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On the day of the caravan’s departure, I put on my disguise and headed to the Marida Company as Shaft. I was killing time with Malta-san when three adventurers from the General Guild came for the guard commission.
“Oh, I am the Clan Master of Patrinia Villosa, C-Ranked adventurer Maximilian.”
“C-ranked adventurer from Patrinia Villosa, Volkaise!”
“I am a C-ranked adventurer from Patrinia Villosa, Gotthard!”
The three adventurers that entered the parlor were the ones I had gotten into a scuffle with when I had just come to Barga. They seemed to be a fixed party of their clan. When I heard of Patrinia Villosa, what came to mind was a weed that blooded around the area. They could grow more sturdy but if left to themselves, they would only grow to about 60cm – 1m tall. Their small white flowers gave off a rotten odor.
Maximilian was a giant with cat ears who wore leather armor. Volkaise had a mousy face and wore a hooded robe – was he a magician? The foxy face Gotthard wore light equipment, but it was difficult to imagine him as a lightweight soldier with his pot belly sticking out.
“I am the Chairman of Marida Company, Malta. Thank you for accepting our commission. This is Shaft, a friend of mine. He will also take part in guarding the caravan.”
They seemed taken aback by my appearance. Maximilian, however, took one step forward and measured me with his glare. As expected of a Clan Master.
“You, are you an adventurer? If yes, what’s your rank?”
“No, I haven’t registered as an adventurer. I come here to guard the caravan as a friend of Malta.”
“Not even an adventurer, can you handle a guard mission?”
“Don’t get in our way!”
“That’s right! Having Leader is enough!”
“Idiot! I’ve told you many times, call me Master!”
“Now now, I know of Shaft’s capabilities very well. He will stay with me in one of the wagons, and the three of you will be positioned at the front and rear of the party. Have you been able to prepare your horses?”
Before the other three had arrived, we had agreed that Shaft and Malta-san would not use polite speech with each other. This was a trick to clearly differentiate Shaft from Schwarz. My tone as Shaft would also be different from that of Schwarz. With the accumulation of all these small details, I would be able to deceive them easier.
“Of course. We came here on horses.”
Then we had a light briefing regarding the mission and discussed things like who would take which role and what the watch-keeping arrangement would be. Adventurers would get into fights in second-hand shops like these… Would this be okay? I was worried, but it seemed like they had completed a lot of such missions before. They enthusiastically said “Leave it to us!”
“So, let’s go!”
The cargo had been loaded and we left the Fort City of Barga. The three adventurers on horseback passed the gate first while our wagons followed after. Of course, identification papers such as Guild Cards were checked at the gate. I changed back to Schwarz inside the curtained wagon and had my card checked, then switched to Shaft again.
During the trip, the cat-eared giant and the mouse-face guy would stay at the front of the caravan, with the fox-face taking up the rear. The wagons were driven by Marida Company staff. Malta-san and I sat inside the front wagon. There were two rest stops between Barga and the Royal Capital, with pillars and roofs to shelter from the weather, as well as places to cook. Today we aimed for the rest stop close to Barga.
Nothing happened on the first day of our journey. Malta-san and I chatted a lot to entertain ourselves. Of course, I didn’t forget to pay attention to our surroundings since I was on a mission.
That said, what I really paid attention to were two things: In the beginning, under the guise of helping Malta-san on some errands, I had strayed from the main road into the forests and placed some baits to lure monsters like grass wolves* out. I was checking how these baits worked.
Another was to watch for bandits. As the harvest festival for the Emerald Demon Labyrinth was going on, the traffic between the Royal Capital and Barga had increased, with a lot of goods and mana stones being transported. The wagons we were guarding right now also carried a large number of mana stones.
There weren’t that many mana air stones. A lot of adventurers who had been working in the labyrinths around Barga were now returning to the Fort City to dump their spoils off to participate in the harvest festivals. Those spoils were what this wagon was currently holding. They were also the target of bandits who had been gathering around here. Knight Orders from the Royal Capital and Barga were also working day-and-night to quell the bandits, but it would not come into effect until the middle of the festival. It was just the beginning now, so their work had not been effective yet.
Similar rest stops were built on each of the main roads between Barga and the Royal Capital, and bandits basically appeared at night to attack these areas. That was their usual pattern. The stops were frequented by merchants and travellers, which made it convenient for bandits to watch and raid.
I paid special attention for these two types of assailants, listening to the sounds of our surroundings while I chatted with Malta san.
Nothing happened during the first night either, and the three Patrinia Villosa took turns to keep watch.
On this mission, Marida Company also prepared the meals for us guards. On guard missions, the meals were either prepared by the adventurers themselves or provided by the commissioner. Rather than generosity, the Marida Company was probably preparing food for us to test the lunch boxes…
The lunch boxes they gave us were made from small boxes similar to the bamboo baskets that Malta-san and I had selected. Inside were some white bread, meat, and vegetables, sectioned by papers. I checked with Malta-san and was told that the papers had been soaked in wax so the juice from the different dishes wouldn’t mingle with each other. He seemed to think of it right after my talk about lunch boxes from my vague recollections. They prepared meals for us this time to also test out these boxes with the waxed paper divisions.
As for me, as long as I didn’t have to eat only jerky, bread, and water, I would be thankful.
The three members of Patrinia Villosa were also surprised at being able to have proper meals on a guard mission. At first, I was worried about their abilities, but it seemed they didn’t lie about having completed many such missions before. They took turns to keep watch on the road and at the rest stop without any problems.
However, our trouble-free moments only lasted for the day.
On the second day, we left the rest stop near Barga and headed to the stop near the Royal Capital. When we were halfway there with a few more hours to go, I picked up some sounds I had never heard so far. They were horse hooves, probably two. They weren’t coming from our front or rear but from the forest. Due to the distance, I couldn’t pinpoint their location, but they seemed to be keeping pace with us.
“Malta, we’re being followed.”
“Really, Schwa- Shaft?”
“Two horses, in the forest. They’ve been following us since a short while ago.”
“I can’t see anything, but probably some bandit scouts.”
“Bandit scouts?! I can’t see anything at all.”
“Yeah, Leader wouldn’t miss it if there were any.”
“Yeah, probably just some stray horses.”
I couldn’t help but change my estimation of these three… I asked Malta-san to get the staff prepared to move immediately if something happened tonight. If those were really bandit scouts, they would strike tonight. I didn’t know their attacking method and I couldn’t be sure that I would be able to respond properly.
But there were people and things here I had to protect…
The other three adventurers’ preparation for the bandit attack was nothing different: they they took turn to keep watch and rest just as last night. I asked Malta-san and the three other staff to gather and rest at one of the wagons. If the attack did happen and things went wrong, they could rush to Capital.
I activated the TSS, prepared the AS VAL’s magazines and a large number of flashbangs. Since I didn’t know how many people they had, it was best to prepare more magazines in advance. I had considered using heavy weapons, but those would decrease the powered suit’s mobility – this was a technical specification of VMB. So I bargained on the VAL’s power and muffling property to confuse the enemies.
It was almost time for the new day to come. I went out to the roof of the stop, watching the surroundings with caution. I listened carefully, and switched my goggles to NV mode. There it was: countless sounds of hooves rushing at us from the forest.
Even though they hadn’t believed in my warning about the scouts, the Patrina Villosa members would still react once they actually saw the bandits coming. So I thought, and I raised my voice to alert them about the attack. But their reactions were not as I expected at all.
“Idiot! With such numbers, we won’t be able to do anything!”
“That’s right! There are 40 of them!”
“Let’s run away quickly!”
What were these guys saying? Of course, there were about 40 bandits on horseback coming from the forest, but more could be seen running after those. There were about 60 in total. The riders had already drawn their swords and were charging in with war cries. Their number was nasty. While we were busy protecting the staff and the wagon, they would have surrounded us
“Malta! Run for the Capital!”
Malta-san had immediately drawn the wagon’s curtain and looked out with my first warning. He was staring at me wide-eyed.
“Go now! You’re a hindrance!”
I didn’t know if he understood or not, but he got back behind the curtain and the wagon took off immediately. The most valuable mana stones were all on that wagon, the other two were loaded with other goods. In the worst case, even if those two wagons were taken, the loss wouldn’t be too much. And it would be great if they could stop the bandits from pursuing – I could also withdraw then.