22: The First Mission
Part 1: Vagabond Arc "Ash-crowned Princess of Slaughter" Chapter 2: The Black Ops' Combat Maid
"I don't trust slum dwellers like you."
...What is he trying to say?
I kept my hand on the handle of the knife at my waist and looked into Castro's piercing gaze. He must not have liked my attitude as he raised an eyebrow slightly before speaking as if spitting out his words.
"The slum dwellers are those who have been spoiled by the 'nothingness' of their environment and have abandoned their mettle to live an honest life. That's why they resort to crime as natural as breathing, and betray others just from the slightest greed even when they are given a job. How can you trust someone like that?"
When I didn't react to his words and didn't avert my gaze, Castro clicked his tongue silently and turned away.
"I'll only give you that knife and the job. Your post is this way."
The thin knife that Castro threw...a needle dagger? I pulled it out of the ground and followed him.
Among the slum dwellers, there were some like the Gil and Shuri siblings, who had no parents and were forced to live there. Likewise, there were also hopeless adults, like that drunkard who robbed those two of their money.
An aspect of the slums was that they served as a receptacle for people who couldn't live a normal life. To understand the truth, one must look at it from multiple perspectives, not just one.
I didn't know what happened in his past, but I wasn't even a slum dweller. I was a mere street urchin who didn't even count as a resident, so it was bothersome if he expected some kind of reaction.
Castro led me into a forest that was located westward from behind the castle. When I wondered what we were doing in such a place, Castro pointed further into the woods.
"The woodlands beyond this point are not part of any noble's territory. There's a health resort here, so forest guards patrol the woods regularly, but on rare occasions stray wolves or other beasts manage to slip in. Your job is to be the lookout here. Viro boasted that much about you, I'm sure you can at least drive away a wolf, right?"
What a crude mission. Although being the lookout was something that even a child could do, I would think that if a normal child was made to do it, they would run away after a few days.
"At least a month. There should be food in the guard cabin over there, so use it freely."
That was really all he told me. Castro left me in the woods and went back towards the mansion. Apparently he had no intention of giving proper work to "an untrustworthy slum kid".
Guessing from what he and Viro said, the actual client's intention was to hire a child because the protection target was also a child, so it was necessary to have a guard with the same point of view as them.
A selfish child might be unable to understand the danger that may befall them and try to sneak away without being seen by the adults. I thought the client might be taking such a situation into account, but it seemed that Castro was denying that. ...No, he was denying using "slum kids".
Oh well. For me, this kind of work made me more at ease than a job that would involve dealing with nobles. At any rate, I headed towards the guard cabin that Castro had mentioned, only to find a half-decayed shack that was a cabin in name only.
When I opened the dilapidated door, which could barely fulfil its function, I found the inside covered in dust with empty liquor bottles strewn about haphazardly, showing no signs of having been used in years.
It was probably intended to be used by the guards who regularly patrol the area at night, and was only nominally stockpiled with food reserves.
Naturally, it was impossible to find any proper food left. Even if there were some, it would have been mouldy jerky with insect bites all over it, which was hardly edible.
...Can't be helped. I put down my shoulder bag and checked my current belongings.
My weapons were a black knife and a spare steel knife. Six throwing knives and one steel skewer. In addition, the weighted string made from my hair and the slingshot.
There was also the needle dagger that Castro left behind, but I wasn't quite sure on how to use it. The blade was thirty centimetres long with a width no more than two, yet it was almost one centimetre thick.
The sides of the blade didn't have an edge, but the tip was strangely sharp. ...Perhaps it was a weapon designed exclusively for stabbing. Even so, with a blade this thick, I wouldn't be able to pierce deeply enough with my muscle strength.
The food I had left was a small amount of jerky, one piece of rye bread, a small amount of nuts in a bag, and a little bit of sugar and salt.
The only other things I had was the small book on wild plants that woman stole from her sorcery master and two potions, but I would probably not use them.
For the time being, I washed my dusty hands and face with Daily Life magic, filled my copper canteen with water, quenched my thirst, and shouldered my bag once again.
"First is securing a base and food, I guess..."
This cabin wasn't suitable to be used as a base. Its defence capability was non-existent, yet it would give away my location. It also stank of dust.
I then looked around the area, and after confirming that there were no other water sources apart from the lake, I decided to make a temporary base up on a tree about fifty metres away from the cabin. Ever since acquiring the Martial Arts skill, climbing large trees had become less of a pain.
I stashed my luggage up in the tree before exploring the surrounding forest. And when I found what I was looking for, I pulled out the knife from my waist.
When I unleashed the monosyllabic non-elemental magic, the dagger's Battle Technique, a young tree of about two metres fell down with a crackling sound.
I tried to use a Battle Technique to train it, but it consumed about 10 MP. It may not seem like much, but it wasn't something I would be able to do many times consecutively while using Body Strengthening. It would be better to limit it to two times per battle until my magic power grew.
Still, I cut down three young trees and took them back with me after removing the branches. Body Strengthening became necessary for me to climb the tree while carrying the wooden poles of about five centimetres in diameter and almost two metres in length. By placing three wooden poles over the branches of the tree and tying them with vines, a simple but adequate sleeping place was created.
It would become a little more comfortable if I added more poles later. Just to be safe, I hid my sleeping place by tying up the branches I had cut off earlier. I ate a meal of rye bread and water as I smoked the place with insect repellent grass, then headed off to secure food.
This area was full of large trees. I didn't see much in the way of blackberry bushes, but in exchange found black-shelled nuts and deep purple fruits growing on vines.
During this time, I was also practising Stealth and Night Vision simultaneously. The normal Night Vision I learned from Viro visualised the shapes of objects by the reflection of magic particles. I could make out details better than with my colour-based Night Vision, but I felt that the range was slightly shorter.
I also tried throwing a knife whenever I saw the occasional green snake to practice throwing, but I still hadn't acquired the Throwing skill yet, so I couldn't hit such a small target.
Just like that, night came without Castro ever coming to check on me. I hadn't even seen any patrolling soldiers, let alone Castro.
I returned to my base through the darkened forest using Night Vision and Stealth, wiped myself with a wet cloth, and ate my dinner up in the tree. Considering that this was tentatively a surveillance mission, I thought it would be a bad idea to light a fire at night, so I ate only nuts and fruits before taking a break, but soon fell asleep, perhaps because the fatigue from the trip finally caught up to me.
The next morning, before the sun had even begun to rise, I awoke to a slightly different "quality" in the air.
Fundamentally, I never slept deeply. Unless I became distracted, it wasn't that hard to always keep a part of my brain awake.
While not completely rested, I still awoke much more refreshed thanks to the absence of "other people", who were the biggest danger to me.
The sun had risen, but never mind wolves, no one seemed to be coming.
It was strange to have just one child on lookout without someone else to take turns in the first place. Still, would it damage Viro's credibility for bringing me along should I let a wolf pass?
For breakfast I ate just nuts and fruits again before looking around inside the forest.
Although it was meant to be a patrol, for me, who was still only at skill level 1, every action became a training exercise.
Now was the time to increase the number of usable skills. If I were greedy, I would have liked to get any one of my skills to level 2, but I knew that would probably be impossible.
It was rare for the average commoner to reach skill level 2 under the age of twenty. I speculated that it was probably more of a physical limitation than a lack of technical proficiency.
I had now grown one or two years older than my actual age due to the rapid increase in my magic power, but I was still only a child of less than ten years old physically.
My development speed began to return to normal once the growth of my magic power settled down. In that case, should I prioritise training something that will increase my magic power?
That day, the dagger I threw hit the mark and I was able to hunt a rabbit. Apparently there were "horned rabbits" that were classified as monsters, but I had yet to meet one. I heard that they had a lovely appearance, but were actually carnivores. Well, either way, it's the same for me because I'll hunt them when I see them.
Since I wasn't lighting fires at night, I roasted the rabbit deep in the forest while it was still bright. Once again, I realized that a knife that was too sharp was not suitable for skinning.
Not wanting to spend too much time on it, I drained the blood moderately, skewered it, and roasted it. There was still a bit of astringency, but I didn't mind because I wasn't a picky eater.
On the way back, I collected a bit of an unusual wild herb. If memory served me right, it should be a wild herb that when mixed with alcohol would create a cardiotonic drug. However, apparently it could also be a heart attack-inducing poison when consumed in large quantities.
Can I use it for something...? It's about time to start thinking about using poisons too.
I returned to the base a little early, made sure no one had visited the cabin, then climbed up my tree and began to study dark sorcery as I put the rest of the roasted rabbit meat into my mouth.
I still hadn't learned dark sorcery. Perhaps rather than the meaning or the pronunciation of the spell being wrong, it was because I still didn't have a clear image of what "darkness" was.
Light had a clear energy, much like the sun. So did fire, and wind had kinetic energy. And as for water and earth, they existed in physical form in the first place.
But darkness was just a "shadow" where light didn't shine. Nothing existed there.
So I figured that actual darkness and dark magic particles were two different things.
Nevertheless, a dark spirit was evoked from the dark, and the dark magic particles became the dark element. ...Perhaps the term "dark element" referred to the magic particles themselves, which were generated from darkness.
Rather than the presence of light creating shadows, could it be that the dark element was a physical energy that blocked out light?
In that case...then maybe by treating the darkness as particles, I could envelop my thoughts...sounds and images, and send them out. No, perhaps projecting dark particles themselves was how "illusions" worked.
Since the light element was pure energy, it was possible to convert it into vitality. And then, the dark element didn't have a shape like the other elements.
The inside of Viro's expanded bag was pitch black and nothing could be seen. I thought that precisely because it had no shape, it could be used to increase the capacity of the bag, depending on one's mental image.
But, maybe...there's no need to even be fixated on the shape of a bag to expand space?
At that moment, I felt the "colour" of the magic particles move in the corner of my vision.
While thirty metres was the limit if I wanted to perceive the colours as scenery with clear shapes, I could see twice that far when it came to the simple movement of magic particles.
It's not the wind...either a wolf really came, or a patrolling soldier finally showed up...
There were five or six moving bodies...they were slowly coming my way, their shapes gradually becoming clearer as I focused more on them.
There was a single large individual among them.
Goblins were low-ranked monsters with a body the size of a child. Still, they had the combat strength of an average adult...about 40, and while it would be difficult for me to take on two of them at the same time, it wasn't a number I couldn't beat with a few soldiers. ...But what about that one?
Despite regretting the consumption of magic power, I appraised it, and the true identity of that thing emerged from the "knowledge".
⦗Magic Power: 66/68⦘ ⦗Stamina: 340/340⦘
◼Comprehensive Combat Strength: 101 (During Body Strengthening: 116)
Hobgoblins were a higher species of goblin, a rank 2 monster. Was it a stray monster? I didn't know why it was here, but it was beyond what I could handle.
However, annoyingly enough, the hobgoblin and his gang were slowly approaching the tree where I was while seemingly searching for prey.
As I waited with bated breath for the goblins, who were only five metres below me, to pass by, I noticed a small light walking towards the guard cabin.
A soldier? ...No. A maid? By herself?
A petite girl with a small lantern and a small basket approached with uncertain steps through the darkness.
If I called out to her from here, they would notice both of us. But if I stayed quiet, she was likely to be found by the goblins at this rate.
Can't be helped... I heaved an inner sigh and calmly sank my emotions deep inside my heart.
Pulling out the needle dagger with high penetrating power instead of the black knife, I soundlessly kicked the branch while following the stream of magic particles and jumped down right above the hobgoblin, holding the dagger firmly with both hands.
The dagger failed to penetrate the skull and slid, gouging the face and piercing the neck. The hobgoblin screamed, blood spurting and dying me a dark red.
For now, die.
Next time, a battle with the wounded hobgoblin and his goblin lackeys.
The next update will be on Wednesday.
- [+] Something that was added in the light novel.
- [–] Something that didn't make it into the light novel.
- [≠] Some difference in details.
- [≠] In the light novel, when Castro gives Aria the thin knife he calls it a needle dagger, but in the web novel he just calls it a knife and Aria figures what type it is herself, presumably from her "knowledge".
- [+] Aria mentioning how it was possible that the budget for the food reserves of the guard cabin to have been embezzled.
- [–] On examining the needle dagger, Aria thinking that with a blade that thick she won't be able to stab deep enough with her strength.
- [–] Aria filled her canteen before drinking.
- [≠] In the web novel Aria needed to use Body Strengthening to climb the tree with the wooden poles, while in the light novel she tied them together and pulled them up.
- [–] The whole paragraph on Aria practising Stealth and Night Vision, and her thoughts about the normal and her own brand of Night Vision.
- [–] Aria mentioning that she kept a part of her brain awake while she slept.
- [–] Aria's mini rant about horned rabbits.
- [–] Aria's explanation on how she cooked the rabbit and how it tasted.
- [–] Aria checked for people in the cabin before climbing up her tree.
- [–] The part about the energies of the elements other than light and dark.
- [–] Aria talking about how she could beat the goblins with a few soldiers. Doesn't make sense why she brings some non-existing soldiers here. Makes sense it was removed.
- [≠] The hobgoblin's stamina is a bit different in the light novel: 332/340. Seems the author figured out that it's weird to ever have stamina at 100% (outside of just after waking up well rested), especially since it was night when she appraised it.