The Kori Federation. The Outskirts of Hurring City. Four Years Later.
Chirp Chirp Chirp Chirp Chirp
The echoes of wild birds floated through the entire canyons while the pin-drop silence remained within the vast shrubbery. At this time in the season, the leaves were all dry this far up north, and the air was crisp. A perfect opportunity for an arsonist to wreak havoc and disturb the peace that dominated Huuring City. Fortunately for their inhabitants, there were regular patrols made to commissioned mercenaries hired to look out for danger.
Kusu Kusu Kusu
Crackling of leaves dominated the forest bed as heavy footsteps left their marks. Sensing danger, many of the feathery creatures rustled out of the trees, leaving behind hordes of feathers in their wake. Following the lights shone from the cracks in the canopy, the group of fifteen carelessly patrolled the area, as if they were here on an afternoon hike.
“Careful, Latina! Don’t hit your head on that branch I’d just passed!” A lanky man glanced over his shoulder and cautioned one of his subordinates. Why did he specifically call out that one person? The reason was quite simple actually.
“Sure thing, boss!” A chirpy high-pitched voice replied. Speeding through the forest floor as if she was lighter than a feather, a young petite girl, who was no more than 1.3 metres, wiped the sweat off her forehead using the cloth from her arm sleeves while holding a nocked arrow on a light bow.
The girl was definitely at the age where she should have been schooling, and yet, she was out in the open, patrolling the outskirts of the famed mercenary town, Huuring City. Her originally supple hands had begun to show blisters due to her continued usage of a bow, and the vibrant brown hair was unkempt and knotted up, entirely unlike a girl of her age.
“Are you tired? We can take a break if you want.” A middle-aged woman, who was dressed in full boar leather and lightweight clothes to help facilitate movement in a jungle, tapped Latina on her shoulders.
“No, I’m fine!” Cried the young girl. “We still have three more hours for the patrol! I can endure!”
“Haha! That’s the Spirit!” Another mercenary remarked. “She’s a fighter this one. What makes you think that a mere patrol mission would slow her down?”
“Gendry! She’s still a child!” The woman reminded her partner.
“A child that’s already a Spirit Practitioner!” Waving his fat arms, Gendry laughed heartily. “Worry not, there’s nothing to see in the woods anyway! We have been on patrol many times, and we had never seen a single soul before!”
“You do understand that the Alliance is at war with the Black Masks right? We can never be too careful!” The woman argued. “If the Black Masks started a fire in these woods during the dry season, won’t we have to evacuate the entire Huuring City?! It makes sense to take additional precautions!”
“Psshhh, Natalie… Don’t kid yourself. We’re only here to train the kid and get some money at the same time. Else, why would you take this low-ranked commission?”
“It’s still important work, Gendry!”
“Yeah, yeah.” Understanding that the discussion was going nowhere, the bulky man turned around and split off from the group.
“Wait, where are you going?!”
“To pee! What? You want to smell my cock?”
“Gendry… Language.” Latina may be a mercenary in training, but she was still a child. Hearing his subordinate mutter out such coarse language in front of her had forced the leader of the group to growl out.
“I know! Tsk… That girl really ruins everything.” Kicking on a nearby branch, the fatso stormed his way into a remote location out of sight so that he could relieve his business.
“Don’t mind him, Latina. He’s just muddle-headed since we didn’t get the commission we wanted.” The mercenary named Natalie crouched down and stroked the hair of her protege. “Remember, no matter how low the job, money is still money. The patrol commission is tedious and time-consuming, not to mention it requires quite a bit of stamina to hike through the woods for eight-hour shifts. However, it’s still the best paying commission for its rank. When you’re older and get to lead your own mercenary group, remember to take advantage of it.”
“Aunt Natalie… Why does the patrol mission pay so much?” Latina questioned.
“I can answer that.” The group leader turned back and took a seat on a nearby log. “Everyone take five. We have to wait for that bastard to come back anyway.”
“Hahaha.” Hearing their bosses orders, the mercenary group immediately dropped their bags and stretched out their fatigue. They had been hiking in a forest for five hours with minimal breaks after all.
“Now, where was I?”
“Uncle Gary, you were talking about why patrol mission paid that much!” Latina reminded the boss.
“Ah, right! Where to begin… I’m sure you know of the war between the Alliance and the Black Masks right?”
Latina nodded excitedly.
“Well, to call it a war would be a stretch. It’s more of a cat and mouse game where the cat carries all of the ammunition, and the mouse has to operate within the shadows. The Alliance feels that the Black Masks, as well as their leader, the Allfather, have to be destroyed at all costs. However, the Black Masks are a slippery bunch. Not only have they eluded capture for the entire four years, but they had also never given up more than ten men each time a successful raid was conducted. In the end, due to the extravagant cost, it took to maintain the resource flow of the Alliance, their central command was forced to slow down the operations.”
“They have given up on the war?” Latina’s chestnut-brown eyes brightened.
“Far from it.” Gary laughed. “They realised that they were approaching the situation all wrong. Sending military troops to fight an unseen enemy? Soldiers were meant to be fighting in a war, in open combat where the strongest prevailed. So, they shifted their focus from using armies to using small and mobile forces that had the power of a thousand knights, all compact into a dozen-strong unit.”
“Did it change anything?”
“Course it did! Their change of approach had increased the success rate of their operations increased from one percent to ten! What do you think?”
“If that’s the case, why haven’t the Black Masks been eradicated yet?!” Latina exclaimed.
“As I mentioned before, the Black Masks are a slippery bunch. The may have been driven to a corner, but everyone knows what cornered rats do… They become fiercer than any lions in existence.” Gary waved his finger, sighing.
“The Black Masks began to raze towns during the dry weather, to keep the Alliance busy. They destroyed dams during rainy weather. They kill innocent men and women in villages. Kidnap children of influential figures and execute them. Just everything an evil organisation would do, they imagined it into reality. The Black Masks are losing, and they know it. So they have to keep the Alliance at bay while they regrouped. Honestly, I don’t even know what their goals are for committing so many heinous deeds.”
Natalie added on with a weary expression. “That’s why these patrol missions are so important. They ensure that no Black Mask could ever set a major city ablaze. Hah… Why can’t Gendry understand? Always going for the ‘big’ job, not knowing that the biggest job is the one that we’re doing.”
Enlightened, Latina dropped her head. She had been a mercenary for less than a year. Thus far, she had only been doing low-levelled commissions that barely paid a dime. However, collecting herbs and helping others find their lost pet wasn’t enough to help Latina chase her real goal. Hence, with gritted teeth, she joined Gary’s mercenary troop and did the menial jobs that others didn’t want to.
‘If only the Black Masks didn’t exist…’ Latina held back her rage by clenching her fists and hiding her face.
“By the way, where’s Gendry? Does he really piss that lo-?”
“HEEEEELLLLPPP!!!” All of a sudden, a grievous yelp echoed through the forest, forcing the mercenary troop to immediately spring to their feet.
“That voice! Isn’t that Gendry?” Natalie cried.
“That idiot! Everyone, pick up your arms! Natalie, you stay with Latina and observe from a distance. If something bad happens, run back and report to the Guild!” Picking up his battle axe, Gary jumped forward with the rest of this men, hoping to save Gendry before it was too late.
Chasing down the footsteps of their comrade in peril, the mercenary troop soon travelled over twenty metres and saw a blob of fat lying on the ground as a dark-robed individual laid his feet over it. Gendry was rolling about in the mud that was mixed with yellow fluid, unaware that he was swimming in his pee. Begging and flailing his arms about, the poor mercenary begged for release, but that only served to intensify his assailant’s rage.
“Let go of him!” Gary barked. His trusted battle axe was raised up high in the air, thirsty for the fresh blood of the wretched Black Masks.
The Black Mask standing on top of Gendry didn’t move an inch. Raising the sharp end of his scepter, the black-robed man pierced through his victim’s throat, ending the helpless struggle of Gendry’s. Turning to his subordinates, the Black Mask revealed the green snake pattern in the middle of his mask.
“A Vaishya!” The most knowledgeable of the bunch, Natalie, instantly informed the rest. “Shit! It’s a Vaishya! Gary, we can’t deal with a Spirit Spectre!”
“Tsk… I know!” Gary’s Moon Mercenary troop was a small one. Let alone a Spirit Spectre, they only had five Rank 30 Spirit Adepts, of which only three of whom are present. If all fourteen of them pooled their might together, perhaps they may be able to push off the Vaishya, but from the shadows, five other Shudras made their existence known, alongside a small group of vicious Spirit Beasts and mindless Dalits.
Not only were they outclassed, but outnumbered as well. This was a fight that they were bound to lose.
Releasing out a flare of distress that was given to all patrol teams, Gary immediately made plans to run out of the forest. “Everyone retreat!”
Noticing that the intruders were about to leave, the Vaishya pointed his scepter at the mercenaries as a brilliant light shone from the depths of the gorgeous emerald at its tip. A crimson flame crept out of the scepter and created a circle of fire around the full-robed Vaishya. The orange tongues spread out as if the world was their turf and quickly incinerated a nearby dried-up tree. Now that they had been noticed, there was no need for secrecy anymore.
“Kill them all.”
The Shudras and Spirit Beast immediately leapt into action. To complete their mission, to please the Allfather, they had to eradicate the pests that were standing in their way.
“Tskkk! Natalie, take Latina and run! We’ll cover your tracks!” Gary hollered out. Summoning out his Spirit, the mercenary troop leader held his ground and hacked violently like a barbarian, hoping to create even the slightest modicum of space for the pair to retreat.
“Got it! Latina, run!” Since they were a reasonable distance away in the first place, Natalie and Latina managed to avoid the initial onslaught and began to speed away at rapid speeds.
“Hah… Hah…” Nonetheless, the mercenary troop had been hiking for more than five hours now. Their shirts were sticky with sweat, and their muscles were sore from the climbing they had done. It would be weird if they had ample amounts of stamina left.
“Latina, are you alright?!”
“Don’t worry! I can still run!” Ignoring the pain in her legs, Latina leapt from tree to tree. She had to live. Latina didn’t want to die just yet!
“ARGHHHH!!!” From a distance, the faint wails of agony echoed through the forest. One of the bear-type Spirit Beasts had lifted a comrade from the mercenary troop and hurled him straight into a tree, splitting his spine in half.
“Damn it!” Natalie cried out. Turning their heads over their shoulders, the pair could see the very same bear Spirit Beast charging at their location. If nothing were done, their fates would be similar to that of their fallen comrades.
“Latina, you run! I’ll cover you!” The middle-aged woman summoned out a sword and stopped running.
“Aunt Natalie!” The young twelve-year-old girl cried out. “I can’t just leave you!”
“You must! Go to safety! Reinforcements should be arriving soon!” Since they had released the flare, Huuring City would have immediately dispatched a response team. Natalie was betting on that force to save Latina’s life.
“GO!!!” Angered by the girl’s hesitance, Natalie kicked Latina on her bum, propelling her five metres forward. However, unbeknownst to Natalie, there was an unpleasant surprise waiting in ambush in that very same direction.
Yet another bear emerged from the bushes and charged straight at Latina. Its jaws wide open, the bear was looking forward to feast on the supple young flesh of the girl. With its superior mana and divinely sharp claws, there was no way for Latina to survive just one hit from the Spirit Beast.
“LATINA! NOOO!!!” Natalie wanted to rush forward to save Latina, but she was way too far. The claws from the beast was already a few centimetres away from the poor young girl, and the only thing that Natalie could do was to witness the girl she swore to protect, get mauled before her very eyes.
Natalie’s eyes didn’t leave Latina for a single moment. Thus, she didn’t notice the blurry white image speeding past her face and landing straight between the eyes of the terrifying bear. The life from the Spirit Beast’s eyes faded out of existence as it collapsed backwards, leaving Latina completely unharmed.
‘A-Ah…’ Pale as a sheet, the twelve-year-old girl shivered uncontrollably. She had just cheated death!
“Latina! Latina! Are you okay?!” Natalie jumped down and embraced the girl.
“Thank god!” Natalie buried the girl’s head deeper into her breasts. At the same time, she observed the white figure that sprung out of the deceased bear’s forehead.
‘An arrow? No… That’s an icicle?’ Observing the white crystalline projectile that made the bear seem like a unicorn, Natalie quickly deduced its owner’s identity. ‘An ice-elemental bow user? Was there such an existence in Huuring City?’
“Nice shot, Emma!” A youthful voice cheered from a distance. The leaves from the forest bed spiralled out of control as a figure moved towards them at tremendous speed. Even with Natalie’s Rank 33 cultivation, she couldn’t observe the man before he was standing right in front of her.
Draped in full-grey scholarly robes, the young man didn’t seem to be a native to the boorish Huuring City. The gorgeous azure eyes that glistened even under darkness reminded Natalie and Latina of the heavens above, while his well-groomed jet-black hair made him look like a Divine Protector sent to save the pair from peril.
Though his pants were pristine, the young man didn’t mind kneeling down in the mud to meet the eye level of the two ladies. With a brilliant smile, one of the likes that Latina would never forget, the man said:
“Sorry for being late. I’m Shin Iofiel. We’re here to save you.”