Once the fires calmed down, the familiar woman stepped through and the Portal closed behind her. The bandits who lived had fled, but at least sixty had fallen to the Grand Master’s single attack. I couldn’t help but grumble. After all, I could have done something similar by casting Meteor. Well, I would have killed everyone, myself included. Some debris might have even damaged the city.
The Grand Master’s attack wasn’t just powerful, but it showed an extreme level of control. The caravan didn’t have a single singe on it. Yet, a ring of ash and charred corpses surrounded them. I also had a feeling that this wasn’t a specific skill given by his mage job, but something he was able to create through pure mana and fire control.
The job system allowed rapid growth, but it was also a crutch. Skills executed using the system were specific and predictable. For example, Lydia had Swordsman as a job, and she certainly had many levels of Swordsmanship. However, recently, she mentioned a desire to find a teacher. Although she’ll be unlocking Expert Swordsmanship soon. No matter how high the skill was, it was predictable. A true swordsman would be able to adapt in ways that Lydia simply couldn’t.
At some point, all of us would hit a limit where progressing couldn’t be done by spamming experience levels or combining skills. We’d need to truly understand the essence of our skills, and gain control of them so that we could execute skills that didn’t even exist on the skill sheet. It was clear to me that this Master was one such man.
Once I was sure the bandits had cleared the area and weren’t watching with spies, the group of us began to head down the hill and approach the caravan. The leaders appeared to be a young boy and girl. They were profusely thanking the Grand Master. As for the magician, he was on his knees, looking up at the man with reverence. It was actually the Blue Mage girl who noticed us approaching first.
“Ah? Oh! It’s the noble from before! Hi, noble!” She waved her hand excitedly like she wasn’t surrounded by death, her chest jiggling as she did so.
“Siti, right? Just call me Deek.”
The others began to turn our direction. The mage on his knees gave a sour look when he saw us. The Grand Master glanced at us once with a bored expression and then promptly ignored us. Only the younger male and female seemed to act surprised to see a party approaching.
“Huh? Where did they come from?”
“They were waiting on that hill to see the outcome of the battle!” The Mage said angrily. “Did you enjoy watching us struggle for our lives?”
“Don’t speak to Master that way!” Shao stroked a knife on her belt.
“You…” Salicia narrowed her eyes.
“We would have helped.” I responded, “We were about to when the Grand Master appeared.”
“I bet you were…” He responded hatefully.
“Now, now, don’t act that way! I’m sorry for his disrespect, my lord.” The young boy chastised him and gave a bow to me. “I’m sure you did your best. Why are you here?”
Upon saying that, I did feel a bit guilty that I had considered just leaving them to die. The young girl looked at me suspiciously, only relaxing after the boy spoke. She was holding his arm closely. It was difficult to tell if she was his sister or girlfriend. They were both in their lower to mid-teens, although I wasn’t good at determining ages, so I rarely thought about things that way. Considering some women with me were hundreds of years old, despite looking no older than twenty, I reckoned that was a good policy.
“We’re just doing our best to try to help with the bandit problem.” I explained. “A better question, what is your caravan doing here?”
“We came because we’re desperate! We need help!”
“What is going on?” I asked as the boy who spoke looked between me and the bored-looking Grand Master.
“We came from our village! We had no choice. We were sent to the closest city to beg for aid. The bandits have been ravishing the countryside!”
“Obviously…” the Grand Master snorted.
“No, I mean, there are villages being attacked left and right. Those that aren’t surrounding Regency have been burning farms and towns every night. Surely, you’ve noticed the burning lights and the smoke!”
I hadn’t been here more than a day, so I hadn’t noticed such a thing.
“I thought Regency was the last standing city in the southwest.” I frowned.
He looked on helplessly. “City, maybe, but there are still dozens of small villages that have managed to hold out. They like to use the villages as places to relax. They torture the residents, eat everything, steal what they want, molest the women. They kill anyone who doesn’t please them and shoot down anyone who flees. Our village has been suppressed for the last two weeks. Our people are running out of supplies. My father, the mayor, watched their movements for two weeks until he found a way to slip us through!”
“That’s awful!” Siti cried tearfully.
“We’re not helping.” The Grand Master snorted.
“M-m-master!” Siti turned to him with a shocked look.
“We saw you from the wall of Regency and my Siti here is a softy. That’s the only reason I saved you. My focus is on Regency. I will continue to protect that city.”
“Why?” I asked. “What is in Regency?”
“Hmph! That’s for me to know, and you to bugger off!”
The Mage who was initially shooting him looks of reverence looked lost and confused now that the man was showing his true colors. He may be powerful, but he wasn’t a hero. He was in Regency for a reason. I had already guessed as much the first time I saw him. Why else would a man of his prestige remain in a town under siege? He was definitely looking for something. In fact, it felt eerily similar to what happened in Penbrook. Carmine was trying to find the guardian, while an army for bandits tried to break into the city to capture her. Of course, I had asked, and no one was aware of any dungeon in Regency. If it existed, it was well hidden.
With the Grand Master’s words lingering in the air, the young boy and girl turned to look at me, pleading looks on their faces.
“I take it you plan to continue to protect Regency until you find whatever you’re looking for?” I asked the Grand Mage.
“I will be in the city for the foreseeable future.” He responded, shooting me a disinterested look.
“Then, I have no problem helping out.” I told the two. “That’s part of why I came here. I’d like to save as many people as possible.”
The Mage still looked suspicious, but the young couple started to thank me profusely. I felt awkward, considering I hadn’t even done anything to really help them yet. Plus, this wasn’t a sudden decision on my part. Had I known the villages were there, I would have started with them, anyway. The Adventuring Guild and Aberis had apparently already left them for lost. However, the bandits had been seemingly concentrating on the strongholds and using the villages to relieve stress.
“Let’s return to Regency and get to safety. Then, we can talk about how we can help save your villages.” I said.
“I’m sorry, my lord!” Siti curtsied. “I cannot cast another Portal for a bit.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” I opened a Portal.
When I started the chant, Siti looked extremely startled. Afterward, she gave me a more considering look. The Grand Master didn’t seem to care one way or another. The Mage’s suspicious looks had been blown away though, and the other two talked excitedly. I may not be able to make rings of dragon fire, but I could still surprise people every once in a while.
Once we were all back in the city, the Grand Master immediately excused himself and took the Blue Mage with him. She seemed to want to chat with us, but he was insistent that they leave. It was a shame, because I wanted to discuss some things with him as well. He was definitely up to something, and I was starting to think it had some connection to the bandits. However, I was being dragged in the other direction by the Mage and the two teens. The Mage was much more friendly now that he thought I might actually help them.
We ended up at a table in the inn and tavern. They didn’t have any alcohol, as their stocks were low. Fortunately, I had put some drinks away in my inventory, and brought them out. It was a low-level alcohol, closer to a sparkling grape juice. It was the closest thing I could find to the carbonated beverages I was used to back home.
As Miki poured everyone a drink, I brought out another parchment and paper, and began drawing. This image looked a lot better than the last one I had made. I was now a Cartographer level 5 and had unlocked Basic Drawing and a skill called Metrics. I also had a skill called Orientation which seemed to help me know when I was facing North, and a skill called Light Touch which allowed me to adjust the pen pressure to create darker and thinner lines a bit easier. I had left Cartographer equipped as we wiped out those 50-some bandits. Adding to that my experience bonuses, and anything level 1 would have shot up quite quickly.
“Ah! Incredible!” The boy cried out in awe.
Was it really that impressive to be able to draw maps? Well, I was just copying an already drawn map in my head. If I was doing it by memory, it would certainly be impressive. I quickly finished the drawing and then pointed at it.
“Tell me where the villages are that are still left standing.” I declared.
The boy blinked and then blushed. “I’m sorry, I only know where three villages are, and I can only say two of them were still standing when we left.”
“Give it here, boy!” The Mage pulled the map to him. “I’ve been around the area a bit more than you.”
“He’s a traveling magician. He comes to villages and puts on shows.”
“An entertainer?” My eyes widened.
It wasn’t that the concept of an entertainer surprised me. Rather, it was that this guy had such a grating personality, but was apparently someone who brought joy to people in small villages.
“Hmph!” The man snorted. “I know a few tricks. I can captivate an audience, at least.”
Now that I thought about it, he did have a bit of a prima donna vibe to him. I wasn’t going to judge though.
After marking things for a few minutes, mumbling to himself, and then marking some more things, he was able to flesh out the map. A lot of these villages were outside of my sense life range. If they had not been, I probably would have assumed they were bandits. Well, some of them might be. There was no telling which ones housed bandits and which ones were being preserved.
With the Grand Master watching the city, I’d be safe going to these places. My plans hadn’t changed, but I was going to be able to do things a bit easier now.
“We’ll visit your village first.” I said.
“N-now?” The boy said in surprise.
“I’d prefer to move before they can react.” I explained. “Plus, there is a bit of daylight left.”
I was interested in creating one more defensible area. Regency was under siege and was far too difficult to move out from. Since it wasn’t a good place to launch my campaign, and seemed safe enough with the Grand Master protecting it, I was going to prepare my own base of operations.