Sure enough, the illusion in the passages was gone and the conditions in the cave returned to normal. Finally, it was over.
They all heaved a sigh of relief.
"Should we search for spoils before leaving the cave?" Link suggested.
The mercenaries agreed immediately. They had almost lost their lives fighting in this cave, even Link was stabbed with a sword. How foolish would they be to leave with their hands empty?
Moreover, Link seemed to be in good spirits now and there were no visible signs of fatigue from the serious wound. In fact, he looked much better now. That made the mercenaries less anxious to go back and tend to Link's injuries.
Only Anderson hesitated. He was a Royal Knight of the Norton kingdom. It didn't seem befitting of an honorable Knight to kill men, set fire to the corpses, then rob them of their belongings.
"Are you sure we should be doing that? Maybe we should hurry back to rally the militia," said Anderson. He had to be careful not to tarnish his pride and honor as a member of a noble family and a Knight.
Link himself was the son of a Viscount so he perfectly understood the underlying sentiments that made Anderson reluctant. Even so, he'd much prefer to live and thrive rather than die in the name of idealistic concepts like honor and chivalry!
Still, Link knew that integrity was without its merits. He and Anderson had fought together in this mission, so they were comrades now. He had to find a way to persuade Anderson without making him think that his integrity was in question.
"General Anderson, if we are to call in the militia, then we'd have to divide the share with them as well. Plus, there's no way of keeping a secret when many people are involved, so words will surely spread out and more people will try to grab a slice of the cake. Ultimately there'd be next to nothing left for everyone. Wouldn't it be best to divide everything amongst just the five of us?" said Link.
Before Anderson could interject, Link continued, "General, before you refuse, why don't you think of your son? You said he's already started his training. I'm sure he wants to become a Knight just like you when he comes of age. But a Knight will need armor, a horse and his own weapons - and none these things come for free. Why don't you stop and consider how much the loot might benefit your son in the future?"
When Link put it this way, Anderson was no longer able to argue with him. Link's words had hit upon the things that had been worrying him lately.
It was true. What good was there in being an honorable Knight if he couldn't secure a good future for his son? At least, with enough gold coins, he could provide his son with some high-quality magical gear.
Ah, what was the point of getting hung up on his own honor? He should be thinking about more practical things like gold coins!
"Let's do it, then!" said Anderson, completely beguiled by Link's sly rhetoric.
Soon after, they began to search for everything inside the Syndicate's lair.
Anderson's movements were still clunky and unsure. He still couldn't completely let go of his ideals as a Knight. The mercenary trio, on the other hand, were professionals in this regard. They swept through the cave like a swarm of locusts, much to the wonder of Anderson who stood staring at them on the side.
Meanwhile, Link didn't help much as he needed to rest. But when the rest of them were preoccupied with the search for booty, he surreptitiously sneaked away into the dark hall in the underbelly of the cave to pick up the black crystal from under a pile of gravel and put it in his storage pendant.
When the others noticed he was gone, they assumed that he was away to examine the Elemental Puppet, so they didn't give it much thought.
Half an hour later, the four of them gathered in the first hall in the Syndicate's lair where they found the cursed Magic Seal.
Lucy began to count and record everything one by one.
"1400 gold coins, 38 steel swords, 30 sets of new leather armor, 3 barrels of 50-year-old aged wine, a pair of gold figurines... The estimated total value should be at least 3500 gold coins."
As expected, the Syndicate was much wealthier than the Dark Brotherhood.
3500 gold coins! Even Anderson couldn't keep himself from gulping in awe at the sheer wealth in front of their eyes. He was a noble Knight who lived in a large manor, and had additional income from the land he owned, yet his annual income had been no more than 150 gold coins. Who would've thought that an underworld organization like the Syndicate would possess such unimaginable wealth! The fact simply boggled his mind.
What a dastardly group of thieves! It seems I must search and clean out more lairs of thieves from now on. The Knight was quickly turned into a sly fox by the irresistible temptation of gold coins.
And now it was time to distribute the loot, which was decided by Link. Anderson had no objections to this. He had seen and understood how Link was the core of the group, and that they had even managed to defeat an evil demon under Link's command. Anderson had recognized the young Magician as a peerless and fearsome man and he was ready to concede to his decisions.
"There are five of us and about 3500 gold coins. The four of us will share 2300 gold coins among ourselves. General, you should get 1000 gold coins out of the share. As for the remaining 200 gold coins, 50 of them should be given to Jacques's family as his pension, and the rest should be divided among the militia. After all, they've made contributions, too. What do you think, General?"
Anderson was speechless. 1000 gold coins were far beyond his expectation! He thought of the contributions each of them made. Link was the brain of the mission, and Jacker was the strongest Warrior who had played a huge role in defeating the Elemental Puppet by restraining the puppet and giving Anderson the perfect opportunity to give it the final blow. All he did was one simple move for him, with no risk at all!
His esteem and position as a Royal Knight had not been the slightest bit useful to the mission. How could it be of any use when Link had the support of a much more exalted figure like Princess Annie?
He would've been satisfied if the loot was equally distributed, and everyone got about 600 pieces of gold.
"Isn't my share too big?" He had some reservations. He wouldn't mind getting more money, of course, but everyone had risked their lives to get to this point. It would simply be unfair to everyone else and shameless of him to get the lion's share of the loot. They had fought against terrifying opponents together and survived. Deep in Anderson's heart, he had acknowledged Link and the mercenaries as his comrades in arms.
"Don't say that, General," said Link, waving his hand, "You were the one who found the Syndicate's lair, and you were the one who gave the Element Puppet's its last blow. What's more, you are a noble Knight who shoulders a great responsibility of keeping the peace of the kingdom. Your daily expenses would be much bigger than ours and the money would be put to better use if you take it. If you think of us as friends, then please just accept the money."
Link meant everything he said and had no ulterior motives. He valued his friendship with the people who had fought together in battle with him. To him, this relationship was far more precious than a mere few hundred gold coins!
Anderson turned silent for a while. He was utterly swayed by Link's speech.
"Fine, I'll take it," he finally said.
Link's sincerity and generosity had left a deep impression on Anderson's heart. He would remember this act of kindness and the extraordinary young man for the rest of his life.
Not only does this Magician possess powerful magical skills, he also has a good heart and strong integrity. He was even favored by Princess Annie. He will certainly become an important figure in the Norton kingdom in the future. I must maintain my friendship with him.
And that was the most distinct difference between nobles and commoners. Sure, the aristocrats had feelings too. But they never forgot to consider things from a long-term angle and pay more attention to their interests. As a nobleman, Anderson was much more adept at securing his interests than the mercenaries. After some serious consideration, Anderson decided that becoming Link's ally would be the wisest thing to do right now.
Ever thoughtful, Link took out 200 gold coins from the big pile then put them in a bag and handed it to Anderson.
"General, give this to the militiamen. When we go out later, they will be watching our every move, so we'll divide our share once we're safe from prying eyes in River Cove town."
The 200 gold coins were to keep the militiamen quiet. Although Link was certain that the militiamen knew that there would be much more than 200 gold coins in the Syndicate's lair, if they did not see anything concrete all they could do was suspect. At worse, they would spread some rumors to the public, but that wasn't too much to handle.
The worst thing would be for them to see the entire loot and to know that they only got a small fraction of it. This would surely trigger discontent and resentment, and then more trouble would come from that. Anderson understood how terrible people could become because of gold coins, so he agreed to the plan.
Then, Link pointed his wand at the big pile of loot. Suddenly, magic aura shrouded the treasure. Link walked over to the pile and put the items one by one into the storage pendant under the bright cover of magic aura.
In doing so, although Link couldn't conceal the existence of his storage pendant, still, at least he could conceal the storage gear.
By then Anderson had been accustomed to the sight of Link's magic. Anyway, he was now on Link's side, so the more powerful his ally got and the more tricks he kept hidden from everyone, the better it would be for him.
After some cleaning up, they all finally walked out of the Syndicate's lair.
Once outside, Anderson went straight to the militiamen and addressed them.
"The lair has been cleared, but unfortunately Jacques had perished. I am grieved, but fear not my brothers, I will take care of his family. We've found a few gold coins in the cave, and I'll give some of it to Jacques's family as a pension. As for the rest I'll give it to all of you!" he said.
After he was done speaking, Anderson summoned the vice-captain and handed him the bag of coins.
"Matt, take this money, and divide it among yourselves," he ordered.
The vice-captain opened the bag and was almost blinded by the glinting gold inside. His hand trembled at the sight. He was only an ordinary soldier whose annual salary was about 15 gold coins. He'd never seen such a dizzying number of gold coins before, and it almost made his knees buckle.
Eventually, each soldier got about one gold coin each. Despite the news of Jacques's death, there was a festive mood in the air.
Some of them were suspicious, and some rumors did spread out, but ultimately nothing came of it. So in the end, Link and the rest successfully smuggled the fortune out of the cove without any incident.
Once they reached the River Cove town, Link invited a priest to heal his own injuries. The Divine Healing spell was indeed potent. Link could even see his wound healing with the naked eye during treatment. The whole process only took a few minutes' time, and it didn't leave any scars on his body.
Still, he dared not envy this power. He knew that many Magicians in history had been trying to study and emulate Divine Healing spells, but they'd all stumbled into dead ends. Link conceded that healing wounds fell under the gods' domain and that it was beyond a Magician's power.
Then Link took out the loot from his storage pendant and handed it to the mercenaries so they could manage it. Then he instructed Gildern to discreetly send 1000 gold coins Anderson.
Anderson took the hint. He gave the mercenaries a guarantee that he would station himself in the River Cove town to cleanse the Girvent Forest of brigands and bandits, and that if the need ever arose, he was always there to help!
Thus, the Flamingo Band of Mercenaries had gained a noble ally.
It was late in the night when everything was settled. Alone in his room, Link sat up in his bed and examined the black crystal that had been on the Elemental Puppet.
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