Returning to York
In the following days, Leguna's party had joined Jaehart and the hunters on their hunts in Nightsong.
The reason they weren't in a rush to return to Starfall was mainly that they had injured Mikki. The hunting squad would probably get fewer catches than usual after losing their leader, so the four mercenaries decided they would make it up to them. Additionally, Kurdak was pondering whether they should return to Starfall since Annelotte had killed Farsi. Should word of this spread, they might have to face the Eye's wrath.
Whether Moonshadow would step up and interfere on Annelotte's behalf was unknown. Even if they did, the group couldn't truly rest assured. Nobody knew of what the arrogant and sadistic magi were capable. There was a good chance they would go after Leguna, an important developmental target for Moonshadow, as payback for Farsi's death. So they decided to stay near the border for a few days and only return to Starfall when they were certain nothing of the sort would happen.
Right now, they were on their way to York. After accepting Jaehart's invitation, the group decided to lay low by staying in the town for a few days.
"In the end, Balor still won this round," said Kurdak after a helpless sigh.
Now that Balor had revealed his identity, Leguna didn't keep everything about him to himself. The reason he didn't tell them earlier wasn't that he couldn't trust Vera and Kurdak. Instead, he didn't want Vera to worry too much. On the one hand was the youth who had spent more than two years fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with her in life-threatening situations, on the other was her own flesh and blood with whom she had grown up. That the two so dear to her were in such a fierce competition would no doubt cause her much pain.
"If he joined Farsi and managed to kill us back at the mining pit, his victory would've been secure. It should've been a flawless plan, but that expert's appearance was far out of any of our expectations. Even so, it doesn't mean Balor's failed completely. Farsi died by our hands. Even though we managed to escape with our lives, we crossed the Eye in the process. It's still a dead end. If he succeeded, everything would end there. Even though he didn't, he still managed to pit a strong enemy against Ley and weaken the Eye, which could be considered a contribution to Moonshadow and please your president. Hehe, that Balor kid is quite the schemer," Kurdak thought out loud.
Vera looked a little gloomy. Though she knew her brother's personality had become warped, hearing how he had become so adept at plotting to harm others made her feel quite uncomfortable. Kurdak glanced at Leguna and noticed he wasn't paying attention. He slapped the back of his head angrily.
"He almost killed you, you know! Why are you hesitating and dallying? How forgiving are you, actually?"
Leguna rubbed his head dissatisfied.
"I never wanted to compete with him in the first place. What choice do I have if he keeps on coming at me like this? Must I come up with a plot to screw him to death as well? Ultimately, he's still Sis's younger brother... Also, I've been thinking hard about other ways to resolve this," muttered he, head lowered.
Leguna's last sentence was so soft the other three didn't hear it, nor notice the faint glow that flashed across his eyes as he said it.
Do I have no choice but to smash you to the ground? If that's the case, then I will.
York hadn't changed much in the two years since they last visited. The group mingled with the hunting squad, so they didn't attract the townsfolk's attention like they did on their last visit. Jaehart's house was near the center of the town. It was a busy place as the largest market in York was only a few paces away. The four never thought a rookie hunter could actually own a two-story house in the center of town. The kid's explanation was that his father used to be a really famous hunter and he left them quite the estate.
He was the only person left to support the family after his parents' death. His impetus and stubborn personality kept most from trying to take advantage of them but he couldn't support his family with his income alone. He was forced to steal or sell the furniture to make a living. His situation had gradually improved since he became a hunter, however. At the very least, he and his two sisters didn't have to worry about food and clothes anymore.
The four were quite surprised when they set foot in his home. They expected the three parentless children would turn the house into a horrible mess. What they ought to have seen was a pigsty, but the place was quite clean. The wooden floors were polished to a mirror sheen; the walls were snow white; the cloth couch looked a little old but it was extremely clean and appeared to have been washed regularly.
"How is it? Pretty decent, right?" asked Jaehart gleefully.
This was all thanks to his concerted efforts. Being able to show others the fruits of his labor put a proud smile on the youth's face.
"Not bad... Two years ago you looked no different from a feral child. I didn't think you'd not only dress more like a human, but also keep your house clean. I bet it ain't easy," commented Vera.
Jaehart laughed dryly.
"Back then, I had just started to live on my own. I still hadn't learned to take care of myself. That's no longer the case now, though."
He turned to a room and shouted, "Minnie, Innilis, I'm back! Come out, we have guests!"
Two sets of loud footsteps echoed in the house as two cute, lively, doll-like girls ran down the stairs. Both had blonde hair and emerald-green eyes. Perhaps because of the hardship they had had to deal with, the two were rather petite, they stood up to Leguna's chest - petite as he was already. They appeared around eight or nine. While they wore old clothes patched all over, they looked extremely clean and well-kept. It seemed that while Jaehart was out working, the two girls kept the house in pristine condition.
"Jaehart! You're back!"
The two girls were really excited about Jaehart's return.
"Yes, I'm back. I managed to get quite a few beasts this time. We have enough silvers for half a month," said he, shaking the money pouch in his hand.
The hunting squad was in a cooperative relationship with quite a few shops in the town, so it didn't take long to cash the catch. Jaehart passed the money to Minnie, whom appeared the slightly older of the two, before introducing them to the group.
"They're my friends. They're incredibly strong mercenaries."
"Nice to meet you," greeted the two timidly.
They were cute little girls no older than twelve, an age when they were at their most active and cutest. Their bashful expressions only made them all the more lovable. Vera stroked the two's cheeks with a bright smile.
"Oh my, what wonderful little ladies you are. I knew Jaehart looked better than average, but I didn't think he'd have such cute little sisters."
"Should I take it as a compliment, Sis Vera?" muttered Jaehart awkwardly.
While he wasn't as fair as Leguna, he couldn't be considered ugly. At the very least, he looked much better than Kurdak, hence Vera's 'better than average' comment.
"Well, you should since you have such wonderful little sisters," she snapped, before she turned to the two girls again, "Here, Sis has some candy for you."
It was only now that Leguna realized why Vera wanted to buy some candy earlier when they were going through town. She was going to gift them to Jaehart's sisters. He couldn't help but notice how sensible Vera could be at times.
The two girls clearly didn't get treats often. They absolutely loved the candy and all trace of fear and alertness they had for the four vanished without a trace. Less than an hour later the girls had warmed up to Vera and started playing with her wholeheartedly.
While Annelotte was a cold person in general, she did have a soft spot for the two. Though she didn't laugh and play around like Vera, she would occasionally unleash a showy spell or two to humor and awe the kids.
"It seems you like children quite a lot. I thought you disliked anything noisy," commented Leguna sneakily as he approached.
Annelotte glared at him coldly.
"They're noisy, but really cute. You... you're just as noisy but look shamelessly disgusting.
Leguna's expression contorted immediately. One might swear he had suddenly swallowed a fly.
The two girls prepared dinner soon. Annelotte and Vera offered to help, but Jaehart insisted they let the girl do their thing.
"You're our guests, you must let us host you properly. How can we make our guests work? Don't worry. Minnie and Innilis are young, but great cooks. I'm sure the stuff they make will make your mouths water!" assured Jaehart as he thumped his chest proudly.
To serve the mercenaries well, he had Innilis go to town and buy a few kilograms of high-quality beef. The two girls cheered when they heard they would be having meat and tried harder than usual when they prepared the meal.
The atmosphere in York was very peaceful when night fell. Most of the townsfolk had already returned to their houses. Steaming dinners awaited them.
As he looked outside the window at the peaceful town, Leguna found himself envying the townsfolk. They may be common and unremarkable, toiling away just to make a living, but their peaceful lives they shared with their families Leguna could only dream of. He was an orphan, and, for most of his life, he had had to dig through trash for food. Nobody cared about or worried about him. He eventually became a mercenary. He had obtained great power, power beyond these townsfolk's imagination, but his life was lived on the road, he constantly hovered between life and death. He had only experienced a peaceful life once or twice like today in all 17 of his years. The dull feeling of safety made him a little absent-minded.
"What do you think about settling down here and living like this?"
"Are you crazy? Do you think Balor will let you off the hook so easily?" asked Kurdak.
"You have a point," Leguna smiled bitterly, "Let's at least stay here for a few more days before we leave.
Kurdak stared at him momentarily before he nodded.