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 I Ask You #3

Indeed, Randolph's expression changed at the sight of the gold coins.

300 gold wasn't an amount which could be taken lightly. However, that huge number became much smaller once divided between 100 mercenaries. Even though it was significantly higher than other payments the Wandering Wolves had received, it wasn't worth risking their lives for two days.

"Let me hear the story."

Theodore's gaze sank at Randolph's ambiguous answer. "It is surprising. Is the pay lacking?"

"Not at all. 300 gold is enough. No, I'm afraid the situation will be a mess. So, I will listen to the story first."

It didn't matter if it was a high or low amount. Randolph ignored such meanings. He was a mercenary, so he knew their essence.

Mercenaries were people who would slander and kill a person for money or chase after a drake only to be killed. They accepted any dangerous request as long as there was money. That was the principle behind being a mercenary.

However, Randolph placed his instincts before those principles. "No matter how good the money is, I won't fight a losing battle. I will listen to your plan and then decide if I will accept this commission. It was foolish of you to reveal your wallet. Frankly speaking, I want to refuse the gold, but you wouldn't have brought out 300 gold without a plan." As the Wolf spoke, his eyes were gleaming.

'This person, he is a little strange to be a mercenary.'

If Theo hadn't brought out the 300 gold, then he wouldn't have even been able to sit at this negotiating table.

Randolph was different from common mercenaries. They didn't know how to calculate the odds and losses, only gauging the commission based on the reward. Since Randolph was a descendant searching for lost heirlooms, maybe he was the descendant of a great warrior.

However, from now on, Theo would be the one in charge of the conversation. "As you can see, holding on is unreasonable. At most, two or three days is the limit."

"It is as you said. The undead are too annoying." Randolph was also sick and tired of all this.

The undead had unlimited numbers and stamina, so it was an extreme disadvantage. This was why necromancers were targeted with a national campaign. They were vulnerable to powerful individuals but superior when causing mass casualties.

In fact, a warlock using infectious undead had once created a whole undead kingdom. However, the warlock had eventually been killed by a sword master hiding in the center of the city.

"There is only one valid method-a counterattack."

In other words, the warlock's main body would have no combat ability. The grimoire ate away at the host, but the essence was still the same. So, the warlock would be defenseless if Theo and the others managed to jump over the barrier of undead.

Above all, this was a great opportunity to get rid of the warlock.

'The undead weren't walking around here a month ago, and the grimoire hasn't completely eaten the host yet. That is probably why the number and quality of the undead is slowly increasing. This has given me more time before it becomes a disaster for the kingdom.'

There were enough clues for him to form this reasoning: the woodcutter's first discovery of the undead; the appearance of the undead which had then become stronger throughout the week; and the emergence of the ghoul wyvern which had reached intermediate level.

It was obvious that the abilities of the warlock, who had become the grimoire's host, were still improving every day. If he kept growing like this, he would be able to summon advanced undead. Once that happened, it would be the end. This area would turn into a land of complete death, and there was the possibility that the spread of the undead would be faster than the evacuation rate of the village.

Theo planned to strike before that happened.

"You have a point. So, you intend to hit the base with a small number of elites?"

Theo nodded at Randolph's words. "Yes, I've already found the warlock's base. Randolph, if you protect the two of us, then it won't be that hard to take out one necromancer at night."

"Why bother to attack in the middle of the night? It would be ideal to hit the undead in the daytime when they are weaker."

"A night operation is better."

If they were fighting on the plains, then Randolph's point would be correct. However, the target was based in a nearby cave which was so dense that sunlight couldn't penetrate it. He would need to engage in a war with thousands of undead to get to the warlock.

So, it was better to strike when the undead were being sent to the village and the cave was at its most vulnerable. During that moment, the trio of Theodore, Sylvia, and Randolph would raid the base. This was a strategy which really matched the term 'counterattack.'

'...What a monstrous kid. And he's only 19? What the hell are the magic towers teaching kids these days?'

Randolph started having cold sweat after grasping the outline of the plan. He had a long history of studying tactics as the descendant of a warrior, yet it was a 19 year old boy who had envisioned such a bold move.

If it failed, Theo would lose his life, but he didn't hesitate to challenge it. It was like he was carrying someone's (Alfred) madness.

Apart from that chill, Randolph had to admit that Theodore's strategy was indeed worthy.

"...I will add a clause here. The Wandering Wolves will remain to defend the village while the two investigators and Randolph attacks the base. If the counterattack fails, the troops will evacuate with the villagers. I will also give you 300 gold. How about it?"

The troops would block the undead steadily as they moved toward the escape path.

Randolph laughed as he realized he had no reason to refuse. If he listened to this and retreated, then it would be humiliating in its own way. He would gain 300 gold as well as the heirlooms, so it was a reward which was worth the gamble.

Randolph finally got out of his seat and took out his mercenary badge. "Randolph, leader of the Wandering Wolves, will accept Theodore Miller's commission. This oath is made in front of Marcus, the God of War."

The mercenary badge made of steel shone with a red light for a while. It was similar to the 'Geass Scroll' which Theodore had used in the past, creating a compulsion that would prevent the mercenary from breaking the contract.

If the contract was broken, then the mercenary would be punished by the priest of the God of War, Marcus. Now in a true sense, Theodore and Randolph were in the same boat.

However, Theo's strategy was far from over. "Ah, that reminds me."

"Huh?"

"During a commission, all the loot normally goes to the people making the commission. Is that correct?"

Randolph blinked at the unexpected question. He just thought that the young magician wanted to know about the rules of the industry. When Randolph nodded without thinking, Theo smiled with satisfaction. He had accomplished his purpose of hiring mercenaries, so it was now time to reap back the money.

This was why people should listen until the end.

"Hrmm, since there seems to be family heirlooms inside the warlock's base... I don't know how much they will cost."

"W-What?!" Randolph's eyes bugged out like he had been hit on the back of the head with a hammer.

The heirlooms weren't near the base but inside it...? If so, according to the rule, the ownership of the heirlooms would pass over to Theo. In a sense, Randolph's eyes had been blurred by the 300 gold. The smoke screen covering Theo's words had now been removed.

Ultimately, Randolph was stunned by the counterattack. '...Surely, he hadn't been aiming for this from the beginning?'

As Randolph looked into Theo's eyes, he was lost for words. There was a wide smile on the face of the ecstatic magician.

'I did well to read the report carefully.' Theo thought.

Perhaps it had been discovered before the erosion of the grimoire had begun, but the magic tower had given him some reports written by the investigator. In one, it mentioned the presence of twin swords found in the cave.

Theo recognized the hierarchical relationship had flipped and pointed to the gold coin pouches next to him. "Randolph, you have 300 gold at the moment, but would you like to share any with me?"

Randolph had never heard it before, but this was probably the devil's whisper.

***

In the end, Randolph was forced to exchange ownership of the heirlooms for 200 gold. Thus, Theo hired the Wandering Wolves and an excellent swordsman, Randolph, for only 100 gold. A profit of at least 50 gold was made.

'I could have more, but... I shouldn't be too greedy. I can't ask the mercenaries to fight for nothing.'

He looked back on the conversation a few hours ago.

If he had taken back all of the 300 gold, then Theo and Randolph might have become enemies after this task was over. Unpaid labour was a sin for mercenaries who sold their lives. Whereas if Randolph didn't have the 100 gold, he would be forced to pay the mercenaries out of his own pocket or they might abandon him. A few gold coins was enough for Randolph since he was mainly after the heirlooms.

"Well, this is a win-win situation," Theodore muttered brazenly.

Randolph appeared behind him and asked brusquely, "This damn employer, how is it a win-win situation?" He was uncomfortable since a 19 year old child had tricked 200 gold from him. However, he would get the heirlooms he was searching for, so the damage wasn't too big.

Theo said with a smile, "We both get what we want, I suppose."

"Hah, you are really good." Randolph laughed and continued saying, "The defenses are all in place. We can still block them off even if what shows up is double of yesterday's number of undead..."

Then as he looked around, Randolph spoke in an admiring tone, "To be honest, it is really amazing. Even though you are magicians, it is great that you can create all of that in half a day."

The plains near the Miller Barony had been completely altered, making yesterday's scenery seem like a lie.

White walls sprang up all over the desolate plains. It was the 4th Circle magic 'Stone Wall' which Theo had used to create improvised defenses. The walls would survive even if a zombie crashed into it a few times.

Additionally, the mercenaries could use these defensive walls to be more efficient than they'd been yesterday. If a flying-type creature like the ghoul wyvern appeared, they would be able to cope more safely than before.

"Well, it is almost all thanks to Mitra," Theo muttered and patted the small girl resting on his chest.

There was a faint [Hoooung] sound which tickled his chest. In order to create these walls which could block the black magic that didn't belong in nature, Mitra had been forced to exert herself.

Then as Theo and Randolph looked around at the walls, Sylvia approached them slowly.

"Hrmm, Theo..."

"Did you wake up just now?"

"...Yes, it has been a while since I took a nap."

Sylvia had a drowsy face, but the magic power around her body was in a perfect state. The mana responded to her sensitivity, so the area around her was much cooler. Randolph looked at her briefly before turning his attention to the forest which the undead came from.

The reddish sky was gradually turning darker.

"It is sunset, Employer."

As Randolph spoke, the two magicians looked in the same direction.

The sun was sinking below the mountains, and the children of darkness came out of the shadows. There were already several eyeballs visible in the dense forest. The reddish blue light was absolutely not coming from living creatures.

The corpses were glowing due to the power which denied the laws of nature. Once again, the night of the undead began, and the period filled with the stench of blood and death would soon start again.

The mercenaries breathed nervously, and some of them even took a sip from the alcohol they had concealed. It was at this moment that...

"...Until today!" Randolph's passionate voice drew the attention of the mercenaries. "You have suffered in the meantime! Enjoy the night until the sun rises tomorrow! Tonight is the last time! We'll say farewell to these damn guys!"

After the leader's words finished, 100 shouts exploded.

"Ohhhhhhh⸺!" The shouts filled with anger and joy caused even the hiding undead to tremble. It was like the howling of wolves responding to their leader.

The night wind blew, shaking the leaves of the trees as the sun finally set below the western horizon. Simultaneously, the stench of death emerged from the darkness.

-Roaaaaar!

-Roaaaaar!

The corpses headed toward the mercenaries. Even if they couldn't be seen, the stench of death made it obvious that the undead were coming. Moonlight bounced off the mercenaries' polished blades as they focused their senses.

Undead and humans... This was the moment when the boundary between life and death crossed.

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