Chapter 50 - Diversion
On the road again! Things have calmed down after the double failed realm advancement debacle, and I spend the rest of the night fixing error after error on my plane. I feel ashamed to say that I put the camera glitch back in. I avoided the entire issue by not caring about a sub-one per cent efficiency loss. All that debug work last night, useless. Some things never change.
The small craft is now scouting to the north, looking out for the biggest and best mountains.
So now we are on the road again, we decided to let the entire gang ride with us. The mountains are up ahead and the number of villages has been getting sparse. Normal peasants don’t seem to know shit about slave collars, so we have not come across anyone calling Angeta out on the fact that she isn't wearing one. That, or they don't want to fuck with the well-armed group of shady merchants.
“Why are there so many peasants on the road anyway?”
They all mumble something about it becoming autumn, and that I should know this already.
“So every year around this time, the entire countryside becomes empty?”
Ket decides to have mercy on my ignorant self. “The majority of people live in the city anyway, only some foragers and hunters of rare game live outside of city walls.”
Vox also chimes in. “The beast month should come in a few weeks, so a lot of people are returning to the cities to sell their wares.”
Angeta tells me a different side of the story. “Pah, we beastkin fight the horde, we don’t cower behind walls.”
Ket’s reply is immediate. “How is that working out? I heard you lose a good portion of your fighting force every year.”
“Only the weak will fall, this allows us to grow stronger.”
“So the humans can do some easy slave raiding when winter starts? Why is your capital the only city with walls?”
Before this discussion can get out of hand, someone interrupts us.
“Hello, ladies and gentlemen!”
A rough voice sounds from the bushes. I was wondering when they would make their move, we are surrounded by over a dozen people hiding in the shrubs.
“Please leave all your valuable-” *HURK*
The bearded man covered in rags was just about to walk out of the foliage but gets cut off. Tess pounced on him and knocked him unconscious.
“Boss? Boss? Should we do it now?”
“Why is he silent?”
“Was this in the plan?”
“I told you, we should shoot first and ask quest-” *BLERK*
The most dangerous sounding fellow is now having his face pressed into the dirt by a big cat.
“Pfff, what a bother. I want to find out where their base is, be gentle.” I wave my hand around, commanding my loyal horde of disciples to act. Half a second later, all fifteen third-rate bandits are taking a nap.
“I said I wanted to find out where their base is, how can we do that when they are all unconscious?”
I look at my overly enthusiastic students. Tess has appeared again, a blunt black stick formed of her qi still in her hands. Bord used a single finger to knock a good part of them unconscious, Angeta, Ket and Selis didn't even lift a finger. I give them a glare while stepping off my big blue bear. Vox used his speed to knock the last few out.
“Interrogation is an art form. Making an enemy think that he or she needs to tell you the information you want is the ideal interrogation. Information given under torture or duress should not be trusted.”
I walk through the underbrush to the single bandit leader. I whistle a single tone and Lola comes hopping towards me. I whisper in her ears and she jumps into a nearby tree. I crack my knuckles, let's see if I still got it.
I grab the unconscious man by his rags and lift him up. I give him a gentle slap while covering myself in qi.
‘YOU KNOW ME I AM YOUR BUDDY, BUDDY. OLD FRIENDS, LOTS OF TRUST, LET'S GO HAVE A BEER LATER.’
I start shouting the moment he opens his eyes.
“WE GOT TO GO, I SAW A DRAGON, WE GOT TO TELL THE REST.”
He is barely awake when I shout the word dragon. That was a mistake because he pales, pisses himself and his eyes start rolling up into his head. Lola falls down from the tree she was hiding in and delivers a kick to his skull with surgical precision. I look back and wave my students away a bit.
“You can watch, but hide yourselves.”
So a dragon is too much of a threat. I slap him again.
“WE GOT TO GO, I SAW A PATROL GROUP COMING THIS WAY!”
His eyes shoot open. He looks around in a daze for half a second and I wait for my words to sink in. He then sees me, and I see warmth and recognition blossom in his face. As if he finally got to meet a good friend again.
“B-buddy, no worries. We paid the kingdom, so no worries man.”
I frown and signal Lola. She kicks him unconscious again.
“Hmmmh, what will scare a lowlife… But not too much...”
I rub my chin as I think. A dragon was too much, but the armies patrols have too little threat. I start slapping him again in order to try my third option.
“WE GOT TO GO, I SAW A SMALL BEAST HORDE COMING, WHERE'S THE REST?”
He wakes again, and this time I see the correct amount of fear in his eyes. He stands up by himself while I support him. I ignore his stench by shutting down my olfactory nerves, his breath is worse than his body odour.
“B-buddy, no worries, we got a good cave to hide in. How much time do we got?”
Ah, progress! I reply in a hurried tone.
“Just a little time, we must go. The rest of the group got eaten already, I only managed to save you.”
His eyes open wide in terror. “This way, follow me, buddy!”
I ignore the giggling coming from behind me as I follow my temporary guide. He blunders through the forest, running his legs and lungs ragged. I spot him following some obscure symbols carved in the tree trunks. I take note and analyse, it seems to be a primitive guide marker system. I scan the rest of the woods and notice several paths marked running through these woody foothills.
There are even some dead ends with deadly traps, normal people trying to unravel these signs would end up being killed there unless they knew what to look out for. My new best friend, however, guides me expertly through this maze of misinformation. He is totally red-faced and gasping for breath by the time I see a cave come into view. I give the signal again, and to my delight, Lola kicks him unconscious. I catch her and scratch her head. Good rabbit! I didn't even hear her following me through the trees.
The cave is unremarkable, the stones covering the area in front of it hiding any tracks. I spread my spiritual sense through it and shudder at the deplorable living conditions. Just because you're a bandit isn’t an excuse for poor hygiene. I feel a lot of rodents enjoying the mess scattered everywhere, nibbling on scraps of food and dirty clothing alike.
I think about going in but decide against it. I can feel some figures moving around in there, but I don't feel like going into that dark and dank cave myself. I sit down and send a thin wave of qi through the tunnels. I don't find any stereotypical captured damsels or children, just a bunch of adults laying around. They all seem to be here of their own accord, how should I handle this?
“How should I handle this?” I turn to my students who have silently been following me. “I don't sense any captured people, just some guys lazing around or counting coins.”
Ket is the first to step forward. “My part of the dungeon loot is almost gone, I want to find some more merchandise.” He is actually rubbing his palms together while saying this. The evil smirk on his face completes the picture of a corrupt merchant. Now he only needs to grow fat to finish the image.
Bord and Angeta also follow the group inside but halt in front of the entrance while grabbing at their noses. The other four disciples make grimaces but press on anyway. I follow them with my qi sense and sense them knocking out everyone they come across while robbing them blind. Tess pulls a large spear from her ring as she picks up more stuff. Selis makes room in her own ring by pulling a massive claymore from it. Her knees bend at the weight, but she starts to walk with thumping footsteps to balance herself. She is adapting to the unladylike style of fighting and movement she requested rather well.
I feel them descend further into the caves. I start to hear crashing noises by the time every bandit is unconscious. Thick doors bar entry to some of the rooms, but a few applications of force later and these obstacles are slain. Vox and Ket come back out, carrying heavy boxes. They dump a pile of stuff from their rings and rush back inside.
They spend an entire hour searching through the dark, dank hideout. The loot they collected is an assortment of real and fake dungeon weapons, coins, gems and a stack of documents. There is also miscellaneous stuff, like chains, locks and foodstuffs. I’m interested in the stack of documents though. Paper was pretty rare in Tower city, so it is weird that I find some of it here.
I look it over and notice that I’ve not deciphered the written local language fully yet. My language process is now revving back up again, comparing the written words to the language library, trying to fill in the gaps.
I read them all over and put them away. I should have them deciphered tomorrow. I already glimpsed some recognisable structures, like timetables, so I have a pretty good idea of what kind of operation they were running here.
Two trips later, and the cave is cleaned out. I am honestly impressed with how much stuff they had in there. They must have been robbing poorly guarded caravans or something. I take anything that seems useful to me into my own ring and pull the rest into Tree.
“Anything special down there?”
They shake their heads.
“Normal sponsored bandit group,” Vox replies. I file away that bit of information for later.
“Alright, let's move on then.”
Our animals have made their way over to us in the meantime, so we all mount up and continue moving towards the mountain. Time to kidnap a mountaintop!
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