The group of seven didn’t even bother to clean up the mangled bodies littered all about the floor as they returned to the comfort of their remote wooden inn. The innkeeper and the barmaid witnessed how Shin quickly displaced thirteen opponents and began to stray far away. They would take small peeks at the group, but neither of them actually dared to move forward with a question. They may be uneducated, but they weren’t dumb. Since Shin was that powerful, there was no way for them to protect the inn if he really wanted to destroy it. Furthermore, it didn’t seem like he was out to make any further troubles for them. Thus, they remained silent on the issue as the group sat down with the two ladies that had travelled this far to meet them.
“Once again, I’m sorry for all the troubles that I’ve caused! Please, punish me as you see fit!” Natalie never once met the eye-levels of the seven young heroes. She was still in immense remorse after falling for Winfred’s trick. Though Shin had handled the danger expertly, Natalie had still brought a plague into the peaceful lives of her benefactors, and she felt that she needed to be punished accordingly.
“We have confirmed that you have no ill intent. We understand that you were tricked as well.” Emma smiled and moved from her side of the sofa to Natalie and Latina’s. Placing her hands on top of the shivering middle-aged woman, the peace-loving young girl became an angel in the Moon Mercenaries eyes as she wiped off Natalie’s tears with her own silken handkerchief. “Don’t worry, we don’t blame you.”
“Thank you! Thank you!”
Latina watched over her aunt with warmth in her heart. The Young Heroes really lived up to their names. Even though Natalie was the one who led Winfred here, they didn’t reproach her and neither did they demand anything from her, although they had every right to.
‘If it’s them, maybe…’ Latina thought about her one true wish. It was difficult to accomplish since she had no other kin in the world, but if it were these noble heroes, perhaps she didn’t need to wish upon a star every night.
‘But I can’t just demand this from them… I must have something to offer them. If I can do something for them, perhaps then they would listen to my request.’ Latina pondered on what she could possibly offer the young heroes. If they owed her a debt, there was a higher likelihood that Shin and the others would agree to help her. Alas, what could the young mercenary possibly offer these valiant paladins? Wealth? They had plenty of that. Power? They were much stronger than the majority of Huuring City. There was almost nothing that Latina could offer them! Unless…
“So, Lady Natalie. Do you have any other recommendations? Preferably someone that wouldn’t try to rape us in our sleep?” Shin asked the crucial question. No matter how they disliked the city, they still needed a guide to the Crypt of the First Men. Although they had a general sense of where the area was, without a proper escort to show them the way, their mission would become at least ten times more challenging.
“T-That…” Natalie’s eyes shuffled left and right, uneasy that her answer would only serve to disappoint her benefactors even further. “I’m sorry… Winfred was by far the leading guide to the Estrella Region. He had brought countless expeditions for archaeologists hoping to visit the site, and there’s no one equal to him in expertise when it comes to that plot of land. Please give me some time to ask around, I’m sure to find someone for you!”
‘Estrella Region?!’ Latina’s stubby ears jerked at the familiar name. Her eyes widened as her face beamed out in joy. She had finally found her golden ticket!
“H-Heroes… M-May I suggest something?!” The twelve-year-old barely held her own when she attempted to talk to Shin and the others.
“Hmmm? What is it?” Being the kindest one out of them all, as well as the only one with a maternal-like look, Emma stroked Latina on her head to quell her nerves. Oddly enough, the young brown-haired girl really had her tone simmered down after that godly touch.
“I’m… I’m from the Estrella Region! Before I became a mercenary, I lived in a small village in the west of the region. I-I may be inexperienced, but my father had taught me how to move around the region when he taught me how to hunt! I can be your guide!”
“You?” The group collectively looked at the petite little girl, who was barely strong enough to fully pull her bowstring. It was weird that a young maiden like her was even out doing the rough work of a mercenary. “Are you sure that you can lead us to the Crypt of the First Men.”
“I… Don’t know what that means…” The girl’s face immediately flushed red while pouting out in embarrassment. It wasn’t that she wanted to wait until the last moment to reveal that she was from the Estrella Region, Latina just wasn’t able to follow the conversation since the group used unfamiliar terms.
“Haha, don’t worry. The place we want to go… Hmmm, it’s like a graveyard for people who had died thousands of years ago?” Shin explained in simpler terms.
“AH!!! The Ancient Graveyard! Yes, my father used to tell me to stay away from that area!” Instantly remembering that wretched place where no children were allowed to venture near, the young girl hollered out in absolute glee as she lightly hopped in place. “I don’t have the knowledge of the interior, but I definitely know how to get there! Also, I’m familiar with all the remote places within the Estrella Region! If you need to move around the Ancient Graveyard, I can show you around.”
“Oh ho…” Elrin kicked her legs up in amusement. In all of their travels, there has never been a twelve-year-old girl that had such a passion for helping them in their mission. “Little girl, I’m sure there’s a price for your said services right?”
“H-How could I dare?!” The young mercenary tried to hide her agitation, but that slight hesitation in her speech had given it all away. Bearing the full brunt of the brilliant, teasing smiles that the seven young heroes had, Latina finally looked away to rub out the redness in her cheeks. “B-B-But! I-If I guide you to and back from the Estrella Region, could I ask for just one request? R-Really just one!”
“I see…” The white-haired merchant heir rubbed her chin in mischief. Latina’s appearance had come at the perfect time. Elrin had gotten bored of teasing the same reactions out of Emma and Ella over and over. Some fresh blood was needed to quell her impish desires. “What do you want? Money? A house? Or maybe a kiss from one of the Prince Charmings here?”
“Elrin! She’s a child!” Kanari slapped her bosom friend in angst. “Don’t be shy, just say it. We honour our word. If you indeed guide us to the right place, we’ll reward you accordingly.”
“Hah…” Latina heaved a sigh of relief. The seven young heroes were precisely as trustworthy as she first thought. Clenching her fists firmly on her ragged pants, the girl held back the tears that had fallen so many times before. Latina swore that she would be strong, she swore that she would become the world’s greatest mercenary. This was just the beginning of her journey. Latina couldn’t falter now.
“I… Just want to find my father. That’s it. If you can find him, that’s good. If you can’t, it’s fine.”
“He left you?” Shin asked.
“I… Don’t know.” Latina shook her head. “It has been a long time since I last met him. He only stayed home for about three months a year and usually returns on my birthday month to stay home and teach me about the world before he left for his job. However, on my ninth birthday, he never came back.” Latina bit down on her lips to prevent the tears from dropping again.
“I don’t know what happened to him. I don’t know whether he’s alive or dead. I don’t know whether he had gotten sick of me since my mother died, or whether he has a family outside or not.” Looking up at the seven heroes, with a stare that would put any brave warrior’s to shame, Latina showed her resolve through her words. “But I want to know. No, I need to know. That way…”
Though she wasn’t articulate enough to express herself, the words that Latina wanted to convey had reached the hearts of all who were present.
‘She just wants closure, huh?’ Shin sighed in his heart. For the next chapter to begin, one had to finish the previous one. Judging from her sooted face and roughened hands that would match that of a sailor’s, Shin could tell that life has been harsh to the young girl. Latina must have faced countless hardships to get to this point, and she lacked the luxuries that Shin and the rest had grown up in. If not for the Moon Mercenaries, perhaps she would be begging for scraps like the next beggar.
“Alright.” The leader of the group stood up and took two steps towards the young girl, who was busy trying to stop her tears. For a moment there, Latina took two steps back in fright. She had seen how powerful Shin was and how easy it would be to kill her. Nonetheless, after a slight pause, the girl collected herself and raised her eyes to look up at the 1.8 meters tall, suave young man.
“We accept your proposal. You bring us to the Crypt of the First Men, and we’ll find your father. If he’s alive, we’ll bring him right here to you. If he’s dead, we’ll take you to his burial grounds. I promise you!” Shin offered a handshake to Latina.
“Thank you, young heroes… Thank you!!!” Words couldn’t express how delighted Latina was. Finally unable to control the dam, the young girl sobbed out everything that she was holding back as she embraced the warm palms of Shin’s. Natalie gave out a radiant smile from the side as a tear fell out from the corner of her eye. She had seen Latina suffer day and night over the disappearance of her father. Finally, there was a ray of light at the end of the tunnel for the young girl.
“So, do you want to describe how your father looks like? I can send people out to look for him immediately if you want to.”
“That can’t be done, young hero.” Natalie’s hoarse voice halted Latina from continuing any further. “The Mercenary’s Code states that a job should only be paid once it’s completed or at the very least partially completed. If you find Latina’s father without confirming that she will indeed take you to the Crypt of the First Men, that will go against our code.”
“That’s right! Young hero, I can’t accept payment without completing the job! If not my mercenary’s licence would be revoked and I won’t be able to take on commissions anymore!” Latina interjected as well. While Huuring City was quite a lawless place, there wasn’t any need for Natalie and Latian to give others the ammunition to shoot them in the stomach. The Moon Mercenaries were one of the most honourable troops in the town, and their reputation of being clean was what brought them the big jobs. Just one smudge on the perfect record would discredit the entire troop altogether.
“Haha, fine then! I’ll wait till we return!” Shin laughed heartily. After all, there was no hurry. They still needed to wait for instructions to fly in from the Alliance Headquarters before they could make their moves.
“Also, since we’re partners now, please stop calling us young hero this, young hero that! We’re just normal cultivators like you two. Please, call us by our names. Mine’s Shin, by the way.”
“A-Ah!” Taking hold of Shin’s hands once more, Latina blushed as she realised that she hadn’t even introduced herself to the group. “My name’s Latina! Pleased to be your acqertince?”
“A-Ah!!! I messed up again…”
“HAHAHAHA!!!” Merry laughter filled the warm and comfy lodge, bringing joy to the cold hearts of the seven youngsters from Imperius Academy. For the time being, they had accepted yet another party member.