The three started in shock when they felt a cold breeze rush to Vera's back that caused her to tremble uncontrollably. All of a sudden, a man of small stature clad in black leather armor appeared behind her.
Kurdak looked like he was about to say something, but before he could start, Cyranos reacted.
He leaped to the man after drawing his sword and yelled, "Vera, run!"
Vera forced herself to calm down and unsheathed the dagger on her thigh. She swept it behind her. Neither managed to touch the man in question.
The man merely smiled before he caught Cyranos's wrist with his right hand and twisted. The airborne Cyranos felt a wave of force assail him. By the time he regained consciousness, he was sitting on the chair like nothing had happened. The man had his hand lightly pushing against Vera's right shoulder. The felt a wave of force that stopped her from moving altogether.
A high-order fighter! thought both Vera and Cyranos in awe.
Suppressing the two so easily was definitely not something a mid-order warrior could accomplish.
"Please, calm down. I don't have any ill intentions," said the man, smiling.
"Mister Arikos here always likes to make his appearance in this distasteful way," said Kurdak with a displeased look.
"Alright, alright, I believe I should apologize," Arikos said as he got up slowly, "Mister Kurdak, would you care to introduce us?"
Kurdak closed the door Arikos had opened when no one noticed and sat back down in the chair with a sigh.
"Fine. This here is the member of Moonshadow Thieves I told you about, Mister Arikos. He's also the person who came to us with the request. These two are my partners, Vera and Cyranos. So, what have you come here for?"
Arikos took out a large sack from behind his back, seemingly out of thin air, and tossed it onto the table before.
"This is 300 gold coins as we agreed. You can count it if you like."
"There's no need," Kurdak said with a wave of his hand, "I believe Moonshadow will not swindle us over a sum like this. I do, however, have something I'd like to ask."
"Even though we mercenaries usually don't ask the purpose of our missions, your request is a little bit of an exception because of how weird it is. We don't need you to tell us about the details, but I hope there's something you can tell us to ease our minds. Any explanation would definitely benefit both us, Leguna, and the one who made the request."
Even though Kurdak was intentionally vague, Arikos understood what he was trying to communicate.
"I understand," he smiled, "Don't worry. My request... can be considered a training program for a prospective new member of the guild. I can assure you he doesn't hold any ill intentions towards either you or anybody else. I wonder if this is enough to reassure you?"
"It's enough," Kurdak said with a relieved tone, prodding the sack on the table, "Since that's the case, I believe you should take the pay for the request back."
"Oh? What do you mean?"
"Nothing, really," Kurdak answered, "I really like this kid. I really want to be his friend. I don't want to make this a monetary transaction. If I receive your money, I'm afraid my interactions with him in the future will be affected. Also, if word gets out that I saved someone for the sake of money, my reputation in Starfall will plummet. My reasoning is just that simple. But don't worry, even if I don't take your money, I'll allow Leguna to join you. I'd love to have him on the team, given how well he plays along with my messing around."
"Even if you don't want the money, what about your partners?" asked Arikos as he looked at Vera and Cyranos.
"There's no need for us to discuss this. I'm confident my partners are not the kind of people who would do that," said Kurdak as he looked at his partners confidently, who both nodded in response.
"Good! As expected of the mercenary party with the best reputation in Starfall! It seems choosing you was the right thing to do. However, I still have to ask you to take the money," said Arikos as he pushed the sack forward.
"What?" Kurdak exclaimed, furrowing his brow, "Do you think we're just putting up a front?"
"I don't doubt your sincerity at all, Mister Kurdak," Arikos explained, "I'm only looking out for Leguna, who came to this place without a single coin."
Kurdak shook his head.
"Mister Arikos, you're understating," he said seriously, "He was just a little bit short of being naked when we found him."
"Well... There's that," Arikos said with a weird look, "Basically, he's a poor kid. And if he's to join your party and become a mercenary, there's no doubt he'll need some equipment. This money is to be used for his initiation. Feel free to use what remains as you please, just consider it as Leguna treating you to a drink or something. Naturally, like before, please don't reveal any information about either me or the guild."
"What kind of lucky encounter did Leguna have?" Kurdak spouted, "Apart from eating, I really don't see how he's better from us in any way. Yet, he managed to get the attention of big guys like you... Will you be sending people to protect him in secret as well?"
Now it was Arikos' turn to shake his head.
"No. Your life as mercenaries will be the same as it has always been, we won't send anyone to follow or protect you. Don't be too careless when you choose your missions in the future, we won't have your back."
"Alright. I even thought we'd be getting secret bodyguards or something. Is there anything else? I'm sure you didn't just come here to give us the money."
"Naturally," Arikos said as he nodded, "The main reason I've come is the test you want to give Leguna."
"Sis, are you sure you're buying this for me? This costs a whole 50 gold coins!"
Even though the money spent wasn't his own, Leguna couldn't help but feel despair when he looked at the price tag. How Vera was acting also reminded him of the scene the previous morning. Right after he was woken by Kurdak, they began to plan what they ought to do for the rest of the day. Kurdak said he would head to the mercenary association to fill out the necessary paperwork to complete their mission. They also had to organize the spoils, such as the skin of the quickshadow drakes, which would be best sold quickly. Cyranos would be in charge of bringing all their weapons to the smithy for maintenance.
"Let's go, Leguna! We'll have the shop owner kneel before us and sing our praises!" Vera's speech and spiritedness sent shudders down the other three.
Seeing that the kid didn't quite understand what was going on, Kurdak secretly took him to a corner.
"Hey, that woman never pays attention to how much she spends. You need to be careful, kid," whispered he.
"You gave her 200 gold coins! She can't spend it all, can she?" asked Leguna as he looked at Vera, who was still cheering incessantly.
"You don't get what's going on at all!" said Kurdak, sending another wave of saliva onto Leguna's face.
Leguna rubbed his face expressionlessly.
"Boss, you really have to change the way you speak."
Kurdak didn't bother with his comment.
"The more gold that lass has, the faster she spends it. If you give her 20 gold coins, she'll use it in a week. If you give her 50, it'll be gone in a day. If it's a hundred, it'll be gone in half a day. If she has 200, it'll be all used up before she leaves the first shop!"
"What... the heck..."
Leguna was speechless. He really couldn't imagine how a person could spend 200 gold coins in a single shop. Was Vera going to buy the whole shop?
"Boss, don't let Sis bring me out. Perhaps you or Cyranos can do it instead?"
"Do you think I can stop her?" asked Kurdak, frowning.
Leguna turned to the excited woman.
"If even you can't, how am I supposed to stop her when she's in the zone?"
"You must no matter what! If you don't, she might end up pawning you at the shop for money to fuel her spending! I won't be able to ransom you back if she does!" barked Kurdak before he left in a hurry.
Leguna returned and looked at the money pouch dejectedly.
From the time they left the inn, he and Vera only visited two shops. They bought two adamantite daggers, a mithril longsword, six throwing knives, two grappling hooks, one 5-centimeter-long, fine-as-a-hair silver needle and a blow dart set at a weapons shop called 'Hammer of Flame'.
Afterwards, they headed to an equipment shop called 'Path of Survival' to buy a few smoke bombs, trap parts, two sets of tight-fitting leather armor, gloves, shoes, and a pair of bracers. Right now, Vera had her eyes on the cloak hung on the shop's wall.
"Come on, I'm not worried yet, so why are you?" Vera said as she looked at Leguna, who was armed to his teeth, with satisfaction.
She turned to the shop owner and said something that made Leguna lose his wits.
"Owner! Let me take a look at that cloak over there!"
Bracers are guards for the wrists and lower arms popular in and around the early 14th century in Europe. Today they are colloquially referred to as wrist guards.
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