It was only after that incident with the Ground Wyrm when Lorist changed his impression of Els. Following that, they went on more missions together and eventually their friendship developed to a point where they could talk about almost anything.
The passage of time was indeed fast. He was only 19 at that time whereas in the present, he was 24. That span of five years was enough for Lorist to mature from a greenhorn mercenary to a veteran one.
Lorist wondered to himself why he recalled the events of the past all of a sudden for no reason. Was it the due to suddenly cutting ties with Wenna just moments before? After all, the relationship did last for four whole years and it wasn't something he could forget quickly even if he wished to. Only the passage of time could slowly lift the layers of yearning he had for her. He only hoped that he would able to leave this all behind and start fresh when the sun rose on the next day.
"Why have you come to the room? To watch me sulk?" said Lorist as he felt his face for any tears. Good thing there wasn't any, otherwise he would be laughing his ass off by now.
"Well, when I heard about the breakup from Uncle Girald, I thought I would be able to watch a funny scene right out of a melodrama, probably something along the lines of rekindled love and a rush of passion and lust that will end up in an affair between you and that little lady. Who would expect for you to act so cold and for her to be so casual about it and just part with you like that. How disappointing," Els said, spewing a bunch of crap as usual.
"Hehe, I'm sorry I let you down then," laughed Lorist lightly.
"Don't be. I've always known that you're no acting material and wouldn't put up a good show. Oh, and, what's with the duel notices that were put up all over the place? I was just planning to go to the academy and ask Charade what was going on," said Els.
"Well, it's nothing big. That old bastard Levins made a bet with the other academy heads that I could defeat every Silver ranked instructor from the other academies in a duel. He exploited that opportunity to take a registration fee for the duels earn some extra cash as well as to raise the reputation of the academy. That's why he had Charade going all over the place to put up those notices," explained Lorist.
Els did not show any sympathy for his friend's plight and only mused to himself with an excited expression on how he could use this opportunity to make some profit too. Lorist merely said, "There's no way you would be able to make anything in the academy sector. That old fox probably has everything covered and wouldn't let any chance to earn money slip by under his nose. Who knows if he already plans to do something city-wide? Well, the only place where you might be able to set up your operations would be at the inns. Though, it probably would be at a much smaller scale than you had hoped."
"The inns are more than enough. There are 48 districts in Morante City with 3 other new districts with a total of 27 syndicate bosses managing them. I only need to set up one betting operation in an inn across all the districts. As long as I'm willing to offer a cut to the other bosses, they would be more than happy to allow me to run it. Even if that old fox were to try to pull something similar off, without the connections I have, there's no way that he can match the payout that I can provide. We'll see which betting operation will attract more people," said Els with much excitement, impatiently waiting for the days to come.
Sighing in his heart, Lorist thought back at the Els he knew from five years ago who didn't care for any of his responsibilities and only wanted to go adventure to build a name for himself as a legendary mercenary. Right now, however, he had the air of a real syndicate boss who let no opportunity to profit slip by his eyes. It seems that these five years have not only changed Lorist but his friend as well.
"Now that you mention it, your plan seems like it would work out after all. But you didn't even consider whether I was willing to go to duel them or not. Well, not like I have any choice in that matter. What if I were to lose for some reason, though?"
"Hehe, you think I don't know you after all these years? If you were to truly lose, then it would really be the joke of the century. While my darkness attribute Battle Force is harder to train in and Charade has already overtaken me to reach the Three Star Silver rank, I believe that no other Silver Swordsman in the whole city can take either of us on. But against you, however, both Charade and I hasn't even won a single match. Even that one time when we fought you two-on-one, we could only hold on for up to 100 moves before losing to you. I wouldn't believe that you would lose to a Silver rank even if you beat me into submission," Els told Lorist with much confidence.
Lorist could only roll his eyes.
"Alright brother, I won't let you walk away with nothing. How about this, I'll let you take a 10% cut? No? Then 15%! Still won't do? Alright then, 20% is the most I can give you. I'll have to use the rest to feed my men, you know," said Els.
"Alright, deal," said Lorist as he stretched his hand out lazily. "Go look for that fatty tomorrow and ask him about the dueling schedule and get an info sheet on the challengers. That will help you organize the betting better. Oh, and don't forget that he'll pester you for a share of the profit as well."
"I know, he's getting 10% at most. After giving the rest of the syndicate bosses and inn owners their cuts, I'll be left with roughly 30-40%, which is still a rather good haul," Els said as he slapped Lorist's extended palm away. Already imagining the bag of gold coins in his hands, Els started to feel even more pumped.
"Oh, Locke, I almost forgot another thing. That's... Ah, I got you a disciple," Els wrinkled his forehead in thought and said.
"What? A disciple? Are you kidding me?" said Lorist, astonished. Come on, I'm not old enough to be someone's master, am I?
"This..." Els hesitated a bit before grabbing his head in frustration and saying, "Well, it's not anything that formal. You just have to let him follow you around and teach him some moves whenever you can. Treat him as your personal attendant if you'd like. He'll be perfect for the job since he's pretty well built and has rather good stamina."
Hearing Els describe that person, Lorist started to get interested. "Just tell me what this is about."
"Alright, Locke. You know that thing about my subordinates..."
Lorist understood how Els came to become a syndicate boss. Twenty years ago, both his parents were Gold ranked combatants and were a rather famous couple who lead a mercenary group. However, twenty years ago, Els's parents joined the Battle of Whitestag Town. In that battle, the Krissen Empire lost their only Sword Saint, but the trade union's forces did not emerge unscathed from that battle either. Most of the mercenaries hired to join that battle had perished, among which included Els's mother. His father incurred heavy injuries and died of illness several years later. The only one left in their mercenary group was Els's uncle, Charlando and several other Silver ranked mercenaries. Charlando was hurt in his leg and became a limp who was unable to progress from the Two Star Gold rank any further.
With their ace fighters gone, the mercenary group could only disband. Having considered the worst scenario, Els's parents had previously made some arrangements for the remaining members of the group prior to their deaths: they provided the relatives of all members with housing in the same district. Even after the mercenary group had disbanded, the relatives of the members looked out for each other and they were also taken care of by the Morante City administration for the contributions of their family members who were in the mercenary group.
Having started an inn to be able to better educate and look out for the offspring of the members of the mercenary group, Charlando placed his hopes on the children and hoped that they would one day take up the banner of their group once again. Els was the unofficial leader of the group of children as he was the eldest and was also the strongest among them. He also cared for them a lot as if they were his blood-related siblings from a young age.
Seeing the kids grow and mature and given that Els was going to graduate from the Dawn Academy soon, Charlando was elated and predicted that the glorious days of the mercenary group will once again come. What caught him off guard was the event that made Els take up the position of a syndicate boss.
The Forde Trade Union had a unique governing system which handed the administration rights of the various districts to several syndicate bosses who had their own underlings and groups. While that legitimized the syndicates and greatly decreased the crime rate, bosses who operated beyond the law wasn't unheard of. One such person was the syndicate boss in charge of the districts Els and his buddies lived in.
While the syndicate bosses have the right to impose taxes on the citizens on the district, this one was even worse in that he even collected taxes for clothes-drying, land-occupation and even for road repairs, and incited the rage of the citizens in the district and almost let a violent conflict erupt. Els's gang even resisted and sent the tax collectors to the medical centers given their youthful recklessness.
However, the syndicate boss wasn't pleased to hear that and believed that Els represented a bad example to the rest of the citizens of the district and was the main culprit of the resistance he was facing. Intending to forever remove the pain in his ass, the boss started to think of ways to handle him. It was at this moment when one of his subordinates brought him news that angered him greatly. It seemed that the whole district was planning to protest in an effort to force the city council to remove the syndicate boss from his position.
Having already paid a management fee to the city council that he hasn't earned back from the taxes he collected, the syndicate boss racked his brains and came out with an idea: he planned to kill Els and make an example out of him to deter future protesters.
But his gang alone didn't have the power to take Els down as he had a Gold ranked Swordsman standing behind him. Unwilling to hire professional killers for a large sum, the syndicate boss resorted to setting Els's house on fire and hoped that he would perish in the burning embers.
Unfortunately, just when his subordinates arrived, they were discovered by Els and his gang and were beaten up to the point when they confessed their boss's intentions. This incited the citizens and prompted them to surround the mansion of the syndicate boss to remove him once and for all. Unable to escape, the boss was captured by Els and had been clobbered to death by the raging citizens before Els could react.
With the position of the syndicate boss now vacant, the elders of the district discussed with one another and picked Els to succeed the position. Els, not wanting to disappoint the people, could only take it without complaint.
Given that he didn't accept the position willingly, Els slacked off on the responsibilities of the syndicate boss. Luckily, he had many trustworthy subordinates who handled everything without problem and didn't cause him any worry. In the years to come, Els only found out that the other two districts had also fell under his jurisdiction without him knowing. That was how Charlando's ideal mercenary group morphed into one of the most active and developmental district syndicates of Morante City instead.
Back when the mercenary group disbanded, a Silver ranked member who was a good pal of Charlando prepared to return to his homeland in the Romon Empire. Before he left, he expressed his hope that the descendants of his comrades would one day take up the banner of the mercenary group again. Just three months prior, Charlando met a beggar from the Romon Empire who revealed that he was the son of that comrade from the Romon Empire.
Upon further questioning, Charlando got to know about the death of his comrade just the year before. After returning to his rural village, that Silver Swordsman joined the garrison there and settled down two years later and birthed a son that was the beggar in front of Charlando. Just two years ago, an epidemic broke out in the village and his mother passed away, followed by his father who held on for half a year. At his deathbed, he instructed his son to go to find Charlando in Morante City to join the mercenary group.
While it would only take less than half a month to go to Morante City from his village by way of a carriage, the son wasn't aware of it and traveled for half a year on foot all the way and begged when he ran out of money for food and slept outdoors in the wilderness for the whole of the journey. It was already quite a feat that he wasn't captured by slave traders for the whole time.
Having heard the arduous journey that the child of his comrade had experienced, Charlando let out a stream of tears and treated him with utmost care and even told Els to regard him as his own brother. After learning that the mercenary group would no longer be formed, however, the beggar flipped out and refused to join Els's group. Troubled, Charlando could only send that child to school only to receive a notice that he had been expelled as a result of beating up all his classmates.
"This is already the third elementary academy that he has been expelled from. To think that we've hoped that he would be able to apply for a place at Dawn Academy after a year of the elementary course... It looks like that won't be happening anytime soon. The old man asked him what he would like to study. He only said that he wanted to learn the ways of the sword and become a mercenary one day to venture about on the continent. The question wasn't on whether he had the will to learn, but rather one of his talent..."
Els continued his rant, "That kid lived all his life in the rural village and played around in the forest a lot. Coupled with his carefree parents, he developed a stubborn and wild personality and will not stop after he set his mind on something. I believe that a stick would be more threatening in his hands than a sword at this point. He's already a Two Star Bronze fighter at the age of sixteen and has a really large build that made him look almost twenty. Given his innate strength, you'd think that he would be a talent worth cultivating. But in actuality, he's pretty slow and will forget a move he was taught within ten minutes. The way he swings his sword around like a crazed barbarian really irks me.
"Even the old man can't do anything about it. That's when I thought: if there's anyone who can teach him the sword, that would be you," Els declared.
Letting out a loud laugh, Lorist said, "Even a Gold Swordsman like old Char wasn't able to teach him swordsmanship. What could an Iron rank like me do?"
"Locke, I know you're different. Your swordsmanship skill definitely exceeds that of my uncle. Just do me a favor and give him a chance, if he's really not swordsman material, you can send him back to me then," begged Els.
Lorist thought deeply for a bit before nodding and saying, "Alright, I'll give him a chance."
Author's note: Most high ranked academies in Morante City like the Dawn Academy doesn't simply allow one to apply as a student. An applicant must be able to pass an entrance test that determines their level of intellect and cultural knowledge. That's why there are many elementary academies in the city that specializes in preparing the students for the tests, much like the tuition classes that prepare students for university entrance tests in Lorist's previous world.