It took me a while to digest what Katherine had just said. “That means…”
“Yup, she ded! No need rescue her now!” Katherine gave me one of her stunning smiles and looked around.
Slowly nodding, I came closer to closer to her and hugged her. “Poor Lisa! That changes our plans now, though. We can’t really go to the ruins without her. I let our enemy go.”
Despite accepting my hug, Katherine threw up her hands and shook her head in disbelief. “She gone?”
We exchanged a look, and I felt an urge to defend myself. “Hey… She was my prisoner!”
“She lied. Her story isn’t possible,” Katherine protested, and crossed her arms. “Better to slay her.”
“Really now?” As I sighed, I could feel disappointment emanating from her, even though she was facing away from me. Not so fast, Kat!
“I know!” I got her attention by waving my hand in front of her and pointed towards the woodland. “She escaped there. What’s better - one lone bandit, or to hit their lair in the middle of the night, when they have minimum defense?”
When she realized what I said, her eyes widened in surprise, and she followed my fingers towards the dark. “Can we follow?”
I went towards where the enemy disappeared and said, “It won’t be easy, but this isn’t my first drinking.” The moment we reached the first trees, we could see the clear path she had left behind, making it easy for us to follow. Despite lacking tracking skills and receiving no guidance from the Rimelion, even a novice wouldn't miss the obvious broken wig and traces in mud.
Katherine was following shortly after me, but when we reached the trail, she asked, “Why here?” I glanced at her, thanking I wasn’t talking out loud. Okay, slight correction. It was possible to miss the trail left by our prey, even by the most talented people.
Her trail led us deeper into the woods until we could hear a distant clacking sound of something. Even the bright moonlight couldn't penetrate the sparse trees, which blocked out the view to a few hundred feet, but we could still see a vague outline of an enormous building.
That was nonsense. As far as I knew there wasn’t anything like that and who ever heard about bandits’ building structures?
The trail led us straight there, so we had no other choice than to follow it. With every step I took, the moonlight seemed to dance across a crumbling wall's surface, highlighting its immense size and the jagged edges of the stones. Glancing at my companion, I gestured towards our target. “This might be their base. I don’t like it. Wanna fight or not? We can always report it and get money from the guild.”
Katherine stopped and leaned on a young tree, which was almost bent ninety degrees under her weight. I always wanted to play with her. This is my dream! Right? I watched her carefully, noticing the creases that formed on her forehead as she thought. “How many can we kill?”
That was a good question. If there were a lot of enemies, we would only die achieving nothing. However, we both weren’t level one wolf-killers. “Between my dance and your pulling? Three level ten, four at most.” That was my estimate, and I was being generous, because I assumed I wouldn’t fail my spell even once. Yeah, sure, that’s easy.
She peered into my eyes again and bit her lip. Oh god, save my soul. After that seduction attempt, she asked, “You sure? One we had problem.”
“Katherine, that was a bandit leader. Of course she was hard to deal with!” She didn’t answer me and glanced back at the crumbling wall. Now, when we focused on it, we could see flickering flames coming from the other side and if we strained our ears enough, even muffled voices along the clacking sound.
“Let’s go back.” Katherine stopped torturing the tree and started walking back. Killing humanoids was always troublesome, so it was probably the smart decision. Despite that, it stung me a bit, because they might hoard their stolen treasure here.
“Wait,” I said, and raised my hand. “I want to try something, and if it works, we need to run like drunk Italians.”
One thing was to return to the village and report that we found an outpost. Totally different thing was if we returned with a proof and that was exactly what I wanted to do. Well, the clerks were always annoying, but they should accept proof even though we didn’t have a quest for it, right?
Normally I would need a focus crystal, but Duke granted me a ring as a symbol of nobility. It wasn’t just any trinket, but a magical tool, so it might work. Pointing the ring towards the wall, I closed my eyes and focused. As a warrior, I used this method of surveying hundreds of times, but this was a first without a proper tool. I shut my mind and focused on my inner senses.
It was hard to describe the feeling - even if Katherine tried to plead with her puppy eyes, I wouldn’t be able to describe it to her. In the book I read in to future, the guild taught surveying through a comprehensive, thousand-page light version.
Step one - shut down all your senses.
Vision was easy - I just shut my eyes. Taste - why would I eat now? Hearing wasn’t much problem either, because the night was quiet. Only that stupid clacking sound. Smell.
Normally I just ignored what my nose was telling me, but now it screamed about a smell of pine needles. Touch? Because cold crawled on my skin, sending shivers all over my not-covered body. I frowned.
Come on! Focus John!
The spell should be easy… I spent the mana, and as if out of nowhere, a familiar sensation of suffocation washed over me. This time let’s go with red like fire. Maybe they won’t know what it is.
“Scout!” I shouted, probably revealing bandits about our position, but that didn’t matter. The moment I cried, a red light rushed from my ring and penetrated anything in a cone in front of me, recording the position and structure of their base. Perhaps.
The sounds of angry shouting echoed off the walls, and I knew we had to get away fast. Katherine ran in front of me, and her face paled when she looked back at me for a second. “Six archers,” she said and jumped over a sticking root. Just then, arrows whooshed all around us.
John, you are an idiot. Utter, stupid idiot. Because of the streamer, you forgot any strategy? Pathetic.
After ten seconds, a long howl penetrated the now noisy night, and I quickened my pace, although my stamina disagreed. How could I forget about Bandit Leader’s Wulves? No matter, we ran in a random direction in silence and I dreaded what would happen if the wulves caught with us.
Thankfully, they hadn’t caught with us, and we ran out of the forest after a few minutes with no sign of bandits. My lungs burned like I’d drunk absinthe and not whiskey, and I was panting like a dog. Katherine grinned at my poor stamina and pranced around me. “What was ‘tat?”
“That,” I said and paused, catching my breath. “That was a handy chant. You don’t. Much mana for it. You can too - do it.” I had to refrain from speaking about how to use it, because I gasped for air between my words.
No wonder people were always walking slowly in dungeons - they needed to wait for their squishies. “Let’s go back to the guild before bandits move somewhere else.” Katherine winced about walking uselessly, but agreed about going to the guild, still glancing back where we came from.
Going back to the village took twice as long as coming here, because there wasn’t any carriage on the road. We met a few groups of players running somewhere, nothing much interesting. Honestly, it reminded me of my solo plays, but I had Katherine beside me here. Glancing at her, I couldn’t stop grinning. Starstruck for sure, I’m hopeless. The moment we entered the guild building, an aroma of sweat and perfume mixed and became intense. Meant bad. Why do I have so good nose now? Rows upon rows of players shouted, chatted and even fought.
My fellow adventurer stopped the moment she saw the crowd and said, “Too long! I need to stream, ya wait, I’ll stream and level, ‘k?”
As I looked towards the side door, I saw the same guard who had previously shooed me away, her arms crossed and her gaze fixed on me. Damn, no shortcuts. “Okay, let’s play later.”
|[Katherine wants to add you as a friend.]|
“See ya!” She flashed at me her stunning smile again and vanished into the crowd behind me. It was only natural she piled the waiting on me, right? Thinking about a way how to skip the queue, I went to stand at the end and examined other players.
Katherine was right - it took too long than it should have. It was partly my fault, because I choose a wrong queue, the one which moved the slowest! A girl in a green robe, probably a novice mage, who came after me and they called her when I still had three stupid players in front of me.
My clerk was very slow, because it took every player at least ten minutes to solve their request and judging by their shouting, it didn’t go well. Maybe another queue? I glanced to the side and saw that the other lines had grown even longer. “Damn.”
When my turn finally came, I stepped up to the counter and glanced at a lady behind it wearing a gray suit. “Hello, it took you long enough. I want to report a bandit outpost.” At my remark about her slowness, she glared at me with her yellow eyes.
|[Guild clerk Lv.5]
Type: 1-common | HP: 99/99
A rookie then. She prepared to write my report with a long writing pen, but before that she asked, “Quest number?”
“No, you don’t understand, I don’t have-”
“No number, no quest. Next!” she shouted the last word, and I stood there as if I realized the bar had no alcohol. A hunter who was waiting behind tried to push me away and almost succeeded, despite hunters having lower than average strength.
No way, I was waiting for over two hours to hear this? I slammed my fist on the counter. “I want to report a bandit outpost and I have scout-”
“No number, no quest,” she insisted with closed eyes and a satisfied smile. “Now go away, or I call guards.” She gestured towards the wall, where were several armed warriors watching the crowd. When she saw my pained expression and boiling emotions, she just beamed like she just served me a drink and didn’t know what was going on.
“Please, lady, I want to report-”
Now she almost unknowingly rubbed her hands and answered, “Denied!”
Wanna fight? Do you think you can win? My boss forced me to test guild regulations for over a week. You are way over your head.
“Filling complaint section seventy-three.”
“Filling complaint according to section sixty-three. You are rude.”
“Denied, I am not.”
“You need to confirm the last answer to my complaint. Requesting manager approval.”
“Denied. I’m a manager assistant with enough rights.”
What was this? Was she enjoying burring me in this mess? I didn’t want to do it, but she forced my hand. “Requesting assistance in emergency, section two hundred-one.”
“Denied. There in no emergency.”
“Requesting a confirmation of discovered threat - bandits. Severity at least tier one.” I placed my ring on a crystal standing in the counter's corner. “See? Now process my request.”
That stupid lady didn’t even glance at the result of my scan and yelled, “Denied. Guards!” Now she waved at the guard with two long swords at his back and that stupid brute revealed an amused smile, while walked towards us to solve… me. The hunter behind me stopped trying to shoo me away a backed a few feet. Huh, look at you, hero.
“According to guild tradition, I hold a novice title and you insulted my honor. Requesting honor duel.”
“Den-” she wanted to say, but a golden light at least ten inches in diameter bound us together. Her eyes widened, and the system confirmed my guess.
“Never mess with The Exploiter, bitch.”