It was just before nightfall, when Loren’s party reached the post-town.
They had been attacked by demons and bandits multiple times that day, but they only drove their attackers back instead of killing them. Lapis said they were too pitiful, as they couldn’t even harm the party.
It was understandable though: after all, their party did consist of two twice-named mercenaries (even though one kept denying it), an Evil God and a deamonkin. Though Lapis didn’t even have to use her demonic powers, and she had nothing to do as a priest seeing that no one was injured.
“The sun has completely set.”
Just as Loren grumbled, the sun had completely set by the time they reached the town, and it was so dark that they couldn’t see a thing. The lights from the town gave the party a sense of security: finally, they would be able to sleep in an inn tonight.
But Loren voiced his worry:
“Can we still find an inn at this hour?”
If they couldn’t find lodging, they would have to camp near the town. Stores had also closed by now, and they had used up almost all of their food supply to satiate Gula’s hunger. So they would have to make do with the remaining meagre portions until morning.
“That depends on how much we’re willing to pay, doesn’t it?”
Lapis didn’t believe that money could buy everything, but in truth – it could buy almost anything. This town wasn’t that big and normal rooms were likely filled already, but it wouldn’t be strange for the pricier ones to be still vacant. The question was whether there was an inn with such rooms here, and if yes, whether they could pay for them.
“In the worst-case scenario, we can ask some travellers to pass on their rooms to us.”
If they were willing to pay, they could find someone to arrange it. In short, as long as you have money, getting some rooms wasn’t a difficult thing.
“I don’t really have any troubles with sleeping outdoors, but food is the problem. All thanks to a certain Miss Big Eater.”
In response to Lapis’ dripping-with-sarcasm remark, Gula said:
“I can still get food for us if we camp though?”
The town was small, but it did have almost all facilities of a post-town. Lapis was curious about what the hell Gula was planning to fetch and use as food, but they would be in trouble if she did something outrageous. They really should secure some rooms in an inn by all means.
So, Lapis picked an inn, told the others to wait outside, and went in to speak with its owner.
“Not sure if you guys are lucky or unlucky, but we do have rooms.”
Was what the innkeeper, an elderly man, who had already passed middle-aged, told Lapis. She told him about the number of people in their group and asked if he had rooms for one night. She thought that being able to find vacancies would be lucky enough, but the innkeeper’s way of speaking made her feel a bit uneasy.
“What do you mean by ‘unlucky’?”
Lapis called the others in and observed the first floor of the inn, which also functioned as a dining hall. The business seemed to be thriving, and the place was full of travellers coming for a meal or a pint. But when she looked closer, she could spot some empty chairs here and there in the gloomy hall.
Lapis was thinking that they really do have rooms available when Gula whispered into her ears. She had just come back from putting their donkeys into the stable.
“The stable is quite empty.”
Could it be that she had picked an inn with terrible service? Lapis was worried about that when the innkeeper grumbled:
“A rather big gang of bandits has just emerged south of this town. That’s why there are fewer people coming or leaving here.”
South was where their party was heading to.
“Are they really that big?”
Lapis slid some coins across the counter to secure their rooms and asked. The innkeeper answered while counting them:
“Ah, they’ve wrecked a couple of villages already. Done a number to the guards stationed in the region too. The soldiers in this town are fearing that they’ll come here next.”
“That’s awful. Have you appealed to the kingdom?”
“Of course we did. But it’s rumoured that the kingdom will just look on and won’t lift a finger.”
“And why is it again?”
“Didn’t we just have a skirmish with our neighbour a little while ago? There are rumours that we’ve lost quite a lot of troops in that and still can’t regroup.”
What he just mentioned was not unrelated to their party. Actually, right now the member who was the culprit’s ‘friend’ was looking in a different direction and whistling while feigning ignorance.
And among the ‘lost’ soldiers the innkeeper had just mentioned, not that many were actually killed. The true story was, many of them weren’t able to continue their soldering career after a certain event, but Lapis couldn’t tell the innkeeper that. She offered some harmless and inoffensive opinion instead.
“That’s war for you. Scary, isn’t it?”
The innkeeper nodded with a troubled expression:
“Definitely. The bandits are acting up thanks to that, so it’s a big loss for us too.”
“But how the hell did they manage to gather enough men to form such a big gang?”
Bandits didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere, they must have come from somewhere. Gathering here in such numbers was also strange.
“The Kingdom basically considers the south from here to be an outback region. Runaway criminals, broke mercenaries and soldiers, and failed pioneers, all gathered and formed a bandit gang.”
Loren’s face slightly stiffened hearing the words ‘broke mercenaries’ and Lapis knew quite well why is that: he was one of them, but was lucky enough to be able to enter the adventurer business. His debts were still there, but at least he was still able to put food on the table.
However, not all mercenaries were as lucky and some strayed, becoming bandits and forming gangs with others in similar circumstances. Just one mistake, and Loren would have ended up like those guys. No wonder he had mixed feelings being reminded of that again.
“It’s said that the Kingdom is forming a unit to deal with these bandits, but how real can that be? And even if they did form a unit, it’ll all be meaningless if they can’t eradicate the gang.”
“Are they really that big?”
This time Tizona asked, joining the conversation. She was a mercenary much like one Loren used to be, but unlike Loren, her mercenary company was still going strong, save for a huge compensation claim they had to pay. If they failed to, Tizona would be forced to pull out, and Lapis believed it would put her company in a dangerous situation. Losing one member would always lower the whole company’s fighting power, not to mention, one with exceptional combat ability thanks to her blessings like Tizona. Her resignation would create a quite big power vacuum, and it would be very difficult for the company to regroup.
“I don’t know the details, but it seems so. It’s said that they even acquired and merged with other gangs in the region.”
“Do they have someone capable of pulling that off?”
An average person wouldn’t be able to command such a large group. Loren and Tizona, who had been close to leaders of such groups, understood that very well. If the leader didn’t have true ability and personal charm, the group would be divided and collapsed in no time. However, from what they heard so far, it seemed to be the case here. The unknown leader managed to properly organize a group formidable enough to force the Kingdom to take action.
“But the base of such a large group must have become known by now, right?”
“Well, I’ve heard that the location of their base is still unknown. To be able to hide it in this area, their leader must be quite smart.”
A mob, no matter how big their number was, was not really a threat. But if it was properly commanded by someone, then it was another story.
“This is no good.”
Lapis said. She received their room keys after the innkeeper finished counting her coins.
Loren nodded in agreement:
“This story reeks of trouble. It’ll be nice if we don’t run into them.”
“If we do, we just need to kill them off right away, don’t we?”
Loren and Lapis smiled wryly at Gula’s nonchalant words. Of course, some bandits wouldn’t hinder her, no matter how many of them there were.
However, given Tizona’s presence in their party, if they were to go all out against the bandits, there was a possibility of receiving undue injuries by some strange accident.
“Just count on my power, ok?”
“We’ll be counting on it.”
With the proper precautions Tizona could utilize all of her powers. Loren wondered about the extent of their fighting force, with Tizona becoming their main damage dealer. But then he noticed that he was already somehow thinking about a strategy for the case they encounter those bandits, and smiled wryly:
“Anyway, it’s better to not meet them at all. Let’s worry about what to do when we actually do run into them. We can’t turn back now.”
“Yeah, we need to reach our destination, no matter what it takes. That fact still doesn’t change.”
“So, no change in plan. Just stop thinking about things we can do nothing about, and quickly get some rest.”
“How about praying to some Gods then? Maybe one will hear you.”
Gula suggested jokingly, and Loren laughed with scorn as if hearing a bad joke.
“Don’t you believe in Gods, Loren?”
Tizona asked. Due to the nature of their trade, many mercenaries were superstitious. They might not necessarily pray, but the number of mercenaries who believed in Gods was not low.
“I believe that Gods do exist, but… I don’t really want to pray to them. It won’t bring anything good. I started thinking that way after becoming an adventurer.”
Loren answered and directed a somewhat meaningful glance towards Lapis, a priest who mentioned the God of Knowledge at every chance possible and Gula, an Evil God. Both of them looked somewhat displeased.