Natin bowed his head before turning around.
“Ah- wait! I’m not finished speaking!”
Natin, who had stepped back, turned around and raised his head.
“There are about 30 people in total. I heard that half of them possess some form of combat power, and they’re roughly the same level as second-rate warriors. However, rumor has it that one of the warriors is so skilled and strong that he cannot be ignored. Many special warriors, including Narim of the Jane Clan, dueled with him and had their right arms cut off. They must be camping out in the open because they believe in his abilities. Keep this in mind while you conduct your operation.”
“One more thing!”
“As you go out, call the attendant and tell him to get rid of that!”
Natin shifted his gaze to where Norian’s chin gestured. There was a naked girl lying on the floor with her tongue sticking out. Her wide-open eyes were lifelessly looking up at the ceiling. Rigor mortis seemed to be settling in…
“She’s an unlucky bitch. Someone got to her first. He also roughed her up pretty badly. It must have been that rotten son of mine, Nordem,” Norian muttered.
Deep into the night.
San gathered the crew members together. The crew members looked at their captain’s face, which was illuminated by the bonfire’s light, with tense expressions. San’s voice rang quietly in the camp’s square.
“Our mission is to take our products to the city of Porto, sell them, and return back safely.”
“Unfortunately, there are two major problems. First, there are many enemies targeting us. Even now as I speak, they are encircling us. There are many of them, too. We’ve confirmed that three powerful enemy groups have been following us throughout our journey. They’ve been looking for a chance to plunder our cargo. Marquis Norian should know of our arrival, too. I think he’ll definitely move tonight. Therefore…”
San paused for a moment. Everyone’s eyes were on his mouth. San looked at Biyeon for a moment and then continued,
“Currently, not only is going back unsafe but there’s also no safe route to go back. Hence, even if any of you want to leave, I will not let you go.”
At first glance, fear seemed to spread throughout the crew members’ expressions. They heard Chief Priestess Dite’s dire words earlier in the day, but the moment when a possibility turned into a reality was always far more impactful.
Biyeon looked at the crew members with a cold expression and arms folded. She spoke the following words in a dry, matter-of-fact manner, “The second problem is that we don’t have the combat power to defeat our enemies. To put it bluntly, you’ll either be seriously injured or die. If that should happen, then our mission is likely to fail. So, the time has come for all of you to make a decision.”
The crew members turned their heads and watched San. They also knew the objective of the mission. It was to transport goods and convert them into money. However, nowhere did it state that the captains must take responsibility for the safety of the crew members. It wasn’t realistic to take care of the cargo and others at the same time.
That’s why many transport convoys employed powerful Awakened Warriors. It didn’t matter if the Count and the crew members had a trusting relationship… The main priority was always the cargo. The crew members felt cold air flowing across their backs and collectively shuddered. Biyeon’s voice continued in the backdrop of this icy atmosphere.
“You know, the two of us are not part of the Count’s estate. Therefore, there’s no reason to put our lives on the line. So, you have three choices.”
Biyeon stopped talking and looked around. Gulping sounds could be heard intermittently.
“One is to fulfill the original contract and be paid your contracted share. In this case, we aren’t responsible for your safety. It’s more realistic to let the weak die and replenish our numbers with more powerful warriors along the journey. Of course, the premise of this option is that you survive through tonight and tomorrow.”
The Count’s household members’ faces noticeably hardened. Next, San continued, “Second, before more powerful enemies emerge, we can negotiate with the right opponent and return back to the Essen estate with at least the cost of this excursion. However, in this case, it means our mission failed, so we won’t be able to see Count Essen again nor will we be properly compensated. This is not a feasible choice for me. Wouldn’t it be impossible for me to give up on the ‘rewards’ because of your ‘insignificant’ lives?”
Intermittently, he heard crewmates cough. Yekin and Yeria’s faces were especially hardened.
“The last and third choice is…” Biyeon said before stopping to increase the tension.
This was the last choice. Every crew member stared at Biyeon intently.
“We enter into a separate contract. Its contents are simple. Both of us ensure your safety. In return, you follow our words absolutely. I want you all to seriously consider the third option. I don’t think you all will be very helpful to the two of us, but…”
Biyeon blinked her eyes. People were still waiting for her words to continue.
“This is the last suggestion I’ll give. If you agree to the third option’s terms, you will no longer have total personal freedom. You will be following our orders without question. What do you think? Will you sign a contract with us?”
“Then, does that offer… mean we’ll become your slaves?” Cecil asked carefully. Biyeon avoided immediately answering his question. Instead, she looked at Cecil for a moment.
He was a seasoned bard in his 50’s. The bards of this era were people who told stories of the world. They were perhaps the intellectuals and historians of this era.
‘Was our proposal interpreted as enslavement in his worldview?’ Biyeon thought.
Biyeon then nodded.
“It’s similar. It’s no better treatment in the end, so yes,” Biyeon simply replied.
“Can you give us a minute?” Yekin asked.
“As you wish… however, I hope you don’t exceed an hour. I don’t want to hear from you all individually. The company commanders will bring forth their company’s decisions.”
“Will it work?” Biyeon asked San as the crew members scurried away and huddled in their company groups.
“We’ll have to wait and see. The more we live in this world, the more difficult and complex things seem to be. For instance… there’s no universal rule of law in this world. It’s a truly lawless society. The strong decide everything based on their will. There’s no judicial process, so even if I rob or kill people, there’s no punishment.”
“Yeah. I noticed that, too.”
“Policing outside the territory is simply impossible. The first person to see something essentially becomes the owner. Hunting people is considered a natural thing… if one’s caught, one becomes a slave. If one rebels, one is killed. This is… the situation makes one realize that everyone is a wolf, only seeking one’s own benefit. It seems like they use a system of clans to operate as police and education centers. They maintain a certain level of balance, but…”
San picked up a piece of wood and threw it towards the bonfire before continuing.
“I didn’t know that a world without law would be so bloody. I now realize why one needs a fair yet strong state power.”
Biyeon stared at the bonfire’s flames with her knees up.
“So, I think groups with armed forces, whether small or large, should be viewed as politically sovereign units. Conclusively, the nobles who rule the territory, the bandits, the large merchant guilds, and the individual clans should all be looked upon as small countries.”
With a bitter expression, San brushed the ashes off of his shoulder.
“That sounds right. In this world, no one can expect human rights without possessing power, and it’s useless to rely on noble spirit or goodwill. Even if we do something through a sense of goodwill, others will question that action. Just look at how we were treated as psychos at the end of the hunting event…”
“But… it won’t be easy for them to accept our offer. They’ll also have to be mindful about repercussions from the Count.”
“I think it’s an overwhelming demand, but… I think your idea of having them contract their lives with us is the best option. Let’s see their reactions. By the way, did the talk with Dite go well?”
“Dite gave the crew a few words in advance. It should have an effect because, technically, her words are from a god.”
"Good work. Anyway, obedience obtained by pressure sparkles for a moment but quickly dies out. Even though the process may be slower, thinking deeply and deciding for oneself is the best way to develop a strong organization. In particular, the war we have to fight will be based on guerrilla warfare. Each member of our side has to fight on their own. We can’t expect to obtain what we want if we leave things be.”
“It looks like their meeting is over.”
“Let’s see… will they be able to logically piece together what’s good for them?”
“Did you come to a decision?” San asked aloud.
“We have a few questions. Our decision may vary depending on the captain’s answers,” Yekin said first. San’s eyes shone.
“What are your questions?”
“We are Count Essen’s people. Also, I am his child. What would be your relationship with Count Essen if I entered into a contract with you two?”
“Is that the first question?”
“I will receive all your questions and answer them all at once. What’s the next question?”
“What territory will you inhabit? Will you take in our families as well?” This time, Uren, the commander of Group 2, asked.
“What is expected of us from the captains? What do you want from us specifically?” asked Laron, the representative in Group 3, the merchant group. He was a man with a pleasant personality.
Everyone’s eyes were focused on San. No matter what he said, they already knew that their lives were in his hands. It was only a decision of whether they would present their lives as collateral or rebel and find comfort in death…
“I will give you my answers. There seems to be some misunderstanding. The contract between you and us is a temporary contract. The contract period is from today until the day we complete the mission and return to the Count’s estate. When you return to the estate, all contracts will be terminated, and your rights and obligations will, of course, revert to Count Essen. This is the first and second questions’ answers. Does this fully answer your first two questions?”
San looked at Yekin and Yuren alternately. They had confused expressions.
Yekin and Yuren couldn’t speak. San’s response went far beyond the expectations that came out of their discussion. Ignoring their expressions, San continued, “This is the answer to the third question. We will have full control over you for the duration of the contract. Everything, including your life, wealth, freedom, and time! Failure to obey our orders will result in punishment.”
“During the term of the contract, you will train yourself under our guidance. We’ll have to fight countless people, and we will kill our enemies.”
“You’ll have to be willing to be struck on behalf of your colleagues, and you’ll have to jump into the flames of death for the survival of the group. Those who endanger their crewmates will never be forgiven, and those who doubt the intent of our command will lose everything. Those who betray the organization will envy the dead.”
San’s last declaration rang out and echoed in each crew member’s mind.
“In short, you’ll struggle and fight to the death. Therefore… I want you to willingly entrust your life to us. I swear on my honor that I will return in kind. I promise.”
The square fell quiet in the darkness once more.
They heard but couldn’t understand his words. Cecil carefully opened his mouth and spoke,
“Then… what will the captains get? I can’t understand how this benefits you both. According to your words, we will have received everything and maintained our lives, so there’s no reason for us not to sign and accept your contract.”
Cecil was confused. The main characters of his epic poem’s first draft were going to be depicted as wicked treasure hunters who acted based on their own greed. However, at this moment, the main characters’ personalities were radically transforming into unfamiliar heroes. Selfless heroes.
Thus, he was very curious about their intentions. In his ears, a rhyme lingered, describing the beginning of the epic’s heroic narrative, but his confused mind wanted confirmation.
“We become free,” Biyeon smiled and said.
“Did you say free?” Cecil asked again, thinking that he may have misheard her.
“We don’t kill people without wars. We’ll be awash in a river of blood from this point forward. If it’s all just for monetary gains, then it’ll be too much for Captain Yeon and me to continue on and endure,” San stated.