After we passed through the world gate, there is a huge green plain spread out around us. We are on top of a small hill overlooking the area.
Far away in front of us, there is a forest and behind us diagonally to the left, there is a mountain range. According to our compass, the forest is in the north and the mountain is in the southwest.
Half of the first platoon quickly spreads out into the surrounding. They take up position some distance away because the plain provides a wide view. A squad climbs a small hill around two hundreds meters to the north of us. Beside the hill where the gate is and that hill, there is no more hill inside five hundreds meters radius.
The First Squad until Fourth Squad are occupying the North, East, South and West respectively. They are setting up the first line of defense. Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Squads are helping the second platoon to set up the HQ.
“Fifth squad, check that river.”
There is a big river flowing from the mountain range to the forest. It passes near the hill the First Squad currently occupies. Fifth Squad goes there to ensure we have clean water source.
“You are the scout, right? Go check out that forest. The scans show that there should be a big settlement with a couple of small ones in there. I want to know if there is any road.”
“Magicians, please update our map on the surrounding area.”
While the commander are sending out order one after another, I run to the edge of the forest. Along the way, there are small animals that look harmless but this is a different world so it’s best to keep caution. After running for a few minutes, I arrive at the forest.
The forest should be around a kilometer away according to the scan but the forest looks closer from the camp. Only when I arrive near the forest that I find out why.
The trees in the depth of the forest are far larger than on Earth. Many of them reach the height of fifteen meters while some reach the height of twenty meters.
There is a dirt road leading to the forest. The width is enough for five people walking side by side. The road is maintained as can be seen by the presences of road marks.
“HQ, this is Delta 1 reporting in.”
“There is a maintained road leading to the depth. There is no activities on the road. The forest is silent as well.”
“Set up a surveillance post. We will send a squad over there later. Keep watch of the road and forest.”
I take out portable radar device and heat sensor. Then, I set them up a hundred meters away from the forest. After confirming that it is active, I dig a trench around it.
Half an hour later, the Sixth Squad comes and they stand speechless at the sight of the forest. Seeing such large trees for the first time, they stare at the forest for quite a while before they help me to dig the trench. When the sun is high, the trench is finished and covered. We eat our lunch there.
An hour later, Mary comes over to our trench. The squad and I look at her. She trembles a bit and quickly walks over to me.
“Oh? What’s wrong?”
“We have discovered a broken carriage on the road. We are going to investigate it.... The Sixth Squad will keep watch here.”
Mary talks while seemingly use my body to block the other guys’ gazes on her. I can feel stinging stares from behind. Why must Mary talk like this? She always speak like this even when we are in training camp.
Mary quickly climbs out and runs to the forest. I quickly chase after her. While running, I check my bracelet and then put on a goggles.
These bracelet and the goggles are a set and used when we are going for an operation. The bracelet have a lot of usages. The most simplest one is that it will send out and receive signals and highlight it on the goggles’ mini map function. This way we will know our allies position.
I run to the road to chase after Mary. After meeting up, we enter the forest. The carriage is around five hundreds meters down the road.
“Mary, why are you scared of those guys?”
I talk in a low voice while keeping our surrounding in check.
“....I don’t really know. Whenever I see people like them, I just feel scared.”
“Like them? You mean soldiers?”
“No, I am not afraid of you.”
“Right… So, is it because they are big?”
I remember the squad’s members. They have a big build and combined with their exoskeleton, they are now even bigger. Contrary to them, I have a slender build.
“I guess so.”
We advance slowly through the forest. The forest is silent without much activities. There are only a few small animals around. Occasionally, there are sights of deer-like animals.
After a while, we arrive at the broken carriage. Rather than broken, it could be said that it is destroyed. The wheel is destroyed using heavy sharp weapon like axe. There are slash marks on the body of the carriage. Blood stains scattered around the carriage.
“The blood is not dry yet. It shouldn’t be long before this happened. Mary, is there anyone around?”
“No signs of humans around. I found some things over there.”
“Got it. Please, check out the carriage if there is anything inside. I will go check out that side.”
I part from Mary and walk to the nearby bushes. There are five corpses here. All of them are wearing some sort of leather armors. They look like mercenaries. Their weapons are taken away with only a broken sword still lying around.
From the look of the scene, they are executed in a beheading manner. The bodies are scattered around in a circle so they look like they want to interrogate the one in the middle.
These dead mercenaries should be the guards of the owner of the carriage. The carriage is finely built and mercenaries shouldn’t buy this kind of carriage. This carriage should have been bought by wealthy people. However, there is none that looks like the owner among the corpses.
There is no valuables on them so this is the work of bandits. After looking around for a while, I line up the corpses and cover them with leaves. I head back to the carriage to meet up with Mary while reporting the finding.
“HQ. This is Delta 1. We found signs of bandit’s activity. Requesting permission for investigation.”
“Permission granted. Avoid contact at all cost unless it is emergency. Once you discovered their whereabouts, report anything you find.”
When I reached the carriage, Mary is still inside. There is a rustling sound inside. I peek inside the carriage.
“What do you--!?”
“Don’t look inside!”
A staff attack! What the hell is inside?
“Ermm... What did you find inside?” I ask from the outside.
“Clothes. These are girl’s clothes. They look to be expensive but I wonder why the bandits didn’t take them.”
“Hmm? Clothes? Then that means there are...”
“Stop right there. Yes. There are those things too.”
No wonder she struck me on the head.
“Did you find any girl?”
“No, I didn’t. Did they take her back to their hideout?”
“Maybe... I stored up the clothes in my storage. Quick! Let’s go find her.”
The storage is one of the function of the bracelet. The bracelet can store up to a small storehouse size. It is a very convenient function that allow us to bring more things easily when we move around.
“Wait! Calm down a bit. Let me report to the HQ first.”
“HQ. This is Delta 1. There is a possibility of civilians being kidnapped. Request permission to conduct rescue.”
“Rejected. Scout them out first. We will conduct rescue operation after there is a confirmed status of hostage. Besides, with only the two of you, it is going to be hard to rescue anyone captured.”
“Why won’t they allow us? I can easily fight fifty bandits with my magic.”
Mary pouts with red face after the end of the report. Such a cute childish face. I laugh a bit.
“Keep your cute face for later. We can just hope that the girl isn’t captured. Let’s go. The sooner we confirmed it, the better.”
Mary widens her eyes for a second and quickly turns her red face away. I heave a sigh.
Looking at how the mercenaries are interrogated, the girl should have slipped out. The bandits might have been trying to interrogate the guards.
I look around the carriage. There are footprints all over the place. The latest footprint should be at the execution ground in the bushes. We should bury the dead bodies too.
“Mary, I will bury the dead for now. Can you search for the bandits with magic?”
“It will take time because we don’t know where they went.”
“Hmm... The clue should be near the bodies. It should take a while.”
“Let me bury the bodies. I can use magic for that so it’s much faster.”
“...Okay. Let’s go.”
Good thing I lined up and covered them earlier. We move to the bushes. Mary casts [Earth Trap]s and sends the bodies into them. Soon after, she closes them up nicely.
Five small mounds appear there. She picks up five branches and marks each mounds. After a short prayer, we look for a clue of where they are going.
After a while, we find the footprints going into the depth. Looking at the those, there are at least six bandits. There are three pairs of footprints leading to a hill nearby. There are three other pairs of footprints that lead to another place.
Meanwhile, Mary is searching for them with her [Search Magic]. It is a really simple magic. She converges and sends out mana at a specific or all direction and wait for feedback.
It is similar to how bat uses ultrasonic waves to know their surroundings. By moving it on a specific direction, the range is increased but narrowed the search range at the same time. She is searching in a wide cone direction for now.
“Found a cave. They might be inside there. Let’s go.”
“There are other pairs of footprints here.”
“I searched that side but can’t find anything.”
“All right. We should follow these footprints to the cave first.”
We follow the footprints quickly but cautiously. Mary is expanding her search magic to all direction while I focus at the footprints. The footprints are moving around all over the place. At the evening, we reach within a hundred meters of the cave.
The cave is located at the foot of a cliff. The surrounding area is full of large stones. One of them covers the cave entrance, leaving only half of the entrance accessible.
“Mary, try to scout them. I will keep watch.”
Mary expends her search magic towards the cave. I climb a tree to keep watch at the surroundings better.
The cave is guarded by two guards. They are wearing the uniform chain mail armor and on their waist, there is a sword hanging. They are holding a spear and stand straight at the entrance. If they said that they are part of an army, I would have believed it.
“It looks like I have been discovered. Erwin. Let’s go.”
“Oh? We can be found?”
“Of course. If they can feel the movement of mana, they will know.”
“I see. Let’s go and hide.”
We move quickly through the forest while the cave starts to get noisy. By the time, the bandits set out, we have been at least three hundreds meters away from them. There are several hills near the cave. We climb one of them.
There are huge trees all around us. We look around to find some smaller ones. We find a tree that is not too tall nor too short and face the cave.
I climb up the tree and then help Mary up. This way, we can observe the cave from a safe hidden place.
The day is setting. The bandits quickly give up on searching. They gather at the cave again. Two guards keep watch at the entrance while keep looking around.
“Fortunately, there is no civilian there. All of them are carrying weapons.”
“I see. That’s good. It’s hard to rescue anyone with so many bandits. How many of them?”
“A total of ten. Their weapons are swords and shields. Two use spears.”
“Understood. HQ. This is Delta 1 reporting. Bandit nest found. Ten of them. No sign of civilians.”
“HQ copy. Maintain surveillance. We will send a squad over tomorrow.”
“Understood. What should we do if they are attacking civilians before they arrived?”
“Just do what you can to stall them until reinforcement arrive.”
“Just where did the girl go to?”
I end the report while Mary is murmuring. Mary has cast a [Silent] magic around us so we are not worried of being heard in this silent forest. I think there is no girl there in the first place. There is no footprint of the girl in the surrounding area.
I heave a sigh and then search my backpack for our dinner. Mary looks over with confused face.
“Erwin. I have been wanting to ask you the whole time. Why do you still bring backpack even though we already have storage device?”
“Do you not think that it is much easier to take out our everyday needs from a backpack rather than storage?”
“How do you take out things?”
“I open the storage list, browse through it....”
“How is it? I would be tired of it if I have to read so many things every time I want to take out a toothbrush and toothpaste.”
“You can assign categories for it right?”
“Sure, I can. How do you put them in again?”
“I will assign them into the right category.”
“Every time you take them out?”
“I put in all of the things that I will frequently use in my backpack so I don’t need to do those things over and over again. So, here is your dinner.”
I throw a package of combat ration to Mary. She receives it with the help of wind on her hands. It’s so convenient to have magic. She frowns at the package and then pouts. I chuckle and ask.
“Is it that bad?”
“I just thought that we will have to eat this from now on. It’s not tasty.”
“Hahaha. Don’t worry. It’s only going to be until we blend in to the settlement. We will be able to eat good food there.”
We eat our dinner in silence. The taste is weak so we add more salts. After we are done, we talk because we can’t stand the silence. It’s so awkward.
“Mary, cast that [Language Comprehension] magic on me.”
“Hmm? Which language?”
“Your hometown, Lumeria’s language. I think we should have more language that our enemy don’t know so we can talk in secret. I also want to see how that magic works.”
“Can’t we just use one of the Earth’s language? Why must it to be my hometown’s language?”
“.....I thought you would like to talk in Lumeria’s language once in awhile.”
This magic can give the caster’s own comprehension of language to another person. This way, the other person can understand the caster’s language. The comprehension will integrate slowly over time.
The downside is that the magic can’t give comprehension of language that they don’t know. This is the reason why a magician always got attached to a scout party.
This way, they can talk with locals anytime they want. If they find a local magician, they can even get local language. This magic is a crucial piece in ensuring contacts can be established.
Beside, talking in familiar language in foreign place is also one of the way for homesick people to relieve some stress.
Mary stares with wide eyes for a while before she hangs down her head. Her shoulder trembles a little. After a while, she lifts her face.
“Alright. Please wait a minute.”
Mary holds out her right hand and starts to concentrate. In a few seconds, dim lights gather at her stretch out hand and enter my head.
Slowly, a completely different language starts to emerge in my head. It pieces together a set of alphabets, then various words starts to emerge.
“It will take some time.”
Mary talks in her Lumeria’s language. A gentle smile surfaces on her face. Momentarily, I am stunned and quickly avert my gaze.
“Oh, well. Yeah, it is, a bit, hard, to talk.”
“Let’s practice it.”
We spend the night, practicing while keeping watch of the cave. When the moon is high, we take turn to sleep. We attach a rope to the tree to hold us so we don’t fall down in our sleep.
The night is long and the bonfire in front of the bandit’s cave which is lighting up the surrounding, slowly dims out.