“Deek…” Ruby started to give me a mouthful. “I don’t know what has gotten into you. This is not proper behavior for a lord! Rather, your cruel acts are foolish! He likely lied about the location of the troops! Plus, you just sent him right back to them. Now, they know who we are! Our presence will be known within the hour!”
“Enough, Ruby!” Shao glared.
“No!” Ruby snapped, grabbing me and glaring, “You’ve acted too cruelly, and… ah! Why are you crying?”
“That was scary!” I cried out, wiping my face.
Miki wrapped her arms around me and patted my head. “There, there… Master was very brave.”
“Scary! You’re the one who was scary!” Ruby cried out.
“Yeah, that was the point!” Shao snorted.
“Wait… what?” Ruby blinked.
“You didn’t know? But you put on a perfect foil? Constantly asking him to stop really helped sell it.” Carmine said.
“We were acting?” Salicia blinked.
I finished recovering from that moment. Even though we were putting on a show, it wasn’t like I was used to acting that way. It got to a point where I even scared myself a bit. It’d still take time before I could truly act that decisive.
“To answer your question, the map is pointless.” I crumpled it up.
“Ah! But…” Ruby reached out, her eyes wide and her mouth open.
I had drawn the map from my own Map magic, so it would never be as detailed. Furthermore, my Sense Life had a good distance, so I already knew the answer to those questions. In fact, I only detected people in half of the places he indicated. The reason I had him tell me was for misdirection. The reasons behind it were many.
First off, if I just magically kept wiping out troops, they would begin to guess I was using Sense Life, and perhaps even use something that blocked it, rendering my ability moot. Now, if I attacked, they’d assume that I was visiting the places he indicated. Then, they would react to that to try to ambush me. Since I could catch any ambushes with Sense Life, we wouldn’t be threatened at all. The second reason was to give the leaders the impression I was dumb and foolish. The third was that I wanted them to know my identity. The fourth was to start familiarizing them with me.
Miki had used fear attacks on their minds while they were unconscious. Meanwhile, I had changed all of their jobs to something more vulnerable and low level. They’d need a Priest to reset their job to Bandit at the very least. Furthermore, they had been filled with a sense of dread and fear by seeing us. This was really just the beginning, though. I didn’t want to explain my entire plan to Ruby though. She was really just along for the ride. Besides, it was useful getting a view from someone who didn’t know everything. It helped me better guess how I was being perceived and let me know when I was on the right track.
“That girl in Regency had already said it. The waves of bandits are endless. Even with ways to kill them permanently, or send them as captives, it won’t be enough to stop them. I’m not here to kill a bandit or two. I’m here to end the bandit threat that has plagued southwest Aberis for years. If I act too aggressively, they’ll flee to other parts of the country to find better prospects until I leave. If I act too passive, I won’t even make a dent. Thus, I’m walking a fine line here.”
“Do you think the bad guys see that powerful good guy as the hero?”
I shook my head. “I don’t. Sometimes, you have to be the villain, to be the hero.”
“…” Ruby looked away, not knowing how to respond.
“Let’s go. It’s time to make an impression.”
Since I knew where everyone was, it was easy to avoid their Scouts, and then knock out the groups. Although there were numerous gatherings, some larger than others, I only attacked the ones that had been indicated by the mage. Fortunately, the others were just isolated bandit camps, set up for them to protect their own stuff from the other bandits around them. Groups like this couldn’t truly trust each other, so the few who had earned trust, or at least ruled the others by fear, gathered in small groups, which I supposed they called bands.
Each band consisted of a group of bandits. The more that got together, the more they had to share, and the more discord they ended up experiencing. Thus, it was most common for bandits to only be in groups of ten or twenty. That’s why I really wanted to know how Salicia had gotten a group of nearly five hundred bandits to risk their lives attacking Penbrook. Fear alone wasn’t a satisfying answer to me. There was something she either wasn’t or couldn’t tell me.
Each band was taken out in much the same manner as the first. The girls knocked them out, Miki infected them with just a seed of fear, and then I changed their jobs and sent them on their way to resurrection. It only took three hours and two more groups before we encountered an ambush at the next spot. Three hours from when we killed the first and they had already figured out what was happening. Admittedly, I had already killed close to fifty bandits. If our numbers were even remotely close to accurate, then that was a significant portion of their troops.
One of their numbers was someone I had marked. It was the same magician from earlier. He not only was back, but it looked like he was looking for revenge. No wonder they said it felt like a never-ending horde. This was definitely a tough situation.
“Come on… let’s go.” I whispered to the rest and turned away.
“You’re not going to thwart their ambush?” Ruby asked in surprise.
“If we show ourselves to be too good at taking them out, then they’ll definitely know we have a means of sensing their ambushes.”
“Well, even if you’re good at avoiding them, they’ll figure it out.”
“Hopefully, it will take a bit longer this way. Looks like I won’t be making D rank tonight.”
“That was your goal!” Ruby coughed. “You… I admit it’s difficult to keep up with your brand of recklessness.”
“Someone else sees it! I’m not the only one!” Raissa cried, giving Ruby a star-filled look.
Just at that moment, there was a sudden boom. A giant pillar of fire shot out from the forest. Those that were waiting in ambush broke rank and began running toward the commotion. They weren’t a tight group like soldiers or Dungeon Divers. Even though they had a mission of ambushing me, the magician guy couldn’t keep his team together. They were naturally very curious. I snorted in disgust at their lack of discipline.
“Huh? Where is everyone?” I turned back to see only Ruby standing by me.
She shrugged helplessly, pointing at the girls, who were also racing toward the explosion to see what happened. Miki stopped about twenty feet out and turned back.
“Come on, Master! I think there is a battle going on!”
Miki and Shao at least waited for me. Carmine and Salicia were already out of sight. I realized Raissa had also remained by my side. I hadn’t even noticed her standing quietly beside Ruby with her tail wagging. She really was a good ninja. She wasn’t even in black, or trying to hide, and I kept forgetting she was there.
Anyway, I followed the girls. It wasn’t like I didn’t plan to go investigate, anyway. However, it looked like a great deal of the red dots were descending on the area, and it’d be dangerous. I was more interested in finding a vantage point and observing than jumping right in and seeing what was happening. Fortunately, there was a nearby hill that no one seemed to be approaching. I headed there with the girls, making sure to chastise and redirect Salicia and Carmine using Slave Communication.
When we were finally safe on the hill, we could see a group of nearly three hundred bandits. They were attacking a group of people. It appeared to be a caravan. They were facing the city, so it was clear they were arriving, not leaving.
“What caravan of people would be stupid enough to try to break into a city in bandit country?” Shao asked.
It really was strange. Furthermore, they had managed to get so far into bandit country before being caught only a few miles outside of Regency.
“Are we going to save them?” Ruby asked, watching me cautiously.
“Three hundred bandits and counting! How strong do you think we are?” I shot Ruby a look.
She blushed and lowered her head. “I’m sorry. You’re right. Your team has just been making it look so easy that I forgot your limitations.”
It’s not like I wasn’t trying to think about a solution, but anything I tried would put us at risk. I definitely didn’t want anyone in my team to get killed, especially on the first day. As far as these people went, we could probably resurrect them later, worst-case scenario. It was a harsh thought, but that was the kind of world that we lived in. Sometimes, death really was the easy way out.
Still, I was definitely curious, so I pulled out a telescope and took a closer look at the caravan. There was a group of guards, but half of them were dead already. The fire had been shot by a mage. His barrier was the only reason the bandits hadn’t already overtaken them, and part of the reason I didn’t just barrel in to try to rescue them, as I’d be just as blocked as the thieves. Still, the mages among the bandits were tossing attacks at it, and the barrier was slowly crumbling. I’d say they only have about two minutes left.
I could toss up a Portal in the middle, but it would reveal that I could make portals! I was trying to keep as many secrets from the bandits as possible. It would add to the mystery. However, seeing Ruby’s worried look, I realized I couldn’t just let these people die. With a sigh, I lifted my hand to open a Portal. However, before I did anything, a portal opened up in the middle of the caravan. An old man stepped out of it. Actually, I recognize him. It was the one called a Grand Master. The apprentice must have been able to make portals! She was the first person I had ever seen able to create portals without dungeon points.
He raised his staff and then slammed it into the ground. He was just like a certain wizard! I suddenly really hoped that he said the line!
“You will not progress!”
I gave out a sigh. He was almost cool. That line just didn’t have the same ring to it. He didn’t stop there though. He picked his staff up and began to swirl it around over his head. It began to emit fire. As someone who was at least a Basic Magician, I had never seen magic used in such a showy matter. You just cast it, but this guy seemed to be putting on an act of it. To those who couldn’t use magic, it looked very impressive, but to me it felt very superfluous.
The fire began to grow, and just as the barrier shattered, a giant streak of fire wrapped around the caravan. No, it wasn’t a streak, it was a dragon! It was a Chinese-style dragon composed of pure fire. It walked along the ground, leaving a trail of ash in its wake. It kept growing longer and longer, curling around the caravan. As it began to dig into the crowds of bandits, those that got too close were burned to a crisp. They began screaming and soon running. Those that had pushed in from the outside ended up fighting against those who were now trying to flee the flames. In a moment, the tides had turned, and bandits fled in terror.
In a single moment, the Grand Master had accomplished a plan that would have taken me weeks to accomplish.