21st Century Archmage - Chapter 16

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Chapter 16 – Black Wyvern Mercenaries

“What kind of road is this?” I never expected a flat path like a highway, but the unending grasslands and low hills made me anxious.

“Maybe I took the wrong path?”

After duking it out with the lord, I got on my horse and rode off with no real direction. There was no reason for me to go to the castle anymore, so I just rode roughly towards the North. Before I knew it, the sun was setting but I hadn’t seen head or hair of another human being.

“This stupid world without a map or Google Maps. Won’t I just embarrass myself and become a missing child at this rate?”

According to the village chief, this place was the southern continent’s Dapis Kingdom. That’s why I went northward, but what greeted me was an empty wasteland.

“Will I have to completely camp out?” All I had for rations was the bag of bread on the horse’s back. “I don’t even have magic crystal dust, so I can’t deploy a magic circle…”

Countless magic circles came to mind. Alarm magic, defense magic, protection magic– there were plenty of magic circles necessary in the wild. But I lacked the crucially necessary magic crystal dust.

‘What’s the use of having money, if it’s no use at a time like this.’

In entrusting Jamir with the village, I had left him 40 thousand Gold; on top of that, I gave 4,500 Gold to the village chief to use in case of emergency. What was left was 10 thousand Gold. Since Jamir didn’t have so much on him at the time, he had given me a placard that I could exchange at some store at Rubis Castle. If I went to the store and gave my name, I could receive 10 thousand Gold in cash or in exchange for goods. But the problem was that I was now stuck in this wasteland without a single store selling popsicles. I suddenly longed for the 21st century, where you could just open your door and be greeted by 24/7 convenience stores and all sorts of stores.

“Oh, that is–!”

While I was yearning for my homeland, I saw smoke rising from afar.

“Oh, yay!”

My uneasy mood became better all at once. It was as if someone had passed over an Aquafina mineral water to a thirsty man.

“Run! Ronaldo!”

In the short time we’d spent together, I had already attached the name “Ronaldo” to my horse.

*Neigh!*

The completely relaxed Ronaldo gave a long neigh and advanced with great force. As he galloped, I eagerly hoped that the people who appeared would be kind guys who could give us a meal and a place to stay.

“Stop right there! If you come close, we’ll shoot!”

As we approached the place where smoke was steadily rising into the sky, I saw a score of carriages and a group of people, in addition to several mercenaries armed with bows, who halted my excited rush with their warning words.

‘So much for hospitality.’

I was just someone they met on the road, so I didn’t expect them to be totally happy to see me, but their idea of hospitality was to immediately point arrows at my face. It was no different from getting a gun leveled at you in Harlem, New York.

‘Ara? These guys are–?’

I was about 50 meters away, and from there, I could see that a few of the mercenaries who were pointing their fully drawn bows towards me had very familiar faces.

“Eh? Aren’t you that kid?”

“Aren’t you that brat with the big head from that village in the middle of nowhere?”

“Leader! Leader! Come over here!”

They recognized me too.

‘Aw shit, why’d it have to be these guys…’

It was the self-styled Black Wyvern third-rate mercenary group, which had guarded the Daron Merchants at the village.

“Hey! You kiddo with no manners! What are you doing, coming here without fear!”

“Puhaha! Ron, you better be careful tonight. The kiddo must’ve come for revenge.”

‘Haahh, this can only be called fate.’

The pot-bellied Ron wielding an axe came to the forefront and gave me a nice(?) welcome. Apparently the others hadn’t forgotten the events of that day, because they raucously made fun of him.

“What’s going on?” queried the mercenaries’ leader, having come after being called.

‘Ain’t it obvious? I’m clearly a homeless runaway delinquent!’

“Haha! How have you been, Leader? I’m dreaming big this time and would like to devote myself to the mercenary life. If you haven’t forgotten your promise from before, I’ll run this body of mine ragged for you.” 

“Devote? Haha! You’re a funny guy. Come here. It seems you’ve run away from the village; have you already eaten?”

‘It’s good for me if he makes that assumption.’ It put me at ease that no one knew I was a mage. I still didn’t know enough about this world. There probably wasn’t anyone who knew more in that regard than these mercenaries, who traveled the world.

“Thank you very much!”

Even while talking, I had ridden bit by bit closer to them, so now we were 20 meters away. The onlooking mercenaries lowered their bows, and eventually, I was standing next to the leader of the Black Wyvern Mercenaries.

“Did your parents give permission?” the Leader asked, clearly not knowing much about me.

‘Would your parents give the OK?’ The leader threw out such an obvious question.

“If you’re a man whose junk stands tall from the break of dawn, you should follow the path of a man rather than listening to your parents! Leader, didn’t you also say you ran away from home when you were 15 years old?” said the sweating Ron, his vulgar words cut short by panting breaths. 

“Indeed. Welcome. I’m the leader of the Black Wyverns, Heath.”

‘As expected of the leader, he’s got a bit of mana energy.’

Unlike the other mercenaries, who were like sturdy mountains, Leader Heath’s body gave off a slight scent of mana energy.

“My name is Kyre. I’ll be in your care from now on, Leader.”

“Alright! Kyre, let’s do well together,” said Heath, extending his hand for a shake.

“Leader Heath, what’s going on?”

The moment we were about to shake hands, a middle-aged robed man looking to be in his forties came towards us.

“Sir Hamer, a lad who wanted to join our mercenary group since a while ago came over, so we were just greeting him.”

“That young lad? Hoh, are you sure of his identity?”

The middle-aged man raked me from head to toe with his eyes, as if examining some goods. It seemed that he was the merchant who had hired the mercenaries.

“I’m sure of his identity. He’s a boy from Fiore Territory’s Luna Village.”

“I’m not getting a bad impression. Alright. As long as it doesn’t inconvenience the trip, it doesn’t matter to me.”

“Haha, please do not worry. Our Black Wyvern Mercenaries have a creed of honesty and sincerity.”

“…..”

The merchant Hamer seemed to be rendered speechless by Leader Heath’s words. He silently turned and returned to the bonfire where the other merchants were gathered.

‘Puhaha!’ Inside, I was dying with laughter, but I held it in.

It might not be for long, but I was in the mercenaries’ care for now. I couldn’t just burst out laughing here.

“Kiddo, what’s with the horse? It wasn’t a very wealthy village, but you managed to take such a good thing with you. When I left home, I dragged along two goats with me, but I guess kids these days have big balls.”

Looking at Ronaldo, Ron burst out in admiration while exposing me as a kid with big nuts.

‘Whether it’s here or Earth, there’s not much difference. I guess it’s tradition to take a lump sum with you when you run away from home…’ 

As the old sages said, anywhere inhabited by humans was the same– this naturally also applied to Kallian.

Just like that, I became a mercenary. After living as a farmer and then a fisherman, this was all to acquire new professional skills.

★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★

“Hah! As I pushed her down in the wheat fields, the moon was truly bright. If her hunter of a father had discovered us then, I would have died to an arrow of his, but I wasn’t scared. The fresh smell of wheat around us and the feeling of the woman trembling in my arms… Kyaa, how my heart raced…”

“A-and then what happened?”

“사람 속 터지게! 진도 좀 나가자고!”

“Talk faster, I’m on the edge of my seat here!”

‘Haah, these misters.’ It wasn’t even like they were watching porn, but even as they guarded the merchant carriages, wide-eyed, salivating mercenaries surrounded Ron as he bragged about his brightly shining past. The people were different, but for a moment, I thought I was back in one of the classrooms in South Korea. Even at Daehan Highschool, where only the cream of the crop was gathered, the boys would gather during every break to whisper stealthily about the world of sex. Whether it was my friends who exchanged porn or hentai through email or these shamelessly drooling mercenary dudes, there was really no difference.

“Alas, at that moment, Lycanthrope bastards attacked the village so I was only able to undress her halfway before I had to go fight. Argh! Those poopheaded shitty Lycanthropes!”

“W-was that the end? What about the girl in the wheat field?”

“Sob, I can’t tell the rest without some alcohol. It tears my heart to think about it even now! Uwahhh! My love, Sisnia!”

Ron apparently had sensitivity belying his size. His plushy folds trembled as he bellowed like a Siberian Brown Bear. 

“Ack, that stupid lass waited until my return. Only, it wasn’t me who came, but a Lycanthrope… and he… took Sisnia. Those wretches! Even though I already marked her all over with my spit! Kuhhh, the injustice! The injustice!”

“W-what? Is that how it ended?”

“Are you saying that this Sisnia woman was taken away from you by a Lycanthrope without even doing the deed with her?”

“The end of it is, that I received bloody training from the village militia chief in order to get revenge on the Lycanthropes, and then I went into the mountains to find her. After a while, I found them. But I shouldn’t have gone looking.”

“Why?”

Ron’s story was getting a bit strange. Strangely enough, the storyline made you want to know more. 

“Aiya, that girl with no loyalty or fidelity was making heart eyes at a Lycanthrope and was living well with babies by her side! Ughh! To forget this great Ron and become one of the Lycanthropes! At that shock, I escaped with two of the chief’s goats. And as you guys know… I became the invincible Ron I am today! Uhahahahahaha!”

‘He definitely has symptoms of schizophrenia. Tsk tsk.’

His tale was as unbelievable as the story about the moon rabbits running the mill on the moon being unable to repay their debts; loanshark rabbits came after them and were chased away with mortar and pestle to Mars. 

“Ron, you liar!”

“Haah, I’m the stupid one for getting fooled.”

The mercenaries got mad and turned away from Ron.

‘The mercenary work is easier than I thought, too.’

It was a boring job where you either rode a horse or walked in conjunction with the carriages. The danger and tension I imagined was nowhere to be found.

“How is it, not too bad, right?” asked Leader Heath as he came up to me.

‘It’s only my first day on the job, and you ask me that!’

Heath was already asking me what I thought even though I became a mercenary just last night and only spent half a day doing this. What did he expect from a kid he just scouted from a village in the boonies?

“It’s so-so. The drifting clouds are good, and the birds flying over there are good…”

“Right? Haha! I knew it. I knew you would be able to truly appreciate the romance of the mercenary life.”

‘What the heck is he trying to say?’

“Just suffer a bit under me. After living this tough and long road as a mercenary, one day, we too will become a top-grade mercenary group with Skyknights!”

‘A top-grade mercenary group with Skyknights!’ This tidbit made my ears perk right up.

“Can mercenaries also use wyverns?”

“Of course! I heard you can acquire them from the Mercenary Kingdom, Luvel. Even the cheapest one costs 200 thousand Gold in empire currency, so we just need to earn, earn, earn!”

‘200 thousand Gold? Isn’t that almost as much as most territories!’

According to Jamir, a small territory only sold among nobles cost between 300 to 500 thousand Gold. The price of a wyvern was similar in scale to that.

‘Do mercenary groups really make that much?’ I really couldn’t imagine a mercenary group making more than a thousand or so Gold in a single year, much less 200 thousand.

“Leader, how much does our Black Wyvern Mercenaries make in commission from an escort like this?”

“Commission? On an escort like this which takes one month, I get 30 Gold since I can use Aura Blade, and the others get 3 Gold a piece, for a little less than 100 Gold total. Why do you ask?”

‘100 Gold? With that, exactly how long do you need to save without eating or spending any of it?’ A rough calculation revealed that they would make 1,200 Gold in one year and 12,000 Gold in ten. They would have to earn for one hundred years to scrape together 120,000 Gold. ‘Are you joking me? Aren’t you taking me for a total fool who doesn’t know basic calculation! Argh!’

It would be way faster to just catch tuna or hunt demonic beasts in order to get the money for a wyvern. My faith completely dried up towards Heath and his men, who had created the mercenary group with a name as extraordinary as the Black Wyverns.

“Ha, haha! I was just curious. Skyknights seem to be truly amazing. To cost 200 thousand Gold a piece….”

“Of course! The biggest dream of all men on the continent is to become a Skyknight, after all! To be a flying knight of the azure sky! A warrior among warriors, wielding a longsword and standing atop a wyvern with its huge wings spread out and ruling over the skies and land! Doesn’t just the thought of it make your heart race?! Look over there! Those eagles flying in the sky!”

‘Write a novel, a novel!’

I didn’t pin him as the type, but it seemed the leader was slightly off in the head. Apparently, he was no different from the girthy, dense mercenaries who were playing footsie while following the escort.

‘A Skyknight…’

Even a mercenary group like this wanted to own a wyvern. Deep within my chest bloomed a burning desire to have one myself.

“Um, Leader.”

“Hm? What’s up, Kyre?”

“Can the average mage or knight stand up to a Skyknight?”

“What nonsense! You, have you ever heard of an Orc eating drugs to defeat an Ogre?”

“N-no.”

“Right? That phrase is as ridiculous as the one you just asked. How can a knight be a match for a Skyknight, who hurls Aura Spears from several kilometers up high? Even a mage wouldn’t be able to cover such a distance, and most mages have poor physical strength, so they would definitely become arrow pincushions and die to the magic spears controlled by a Skyknight’s will. In all of history, there isn’t a knight or mage who has taken down a Skyknight. Ah, to think of it, there’s actually just one person.”

“Really? A person who took down a Skyknight?”

I actually counted towards that, but that wasn’t something I could say. To think of it, it was a close victory won only because the lord underestimated my strength and came too close.

‘Who is this person who caught this tank in the sky?’ I became curious about the person’s name.

“He is a person who is still remembered in the annals of history… My grandma even told me that at one point, his name could make crying children stop crying.”

‘Wut? Was he scarier than the Chupacabra?’

That mage was apparently scarier than the monster that appeared in oldschool videos warning parents to choose media for their kids carefully.

“He was the gangster mage of the continent who disappeared a hundred years ago. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of him. There were rumors that mages and magic towers from the entire empire and all the kingdoms coordinated in order to kill him, a single person.”

‘Ara? A hundred years ago? Every mage? Isn’t this something I’ve heard before?’

Master had left the Kallian Continent about a hundred years ago. A strange feeling traveled up my spine.

“The one and only 8th Circle Archmage! He may have been a White Mage, but his notoriety surpassed any Necromancer and Black Mage around; the ruthless Golden-Eyed Reaper with a temper! His name was…”

“Aidal?” My master’s name fell involuntarily from my lips.

“Huh? So you did know. Yes, the Golden-Eyed Reaper Aidal was the only mage who could make mincemeat of a Skyknight in the sky.”

“Holy!”

I had resolved myself to not get surprised, but a cry of astonishment still escaped my lips after hearing about my master’s insane fame and notoriety, which exceeded that of even the most cruel and awful Black Mages.

‘Agh! It does make sense. Master Bumdalf is no righteous and honorable man!’

I had a brief list of Master’s sworn enemies. He had claimed that he could loiter in any kingdom and be showered with presents and met with courtesy anywhere, and that people were falling over themselves to offer him unlimited research funds.

His words couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“I never saw him myself, but if you listen to the songs sung even today about him by bards, Archamge Aidal’s tyranny was apparently very impressive. It’s said that even as a 100-year old man, he was extremely greedy for pretty girls and money. On top of that, his temperament was terribly vicious, so if he happened to hear someone calling him a bad mage, he would burn a completely fine magic tower and all the mages inside to a crisp with a single blow. The only mage to be considered more vicious than monsters or demons was none other than Aidal.”

‘If I say a name like Aidal in the future, I won’t be a person, but a frickin’ amoeba!’

Even now, Master Bumdalf’s notoriety was alive and well. There was no doubt he was treated like a Demon King on this continent.

“What an impressively evil mage.”

“Right? To be considered even more nasty than demons themselves… I heard the amount of money he used alone was equivalent to a country’s entire annual wage.”

‘Kek! Master, you are truly the top!’

His expenditures had been equivalent to a country’s entire wage for a year! He definitely nabbed all that money as polite donations from empires or kingdoms, so it couldn’t completely be called an evil deed. But it was enough for prideful mages to gather up and send Master on an interdimensional tourism trip, in any case.

“That aside, it seems like it takes a lot of skills to tame and ride a wyvern; is there a place where you can receive special training for that? Like a school for knights or something.”

“School for knights? Of course. Skyknights determine a nation’s military power, so it’s a crucial matter regulated by national law. Every nation has its own Skyknight school.”

“It’s probably not easy to get in, right?”

“Of course not! To raise a single Skyknight takes a ridiculous amount of money, and the military force of a single wyvern is equivalent to that of an entire territory, so if someone were to take their wyvern and defect to an enemy country, it would deal a huge blow to the nation’s fighting force. To prevent such a disaster, only nobles with titles and their progeny are allowed to enroll. It seems you don’t know, but households tied to defecting wyvern riders receive the punishment for traitors.”

‘It’s that bad?’ Of course, in the past, household histories had been examined in Korea as well if you wanted to enroll in military academy. But it wasn’t to this degree. ‘Seems it won’t be easy without becoming a noble first?’ 

I wanted to become a Skyknight and ride a cool wyvern in the sky.

‘I really wanna fly over the sea a moonlit night with Aramis.’ Of course, I had an important mission in mind.

“Is there no easier way to become a Skyknight?”

“Easy way? I told you, didn’t I? Earn 200 thousand Gold and acquire one from Mercenary Kingdom Luves…”

‘So in the end, money is the problem, huh…’

I really wanted to recover the paradise I had lost on Earth here on the Kallian Continent. That’s why Skyknights held a special meaning for me. Apparently, the military prowess of a nation wasn’t determined by the number of soldiers you had, but how many Skyknights you could mobilize. 

“Ah! There is one other way.”

“Another way?”

“It’s not completely impossible to become a Skyknight without being a noble.”

“How?”

‘This old guy, isn’t he pretty good at teasing others?’

Leader Heath had a surprising gift of gab that could frustrate you to no end.

“You can enroll in the Skyknight academy if you’re a 4th Circle mage or a knight capable of Aura Blade under the age of 30.”

‘Huh? Isn’t that exactly me!’

As expected, it was a universal truth that people with skills would receive their due worth no matter where they went.

“Only, they have to graduate from regular knight school first and receive a title.”

‘A title from regular knight school?’ There sure were a lot of conditions to become a Skyknight with impressive fighting force.

“But do wyverns all look the same?”

“Huhu, your country bumpkin is really showing now. Of course they’re different. What’s the name of our mercenary group?”

“Black Wyvern Mercenaries.”

“Exactly! Just like how people have different levels of ability, wyverns have different characteristics according to their breed. I know this because I looked into it with the intent to acquire one, but there are about five breeds, and among them, the strongest are the ones owned by the Bajran Empire’s Royal Guards, black wyverns. From what I’ve heard from people who have seen them, they’ve got muscular, huge black wings and black eyes, claws like steel, and even the ability to breathe fire. They’re apparently so powerful that they can even be called ‘Little Dragons.’ That’s why I decided to name our mercenary group the ‘Black Wyverns.’”

‘Black Wyvern! Sounds pretty good, huh?’

If I was going to ride a car, it was better to get something big and safe with a powerful engine.

“They’re probably not easy to get, right?”

“Of course not. The 40 or so black wyverns are treated almost like royalty and live in the royal palace. Not only that, but the symbol of the Bajran Empire is the black wyvern, you know. There’s no wonder they’re almost worshipped there.”

‘Hoo, there’s still so much I have to learn.’

Besides the types of wyverns, I didn’t even know what empires or kingdoms were on the empire. I had my work cut out for me in respect to things I had to learn.

“Leader.”

“What’s up, why are you looking at me with misty eyes?”

“Please teach me many things in the future! I have never met a person as strong and smart as you! I really respect you, Leader!”

“Oh! So now you see my greatness. Alright, do your best. I’ll push you along with all my might.”

This third-rate mercenary group really couldn’t boast of “pushing” anything along, but Leader Heath grinned wide at my flattery.

‘I’ll live with the mercenaries for now and gather information. And then…’

The realm of the 8th Circle awaited me in the future. I was determined to construct my own country on Kallian Continent.

★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★

Amidst the crackling of the fire, I mooched a meal of soup boiled with dried jerky and hardtack for dinner.

The carriages, packed to the brim with the miscellaneous goods the Ayran Merchant Group sold, were arranged in a defensive formation around us on the plains.

‘These cheap-ass merchants.’

Even though we had arrived at a pretty big village, the merchants put out one excuse and another and camped out on the plains. If it were me, I would prefer to sleep while entrusting my safety to the village guards and its ramparts over these third-rate mercenaries. Thanks to the weather getting cooler in the last few days, the bonfire offered a precious warmth in the night. Ten or so mercenaries kept the night watch while the other mercs and the merchants occupied the bonfire and slept in leather sleeping bags.

‘They say it’s no good to sleep in dewdrops, but…’

Camping out still felt awkward. After roughly preparing a spot in the grass and receiving a weirdly-smelling sleeping bag, I was put into a dilemma. It was too chilly to just sleep without it, but going into it gave me the feeling that there were still pieces of meat sticking to the surface.

“Zzzzzz, zzzzzz….”

‘He sure is sleeping well.’

It didn’t suit his appearance, but Ron was a pretty chatty guy and even paid extra attention to me, saying it was fate. Boasting that he would pass down all the things he had learned during his mercenary days, he laid down next to me. Now he was wholeheartedly sleeping away, perhaps because of how much he had run his mouth today.

“Aren’t things pretty tense lately?”

“Yeah. A decade ago, there weren’t any wars so making a living wasn’t too tough, but…”

Unable to sleep, three Ayran merchants laid in my vicinity and chatted amongst themselves. 

“There’s a rumor that the Laviter Empire has been stockpiling supplies like mithril and iron ore for several years; the information comes from the Rocpella Merchant Group, the empire’s representative merchants, so it should be pretty credible. Have you heard?”

“I’ve heard that too. I heard that as a result, the countries bordering Laviter Empire are completely freaked out. Apparently they’re making long-term contracts with not just soldiers, but also decent mercenaries.”

“Sigh, those empire bastards. They’re already making a living, so they should just tend to their internal affairs– why start a war?!”

“You said it. If those Laviter guys move, Bajran won’t stay still either…”

“Haah! Everyone seems to be coming out of the shock from the continent-wide drought five years ago.” 

I heard some heavy information from the merchants.

‘So there are bully countries here too.’ Just like how there were a few countries waving their big sticks on Earth, there were countries doing that here as well.

“Oh right, did you hear that rumor?”

“What rumor?”

“This is something I heard from northern merchants a few days ago, but Havis Kingdom is taking Skyknight candidates on a large scale this time.”

“In Havis, you say? They’re flailing in order to live, huh.”

“Seriously. It’s unlucky that they happen to be squished in between huge empires, but they even share a border with those savage Temir… Tsk tsk, they’ve somehow managed to last well until now.”

“Havis Kingdom has already been around for 400 years, right?”

“They were once an empire, but after losing bits and pieces of their territory to warlike nations, now they’ve become like an old man on his last legs.”

“It’s a pity. I heard the princess of Havis is a real beauty.”

“Her name was Rosiathe, right?”

“That’s right! Rosiathe, Ice Flower of the North! It’s a shame, her appearance is supposed to be unforgettable once you’ve seen it.”

‘Rosiathe…’ While quietly listening, I heard a name that gave me a really good feeling. ‘An ancient country squeezed between giants… It’s just like Korea.’

This Havis Kingdom’s situation was like South Korea’s. China, Japan, Russia, and even the US were all antsy because they couldn’t catch us.

“Let’s go to sleep already. We’ll need a good night’s rest if we’re going to go through Orc Valley tomorrow.”

“Yeah. We’ll be lucky to be leaving with our arms intact if those damn Orcs show up like last time.”

A range of mountains could be seen not far from the campsite. Apparently, that was where Orc Valley was situated.

‘Haah, it sure is bright.’

The voices of the merchants dwindled, leaving only this quiet night where even the grassland insects seemed to be subdued. The moon hung huge and bright in the night sky, accompanied by the shining stars. Looking up, I felt a sense of sorrow.

‘Mom…’

Suddenly, I yearned for my mom’s embrace. There was a gaping hole that only my mother could fill.

On a night like this, even the wind felt cold.

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