Ethan sat in the bushes next to Mira as they watched the young woman look at a map for the fifth time.
“She’s definitely lost.” Ethan sighed.
“Well, she is on her first request, you couldn’t read a map either, remember?” Mira quipped as the girl stowed the map and began walking, the whole time she muttered to herself.
They had learned quite a bit about the strange girl in the hours that they were following her. One, she was covered head to toe in enchanted gear. She just had to be, as she walked tirelessly through the thick forest without so much as stopping to take a breath. That and the strange shimmer of the hat she wore whenever she walked through low hanging branches, she never seemed to notice when something hit it as it seemed to repel anything that touched it. Not to mention the fact that every time she came across an herb of any kind she would, after inspecting it and arguing with herself, pluck it and it would vanish, showing she clearly had a spatial storage ring or bag on her somewhere. Two, if she really was covered in enchanted gear, she had to be a caster of some kind given the amount of mana she would need to fuel all the enchantments. If that was the case, she was a horrible mage. The three of them hadn’t bothered to mask themselves at all minus keeping a distance from her, if she was competent, she would have detected them immediately. Three, she was quite possibly crazy as once she was out of the city she started to talk to herself, constantly. Always muttering half a conversation about things like food and the weather with no regard to being quiet at all which leads to the fourth, and possibly the most alarming fact. She was indeed very important, or at least a whole lot of people seemed to think so.
Fiori appeared beside the two, her body materializing from a nearby shadow. “There are at least three other groups following her.” She whispered, “none of them seem to be paying attention to any of the others.”
“At least?” Mira asked looking at the feline woman, “didn’t you say you were the best scout in all of Crown?”
“Yea,” Fiori glared at her, “but some of them are using magic to hide. You’re welcome to go look for yourself, mighty Mira.” She hissed; Fiori was not a mage. She had enough mana to cast basic concealment magic, masking herself from detection, but that was about all she could do with her limited power. She didn't have nearly enough mana control or power to overcome a full caster attempting to hide from her and even basic detection magic would have been nearly impossible for her without draining her completely.
She was, however, an amazing scout. She excelled in tracking and spotting things that were, as she described, “out of place”. She was nearly flawless in spotting traps as well as setting them, that along with her dagger skills, she was truly a force to be reckoned with, but… she was not a mage.
“I can detect a handful of mages to our east, as well as one or two to our west.” Mira rolled her eyes as she was forced to admit the third group Fiori had spotted was out of her capabilities to detect.
Ethan shook his head, “do any of them look dangerous?”
“oh, hells yea,” Fiori nodded, “one group are clearly guards from the city, I think it was the squad that was following her around.”
“Did they bring that damn maid out here?” He asked, rolling his eyes.
“Didn’t see her.” Fiori shrugged, “but the ones to the east look like priests almost. They are all in church robes”
“Paladins?” Ethan cut her off, a hint of fear in his voice. The story of a paladin attacking the city comes to mind as he looks back at the “noble” girl they were following. “If they have a problem with the churches, I’m calling this off now. I’m not looking to die for some gold.”
“Relax, there was nothing as scary as a paladin. Just a bunch of priests it looked like, though it was strange, they were all different races with different robes. Like a bunch of different priests going out together… There was a tall purple guy with a horn mixed in, but he was picking flowers and putting them in a basket… really weird.” Fiori didn’t know what to make of the Oni wearing bright purple priest robes picking roses, but she couldn’t see him as dangerous.
“Ok,” Ethan relaxed, zealots were one thing, he could fight a group of priests. But one trained paladin was a different story. “And the third group you saw?”
“Oh them?” Fiori put a finger to her chin, “oh they were bandits. Nasty bunch talking about all sorts of things they were going to do to the brat if her family didn’t pay.” Ethan slapped his face at the nonchalant reply.
“Of course, they were.” He grumbled, “anyone else?”
“None that I saw but I can’t shake the feeling that something else is off back there,” she gestured over her shoulder, “about a mile back in the forest something is off, you know?”
“We don’t know that’s why you’re the scout.” Ethan grumbled.
“Well, it’s just weird, ok? Like you’re in the forest, but everything seems just a little off, the sounds are all there but it's… uniform, like the birds are on one of those music boxes.”
“Ok, so we have some guards, some priests, bandits, and a weird spot in the forest.” Ethan replied tapping the hilt of his sword.
“Could be mages,” Mira added, “if they are that far back with detection magic? Maybe illusions?”
“Doesn’t matter.” Ethan sighed as they began to move, though they weren’t “hiding” from the girl they were told to not approach her, so they were keeping a good distance between them as they followed her. “How close are the other groups?”
“Well, the bandits are creeping closer, they seem unaware of the massive amount of people tailing the girl. The other two are staying about as far back as we are… The guards seem nervous by the way, like they are just waiting for something.” Fiori whispered; out of the three groups she spotted the guards seemed the most on edge. The bandits were right at home in the forest and the priests were… Well, picking flowers.
“Of course, they are, if she’s half as important as she seems, their heads will roll if anything happens to her.” Ethan said peeking around a tree to find the girl picking more herbs, “at least she knows what plants she’s looking for.” He noticed the girl had not made a mistake yet in spotting useful plants. “Ok, Mira you watch the girl. Fiori and I will go take care of the bandits.”
“Can’t we just let the guards take care of them when they get closer?” Fiori whined, “I just got the wolf blood off me.”
“What if they report to the guild and take our “easy payday”.” Ethan mocked her as he stood.
“We could let Fiori watch the girl.” Mira suggested looking around the bush to the girl, “wait there's something in that bush.”
Just then they watched something none of them would ever have suspected.
The girl was standing in the middle of a small clearing looking around as if she were lost when a small horned rabbit shot out of the bushes to her right. The small creature was no more than a blur as it launched towards her. Ethan had barely grabbed his sword when the girl swung her empty hand out, her sword bisecting the creature mid air.
“When the hell did she draw it!” Fiori gasped as she stood wide eyed.
“She didn’t…” Ethan was positive her hand was empty when she started the swing, yet there she stood now with a bloody sword in her right hand. The sheath hanging empty on her left hip.
“Space magic.” Mira whispered as the sword vanished from her gauntleted hand and reappeared in its sheath, her left hand resting on the pommel as the blood that was on it fell to the ground. She picked up the limp creature.
Killing a horned rabbit was really not that impressive, they were D ranked beasts hardly a danger if one wasn’t careless. Simple creatures who just charged at weak looking things and attempted to impale them on the long horn that protruded from their foreheads… “But to stop an attack from a blind spot like that… maybe I misjudged her.” Ethan said, looking at the girl with a newfound respect.
“To move her sword like that,” Mira shook a little, to transport an object from one hand to the other was the simplest space magic one could cast. But that wasn’t to say it was easy, even ignoring the mana cost, you still had to be absolutely sure the object would fit in your other hand, or it would force your fingers apart. To lose a grip and you would drop it the second it appeared. “And mid swing too… just who is she?”
The trio watched her take a few deep breaths as she looked at the limp rabbit in her hands… “that was her first.” Fiori swallowed hard as her ears twitched, all three of them remembering the first time they slain a monster. It was a crucial point in any young adventurer's life, but she had done it almost as if it was a reflex… “we can’t let the bandits get to her, she won't be able to do it. not now.” Fiori said as the young woman shakily stored the rabbit into whatever storage she had.
The other two nodded in agreement, it had slipped their mind but watching her stand there just staring at the bloody grass at her feet. She was just a kid, a F-rank on her first request. “me and Fiori will go take care of them, Mira be sure she doesn't get hurt ok?” Ethan said solemnly as he turned back to the two women.
Mira couldn't help but smile as she nodded, for all his talk about the “bratty noble” He still didn't hesitate to dive into battle to protect her. “You got it, Hero.” she whispered as she watched his back vanishing into the thicket.