18: Attacking the Bandit Hideout
Part 1: Vagabond Arc "Ash-crowned Princess of Slaughter" Chapter 1: The Heroine Went Against Fate
We were going to be hunting bandits. It was a bit sudden for me, but it seemed that Viro had planned from the beginning to raid the dwellings of bandits or brigand wannabes, or otherwise goblins, and "use" them for my training. That's quite a harsh training.
Bandits and thieves were slightly different. Although the places they worked on were different, the main difference was that the bandits weren't managed by an organisation like the Thieves' Guild.
Thieves were people who, like the orphans of the slums, had no other way to make a living and had lost their aversion to committing evil deeds. Apparently, that was why scouts from the Adventurers' Guild like Viro would hire orphans from the slums, to keep the Thieves' Guild from gaining more members.
However, bandits were often villagers who were in need of food.
In the case of farming villages...especially poor farming villages, they tended to have many children to use them as labour force. However, because of their poverty, the second and subsequent sons had no fields to inherit, and while it would be nice if they could find work in the village or a nearby town, those villagers who were out of work were more likely to become thief wannabes in the town and get caught, or bandits outside of the town.
However, the Claydale Kingdom was a relatively easy country to live in if all you wanted to do was survive. While the tax rate may not be the lowest in the world, the climate was mild and the forests were bountiful, so there was no threat of starvation unless there was a serious problem.
In essence, the majority of people who became brigands were those who gave in to their greed, robbing others to make their lives easier.
Moreover, the thieves of the Thieves' Guild tended to avoid killing civilians in order to avoid escalating the incident.
But bandits did not hesitate to kill travellers. They never attacked people with guards like the nobles. They only targeted weak people and killed them to keep their mouths shut so that the feudal lord and the like wouldn't discover them.
None among them had the guts to hold merchants hostage and demand a ransom. Perhaps because they were originally villagers, they were too cowardly to risk their evil deeds becoming known, so they killed the merchants too.
"...So, when you find bandits, the priority is to eliminate them rather than catch them. Even if you were to capture them, it would be difficult to bring them to a town with guards, and even if you did manage to hand them over, the reward would be minimal unless they had a bounty on their heads. They'll be forced to work in the mines until they die anyway, so there's no point in showing them mercy. You understand?"
I nodded quietly to Viro as he spoke while roasting wild bird meat over the flames of the campfire I made in the forest, about half a day's journey from the nearby village.
Bandits had no human rights. Because they were out of reach of the feudal lords' laws, they could do whatever they wanted, but that also meant they weren't protected by those laws.
Thinking about it, I could still understand the way the Thieves' Guild operated. In order to do as they pleased, they established a great power in the form of a guild and protected themselves by following the rules of the criminals.
For that reason, the beings called "bandits" were just right to be "used" in my training.
"...About time we go."
In response to Viro's words, I stood up, poured water on the campfire with the Daily Life magic Water, and put out the fire by stomping on it. I shouldn't be wasting magic power before going into action, but if it was just 1 MP, it would recover in a few minutes.
The sky in the distance was still faintly bright, but the forest away from the main road was so dark that nothing could be seen any more.
In that darkness, Viro, whose presence had faded, began to walk away, and I followed after him, also erasing my own presence.
Even if nothing could be seen in the darkness, I had the Night Vision skill, and, obviously, so did Viro.
Viro restrained his Stealth so that I could still follow him, but what was he going to do if it was a kid from the slums without the Night Vision or Detection skills?
I had a feeling that, just like Feld, Viro also didn't think that what he could do was anything special. Most people would realize that a child wouldn't be able to do such things as they interacted with me, but because I started a campfire in the woods like it was normal and moved around in the darkness without hesitation, Viro was rapidly losing his self-restraint.
Although I said he was restraining his Stealth, it was probably done unconsciously to the degree that his usual adventuring party members would be able to recognise him, so I had a feeling that he wasn't concerned by a child like me specifically.
Still, he seemed to remember that this was for my training and taught me various things at key points.
"Bandits, unlike the bunch from the Thieves' Guild, aren't particularly skilled. Seems they have a somewhat smarter guy this time so they're concealing the path to their hideout, but it became sloppy to make it easier to carry the loot."
There was a path some distance off the main road that looked like an animal trail but was too wide for it to be used only by animals.
"Look here. Seems like it rained a few days ago. They left footprints when the earth dried and hardened. Can you guess how many different kinds of footprints there are?"
"...I can't see that well."
"You have the Night Vision skill, right? Try consciously strengthening your vision like how you do with Body Strengthening. Due to racial limitations, humans can only learn Night Vision up to level one, but you should be able to see this much if you focus hard enough."
I see...so that's how you use the normal Night Vision skill, huh.
It seemed that differentiating magic particles based on their "colour" like I did was unorthodox after all. The original Night Vision skill didn't just strengthen your eyesight, apparently it visualised the actual scene inside your brain by sensing the presence and flow of magic particles and combining that with your sense of sight.
I've been practising detecting presences through the flow of magic particles. I was able to see in the dark by matching the colour of the magic particles to that flow.
The Night Vision skill's limit for the human race was level 1. Other races like beastmen and dwarves probably had a higher level due to the differences in the fundamental physical abilities of each race. According to the "knowledge", dwarves who lived underground were born with the Night Vision skill.
However, as someone who learned the skill through a different method than usual, I might be able to increase the skill's level by learning the normal method as well.
In the meantime, I tried pouring magic power into my eyes in the same way as during Body Strengthening.
"...I can see them."
I could see that there were definitely multiple footprints, however faint they were.
"Five or six people?"
"There's a few more, but not more than ten. These two footprints are similar, but this one is deeper. Either he was heavier of was carrying something...since the footprints are a bit disordered, they probably belong to the latter's underling. This method can also be used to identify the number of monsters when exploring ruins. Imagine what the opponent looks like from their stride and the way they walk."
Viro suddenly raised his hand and stopped walking.
"Look over there. There's an unnatural place just off the path. Any idea what's there?"
When I looked closely, I could certainly see that the orientation of the branches and leaves were unnatural in some places. There was a branch that was broken at the top, and when I "imagined" what it was attached to...
"Correct. Probably a bear trap meant as a countermeasure against beasts rather than intruders. If you get caught with a physique like yours Heal won't be enough to heal yourself, so be careful."
"I'll disarm the visible traps just in case. Watch and learn how to do it without making noise."
Advancing through the forest while disarming the traps, I could faintly see the magic particles of fire and light on the other side of a gap in the forest.
When I pointed silently in that direction, Viro also looked there, then gave a small nod and indicated me to advance by just moving his finger.
As we headed in that direction, we saw an open area. I had an image of bandits living in a cave, but Viro told me that it was an abandoned village with only the movement of his mouth.
I didn't know if they were the original inhabitants of the village of if the bandits had simply settled there, but when I quietly peeked into the small village, I saw a desolated field that had turned into a grassland, some decaying houses, and in the centre of the village that still had some relatively decent houses, the bandits seemed to be drinking alcohol around a campfire.
"...Bit too many of 'em."
I nodded at Viro's words, who decided to speak up now that he had confirmed their location.
There were less than ten footprints. We had assumed that there would be a little more than ten, including the lookouts, but there were around fifteen bandits just from what we could see.
There were less than a dozen people in the centre by the campfire. There were also a few men on lookout duty on the roofs away from the campfire, drinking alcohol.
There was a wagon nearby with blood splattered all over it, which appeared to be their loot, so we were sure that we were dealing with bandits, not just villagers or travellers.
"Let's decrease their number bit by bit. It's fine to stay here if you're scared."
Viro grinned when I shook my head. ...No, I'll be troubled if you treat me like a child after coming this far, but did you finally remember that I was still just a child?
I saw Viro, whose presence had been completely erased, move effortlessly along with the flow of magic particles in the air. Even though I knew he was right in front of me, all I could do was to follow after the human shaped colour of magic particles.
So this is level four of the Stealth skill...huh.
I followed him while burning his movements into my memory.
Unlike me with my Stealth at level one, Viro was terrifyingly fast when he was serious. He soundlessly crept up on one of the men who had staggered out of the circle of people, wrapped his arms around the man's neck and snapped it with a movement that made me hallucinate a crack before laying him down soundlessly behind a dilapidated house.
"I'll deal with the lookouts first. You keep an eye on that bunch. Come tell me if they start moving towards the lookouts."
I nodded. Viro patted me on the head and started to move. After a few dozen metres, he was completely out of my sight.
Four or five lookouts should be no problem for Viro. Any normal child would feel uneasy about being left alone in a place with bandits, but I took out my Appraisal Crystal and began to investigate the bandits in order to do my job.
There were only a few discarded crystals left, but I still hadn't obtained the Appraisal skill. Is there some kind of trick for this too? Let's ask Viro later.
The combat strength of the bandits ranged from 40 to 70. There was one person who had a high number, but the rest were not much different from ordinary villagers.
But come to think of it, unlike thieves and adventurers, bandits, who were originally villagers, probably didn't have many skills. There was no way they had anything like Stealth or Detection skills, at best they probably only had a level one Sword Arts skill.
I saw another man leaving the group and walking towards me.
That's a bit troublesome. I didn't know if he came to relieve himself or to look for the guy from earlier, but if he saw the corpse and made a scene, Viro would have to deal with all of them at once.
Should I inform Viro...or should I do something about this man myself? I had to make a decision.
I let my emotions sink deep into my heart and quietly narrowed my eyes.
Wiping the ashes from my head roughly with my shawl, I gathered up my unnatural luggage and hid it in the grass, then resolved myself and walked up to the man.
"Huhh? Whaath? A braath?"
The dirty man, who was in his thirties and had a hatchet on his hip, was clearly drunk and approached the child who had suddenly appeared in this place without drawing his weapon.
"Ya a boy? Girrl? 'an't tell. He'rd ya can sell girls for lotsa coin."
"...Is that so. Mister, look at this for a moment."
"Hm? Whash dath?"
When the man approached me carelessly to look at the left hand I was holding out to him, I poured magic power into the weighted string made of my hair that I hid in my right hand and swung it down.
Thump! With a dull sound, the man whose skull was bashed in by the weight toppled onto his back as his eyes spun around. I immediately pulled out my black knife and straddled him, causing the man to slightly regain consciousness due to my weight.
The man's dazed eyes shook in fear when he saw the knife I was holding at the ready. Before his throat could let out a cry of fear, I stabbed the tip of my black knife through his jaw into his brain.
The man's frightened eyes reflected my face, as expressionless as when I killed that woman.
A slow, trembling hand reached out towards me. I pulled the knife with a twist. The dripping blood overflowed and the man's hand fell on the ground.
It seemed I was a little nervous, so I let out a breath before wiping off the clotted blood on the knife with the man's clothes.
That problem's dealt with. It should be fine to deal with the stragglers if they come again until Viro cleans up the lookouts. I don't have the luxury to hesitate when exchanging lives, so I won't hesitate to take a life.
Anyway, the sharpness of this knife is amazing. After lightly wiping off the clotted blood, it regained its original lustre, and I understood once again that it was indeed a truly excellent knife.
After a while, I turned my gaze toward the lookouts and saw that the lights had gone out and the human-shaped magic particles were nowhere to be seen.
Apparently, the lookouts have been taken care of. So far, the battle has been like that of an assassin, but against the six people at the campfire, I will probably see the battle of an "adventurer scout".
I had no intention of getting mixed up in such a group battle. Even if they were caught off guard, it would still be dangerous to take on multiple people head on, and a poor backup by itself could hold Viro back.
I decided to keep watch from a short distance away and keep track of their location if anyone escaped, or take them down if I could.
I believe...there were nine of them at the campfire. Viro and I took one down each, and there should have been seven left.
Where did the other one go? As I began to look around in panic, a voice entered my ears from the darkness.
"Who're ya!? The hell're ya doing here!?"
When I turned around, I saw a man in dirty hard leather armour pulling out his sword warily.
Viro hadn't started fighting yet. Making a commotion here and asking him for help meant that Viro would be fighting with a hindrance dragging him down.
Can't be helped... In order to stall for time until Viro's battle was over, I pulled out my black knife.
Next time: Battle against the bandit chief.
How does Aria, still being a child, plan to fight an opponent stronger than herself?
- [+] Something that was added in the light novel.
- [–] Something that didn't make it into the light novel.
- [≠] Some difference in details.
- [+] Viro adding "You should be able to see the shape with the flow of magic particles." when explaining how to use the normal Night Vision skill.
- [+] Specific mention that the dwarves that live underground were "rock dwarves".
- [–] Aria saying "...I can see them." when she tries to use the normal Night Vision as well.
- [+] Aria describing how she managed to use the normal Night Vision's method. This is basically the same as the explanation that she gave before but in applied form. In the web novel it's simply implied that that's what she's doing.
- [≠] While thinking about the skills that the bandits probably had, in the web novel Aria mentioned them for sure not having Stealth or Detection, and at best having Sword Arts, while in the light novel she mentioned sorcery and Detection and at best Sword Arts and Archery.
- [≠] In the web novel Aria wipes away the ashes with her "muffler", which is incorrect because what she bought previously was a shawl, so I corrected it like in the light novel.
- [≠] Not really a difference, but a mistranslation by the light novel's translator. The part where the man's frightened face turns expressionless. My translation where she sees her expressionless face reflected in the eyes of the dying man just like how it was when she killed that woman is the correct one. It's a running theme in the story that Aria sinks her emotions deep inside, which makes her look like a really eerie kid to her
- [≠] Another mistranslation. In the web novel Aria worries that she'll be a hindrance to Viro because she'll have to call for his help (which is the correct version), while in the light novel translation she worries that the man who discovered her would call for help.