They packed up quickly with Jaehart's help. They went to the hunter's camp under the youth's lead. A dozen people were chatting away merrily around the bonfire there. Quite a few held wine jars in their hands and appeared to be various degrees of drunk.
As a professional mercenary, Kurdak naturally knew the dangers of drinking during a mission. However, they were mere hunters hunting in the forest whilst also being hopeless alcoholics who couldn't live without the bottle. So, it wasn't all too surprising that they would drink on a hunt.
"Yo, Jaehart, you're back from your walk?" a daft-looking man warmly greeted as he offered Jaehart his wine jar.
Jaehart didn't refuse the drink. After taking two swigs and wiping his mouth dry, he answered.
"Ah, I met a few friends when I was taking a walk. They are..."
Another brawny-looking man spoke before he could finish.
"Are they here to join us? Jaehart, it's not like I want to criticize you, but how can you simply bring people into our group? Are they strong enough?"
"Well, Leader Mikki, they are..."
Though Jaehart tried to explain, Mikki waved and interrupted.
"Alright, let me give them a good look myself."
Mikki stood up and stumbled in front of Kurdak. He had clearly had more than just a few sips. Kurdak, who stood about two meters away from him, could smell wafts of alcohol emanating from him. Though Mikki looked arrogant and stuck-up, he tried to act friendly around him for Jaehart's sake. He nodded and introduced himself.
"Good day, friend. I am Kurdak, a..."
Mikki looked at the man half a head taller than him and shook his head.
"Kid, just having muscle isn't enough in our line of work. What you really need is impetus! What's your impetus stratum? I am at the 7th stratum, you know... I even used to work at Starfall as a mercenary! But those rough days are behind me; I got sick of it. That's why I'm out here hunting with these greenhorns."
Mikki checked Kurdak one more time.
"You have a good build, but not a lot of impetus. Well, how about this... This sword of yours looks pretty good. Give it to me and I'll let you join."
Kurdak's eyelid twitched, but he forced himself to remain smiling without saying anything else.
"Kid, this sword is wasted in your hand. Just think about it. Your days will be much better if you join up with me."
Mikki wasn't impatient about it, as if he was really confident in the conditions he offered. He eyed Kurdak's two-handed sword greedily once more before turning to observe Leguna.
Leguna felt there was something he needed to make clear.
"You're no good!" Mikki said coldly "You're so slender and don't even have any impetus. You're not fit to be in this line of work. Go back home."
Leguna felt a vein on his forehead pop.
Why am I always the one people look down on?
“Oh, little lady, why are you interested in becoming a hunter? What would we do if your pretty self gets injured?"
Mikki's eyes shone with jealousy and desire. He checked out Annelotte from top to bottom with his disgusting gaze before he nodded.
"Not bad. Your magus outfit is just in line with my tastes. Follow me in the future and be my partner. I will make sure you're well fed and cared for. So it's decided."
Mikki didn't even sound like he was going to negotiate. The girl in front of him was ten thousand times more attractive to him than Kurdak's two-handed sword. Mikki didn't want to overstep his bounds in consideration for Jaehart's face before, but now… When he saw Annelotte, his desires forced him to impatiently yearn for her. He couldn't hold back.
As Mikki spoke, he stretched his hand towards Annelotte's face.
Such smooth, snow-white skin. I bet her face will feel smoother to the touch than a boiled egg...
However, his hand was stopped halfway. A thin, yet forceful hand gripped his wrist like a set of pliers, stopping him from moving altogether.
"Why don't you get a hold of the situation before you go running your mouth?" hissed Leguna furrow-browed.
He had tried to endure being looked down upon for no reason. After all, it was hardly uncommon. But this bastard actually dared to stretch his hands to Annelotte like it was the most natural thing. He was not willing to tolerate it. Though he knew the man wasn't anywhere near strong enough to cause Annelotte any trouble, his temper soared when he saw the arrogant expression on his face. He lashed out without even thinking about it.
"What do you think you're up to?" glared Mikki.
The youth's strength surprised him somewhat, but it didn't do much beyond that. He was certain a brat such a brat couldn't possibly fight a near mid-order fighter like him. Leguna's expression was a little unstable. But upon considering Jaehart's position, he decided not to cause any trouble. He loosened his grip on the man.
"I wasn't going to do anything. It seems we aren't really welcome here, so please permit us to leave."
Leguna nodded to Jaehart before turning away.
But Mikki snarked coldly.
"You think you can come and go as you please? I'll let the two men leave. The women will stay with us and spend the night with me. If they satisfy me, I'll let them leave tomorrow."
Leguna stopped in his tracks. His head twisted on his shoulders slowly, a small slit of a smile on his face.
"Then you ought to ask for our permission first..."
Mikki drew his blade and posed in a manner he thought domineering.
"Then I believe this blade of mine won't be in a good mood today... and when it isn't happy, it will crave for blood..."
Leguna sighed and completely ignored the man glaring at him poisonously. Instead, he turned to Jaehart and asked.
"How long have you worked for this bastard?"
"About a year..." mumbled the boy.
"You crazy brat, I'll have your arm!"
Mikki was enraged at how the brat had ignored him. He rushed over with his blade with the intent of venting his anger by cutting the kid's arm off.
"It must've been hard for you to tolerate someone like this for a year..." said Leguna exasperatedly.
The next moment, his figure blurred. He easily sidestepped the man's slash and countered with a harsh slap to his face, sending him spinning two and a half times through the air. It was as if he had just performed one of the hardest diving maneuvers ever, one that filled even a diving coach with awe. His distasteful face crashed into the ground.
Kurdak stepped on the man's head calmly.
"We were holding back because we didn't want to cause trouble for Jaehart. So, don't overstep your bounds. Beating up an idiot like you is really embarrassing, you know."
Though he was defeated by Leguna in an instant, Mikki still didn't grasp the immense power difference between him and the group he opposed. The alcohol in his blood made his mind a little slow.
He yelled at the surrounding hunters.
"The heck're ye still doin' 'ere?! Come o'er 'ere an' ge' ri' of 'em! Anyone'o kills one o' 'em'll ge' a larger par' o' the spoils!"
Some of the hunters came forward foolishly. Only a few knew fear under the influence of alcohol. They drew their weapons and looked at the group with greedy eyes. When their gazes turned to the two women, their expressions lusted.
"They're mercenaries! Mercenaries from Starfall! They just came back from the wild flatlands!" cried Jaehart when he realized things were going south. He wasn't worried about his friend's safety, but his companions'. After all, he had still spent a year in their company. Sentimentality held him back from allowing them to foolishly rush to their deaths.
Jaehart's words made a few grow somewhat sober. When those that did inspected the group and noticed the quality of their equipment, the calm with which they faced their enemy, and the Association badges verifying their identities, they broke out in a cold sweat. They had completely ignored these signs when they were drunk but now they could not ignore them. If not for Jaehart's warning, they would've charged and...
Clink clank! All the hunters anxiously dropped their weapons.
Kurdak couldn't be bothered to deal with them. He glanced at them coldly before turning his gaze Mikki, still beneath his foot.
"Kid, you say you worked as a mercenary before? Someone like you? You're truly an embarrassment to the Association. Alright, I don't really care what goes on here. Just remember this: the name's Kurdak. If you want more trouble, feel free to come find me in Starfall. You better scram now!"
The moment he heard Kurdak's name, Mikki couldn't help but start. Kurdak and Cyranos had already earned quite the reputation while he was still a mercenary. He didn't think he'd actually bump into them in this fashion. He had definitely screwed up. He stood up wordlessly and silently went back to his tent.
Jaehart came over apologetically.
"I really didn't think it would turn out like this... You..."
"It's late, we'll set up camp here," said Kurdak as he waved nonchalantly.
He turned to the hunters.
"Alright fellas, what happened just now's a thing of the past. Do you have some wine? Gimme two jars! I've been craving some since I smelt it earlier!"
The hunters broke into a hearty laugh. They had long gotten sick of Mikki's arrogance. Since Kurdak still wanted to drink with them after showing Mikki his place, he was more than welcome.
"Ooooh! There's wine!" exclaimed Leguna excitedly, jar in hand.
But Annelotte's cold glare sent chills down his spine. He laughed dryly.
"I won't drink much, I promise!"
"I don't care how much you drink. But if you dare bug me later I'll turn you into an ice statue!"
She hated it when Leguna drank. He would always look for her to boast about random things. Leguna's face paled as he recalled the last few times he got drunk and bothered the girl, and how they all ended... He gulped. A fair share of the greed in his stare at the wine had left him.
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