Deal and Cooperation
"Alright, how should we split?" asked Leguna after he retrieved his gear.
His experiences in the past few days had made him vaguely aware that fiend corpses were valuable, especially strong ones like great snowfiends. How they should split the spoils was another important problem that needed consideration.
"Since there are two snowfiends, we'll take the large one and you'll take the small one. How 'bout that?" suggested Daver.
It was a rather fair way of splitting. After all, had Annelotte and Leguna not greatly injured the two first, they wouldn't have been able to end the battle as easily as they had. Even though the two were… just two, their contributions qualified them to take half the spoils.
It was also worth mentioning that, had it not been for the unimaginable strength the two showed during the battle, Daver might have killed them outright without bothering to discuss how to split the spoils. But, after seeing how they fought, he knew how truly terrifying the seemingly harmless youth and maiden were. While Leguna seemed a little light-headed when he walked given that he used up almost all his impetus, Annelotte was there. Though she'd suffered a direct hit from one of the two snowfiends, she didn't appear to have been injured at all. Her expression hadn't changed. Had he been the one struck, even with his magical barriers, he wouldn't have walked away unscathed but that was exactly what Annelotte had done. She'd gotten back up as quickly as she'd been knocked down, she even wore a cold expression that seemed to express 'so what if it was a great snowfiend? Even the great mountain giants wouldn't be able to so much as scratch me' as she chatted with her companion. It only seemed to cement the silent fear he had of hear.
In retrospect, he even felt his past actions had been rather rash. He shouldn't have offended the two without first understanding their background. Fortunately, their conflict didn't escalate too far. He had also considered backstabbing the two when they were off guard. But he had a feeling that, apart from worrying about the threat Annelotte posed, even if he did manage to luck out and succeed, he might end up being pursued in the future. He definitely didn't take the two to be normal mercenaries. Given the rare magical genius Annelotte had displayed, he would be in for misfortune if she had a strong supporter. When he realized this, he tried to mend their relationship in hopes that the two wouldn't keep their grudge in mind.
"Alright, it doesn't sound bad. I didn't think a fellow like you could act fairly," jabbed Leguna as he nodded.
Given Daver's group had helped out in battle and chose to split the spoils fairly, he completely forgot how the man'd tried to use a disintegration spell on him mere minutes earlier.
Annelotte, however, resumed her cold appearance. She wasn't the least bit concerned with the income the corpse would bring her; Kurdak's betting scheme had already quintupled her personal wealth.
"I believe we should have a good talk."
Daver ignored his attendants and walked towards the sweaty Leguna, who was busy working.
"Oh? About what?" Leguna struggled to suppress his feelings of disgust as he skinned the fiend.
He didn't expect Annelotte to give him a hand.
"First, I want to get to know your abilities. There were just two of you, but your fighting has made me respect you… which is the key to cooperation."
"What else?" asked Leguna, not bothering to turn around as he continued working on the thick fur.
"Why did you come here?"
Daver had surmised that someone as powerful as Annelotte wouldn't need that 'thing'.
"You should offer some information about yourself before you ask about someone else," mumbled Leguna, still facing the other direction.
After a moment's slight hesitation, Daver responded.
"Alright. I won't beat around the bush. Deep in mountains caverns is a crystalback snowlizard. I want its fiend core, but I have to admit that such a fiend is a little beyond our abilities. What I'm saying is… I want to ask for your aid."
"Crystalback snowlizard? What's that?" mumbled Leguna.
"A rather rare high-order fiend. It has traces of the blue dragons' bloodline. The fiend can be considered a treasure from head to toe, but what I need," Daver paused and gave the expressionless Annelotte a look, "...is its fiend core. I want to use it to raise my control of ice aspect magic."
"So that was what you were after," said Annelotte finally.
"Yes. I've reached a bottleneck in my study of magic. So, I need the fiend core to help me make a breakthrough. Alright, I've told you my purpose. Your turn. Why'd you come here? With Miss Annelotte's talent, there's no way you came for this, right?"
"We're here for millennium snowlotus. We don't need the thing you mentioned," replied Annelotte.
"Then all's good. Since we don't have any conflict of interest, there's no reason we shouldn't work together. What d'you think? Help me get a crystalback snowlizard. When I get its core, I'll help you look for a millennium snowlotus. We'll split the fiend ingredients we get along the way half-half. Naturally, excluding the fiend core I want, of course."
"You want us to help you get a dangerous fiend and only accompany us in return? Aren't you quite the bargainer?" retorted Annelotte coldly.
Daver smiled, not too bothered by her insult.
"You make sense. If I remember correctly, you came with two comrades, right? Since they're not here with you, you must've lost them, right? You should know how easy it is to get lost in such a complicated network of caves without a map. I have something you need."
Daver pointed at his head with his index finger.
"A map. I don't claim to know the caves like the back of my hand, but we won't get lost. If you help me get the fiend core, I won't just look for the millennium snowlotus with you, I'll also help you find your missing comrades. How about that?"
"A person chased to a dead end is claiming to be familiar with the caves? You think I'd believe that?"
Annelotte didn't hold back.
"Just an unfortunate coincidence. You should know I was stressed when I picked the route," countered Daver, troubled.
He furrowed his brow further at Annelotte's silence.
"It's already fair. Don't tell me you're not satisfied. Aren't you being a little too greedy?"
Annelotte didn't mind at all. She had just been probing Daver's bottom line. Now she'd achieved her purpose, she spoke.
"One condition. We have no obligation to put our lives on the line for your sake. If we're in danger of dying, we'll leave."
Daver grit his teeth.
"Deal! Just help me as best you can. There's no need to risk your lives."
"Also! Also!" grumbled Leguna.
"What else?" asked Daver, dissatisfied.
We've already agreed, what does this kid want?
"Have your men deal with cutting up the fiends next time. I... I can't stand it! Barf!"
Leguna couldn't hold it in any longer and began vomiting by himself in a corner. Annelotte said nothing. Her face had a hint of schadenfreude, though. After witnessing Leguna's condition, Daver began to wonder whether the deal he just made was worth it.
Even though some time had passed since he'd butchered the snowfiend, Leguna still emptied his bowels occasionally. The scene seemed burned into his mind. Now, every time he closed his eyes, the view would assault him, sending the food he'd eaten scurrying out of his stomach in a hurry.
"Annie, aren't you disgusted?" asked he.
The Annelotte he knew was someone who hadn't seen blood, so he was a little unnerved by how calm she was.
"I try not to look," replied she casually.
"Miss Annelotte naturally shouldn't have to. How can the filthy sight of rot enter the eyes of someone as beautiful as her? That's nothing short of blasphemous!" began Daver all over again.
"You flatter me," said Annelotte, expressionless.
"I never flatter. I speak only the truth," said Daver with an elegant smile.
Apart from fighting in the past few hours, he had stuck to the girl in an attempt to charm her maiden heart. Should a genius magus like her join his guild, there would be much to gain. He was also more than willing to spend the rest of his life with such a beauty. He thought his advances were progressing well. At least, she didn't show any look of disdain or derision. Leguna thought otherwise. He was well aware Annelotte only showed emotions rarely. Only he knew that only he could affect her emotions. So he didn't fuss with Daver's advances, holding the thought that Daver didn't understand the girl one bit in his mind pridefully.
As they were unable to tell the time of day in the caverns, the group didn't know how long they had been traveling under Daver's lead. Just as some were turning restless, they finally encountered the crystalback snowlizard Daver'd mentioned.
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