confident he could defeat him, so why would a mid-order warrior like Marvel dare cause him trouble?
"Naturally, I wouldn't dare seek him out alone. But…" He hesitated for a moment. "I now have the mercenary association's support. They were the ones who sent out a high-order warrior to tag along with us and bring down Arduino. We were paid three thousand gold coins each!"
"So you're set for life then?" Kurdak said. If Marvel could enter the Association's inner circle, it would be a good thing. At the very least, his life would become more stable and he wouldn't have to go on as many risky missions.
"You can say that." Marvel nodded. "Kurdak, you know I don't like to beat around the bush, so I'll give it straight to you. I'm here to visit you and also to recruit you."
"Into the Association?" Kurdak didn't seem surprised at all. He poured himself a mug of beer and gave it a light sip.
"That's right." Marvel knew that while Kurdak seemed like a rough man, he was truly very careful and thoughtful. He guessed that Kurdak already knew what he was getting at the moment he brought the Association up.
"I won't go," Kurdak said casually, shaking his head. However, he didn't seem angry at Marvel at all.
"Come on, friend," Marvel said seriously while leaning in, "You know your talents. I think even the Eye, who have a grudge against you, will think it's a waste for you to be running a tavern here."
"But I simply don't want to get into any more conflict," Kurdak said with a shrug and a sip. "Friend, I'm really too tired. So, I don't want to fight anymore. My only wish now is to run this tavern with those two women. I can enjoy them with my eyes during the day, and during the night… hehe…"
"Tch, you overestimate yourself…" Marvel mocked. "What happened during the past few years in Chino? What about that brat that followed you around? Is he dead?"
"Bullshit! He's alive and kicking! You'd die before he does!" Kurdak snapped.
Marvel was speechless and decided not to press the matter. "Kurdak, you have to understand. I was sent here by the Association to negotiate peacefully. I heard the top brass are quite interested in you and will even try to force you in."
"Wow, since when did I get so popular?" Kurdak bemoaned the fact that he couldn't even live the life of a hobo if he wanted. Would he have to move with Vera and Lamir to a remote village?
"You don't seem to understand your value. The chaos you caused with the Eye back then… You can even say you single-handedly caused them to roll towards their doom. How can you not be popular?" Marvel said jealously. He had worked so hard to be accepted into the Association, but now, the Association wanted Kurdak to join to badly and he still refused!
"I doubt the Association is alone," Marvel said, "Apart from the Eye, who has a grudge against you, the other three factions seem intent on recruiting you. I think the smaller guilds are also eyeing you as well. Friend, I know you won't like to hear this, but I can tell you that you won't be able to keep this going for long. Find a good backer, or you'll risk being torn to shreds amidst this conflict.''
"Whether he will be torn apart is not up to you or the Association," a voice sounded from behind Marvel. That person stood not far away and didn't sound pleased.
"Leave while you can. It's Arikos," Kurdak whispered to Marvel. Even though he didn't know what ARikos was there for, it was best not to let Marvel cause any trouble.
"Got it. Just think it over." Marvel's expression changed immediately when he heard about the arrival of Moonshadow's chief executive. He finished his beer and turned to leave.
"So, what did you come here for?" Kurdak asked as he washed the glasses on the counter.
"Hand Vera over!" Arikos said with a smile.Previous Chapter Next Chapter