The walk back was far from ideal for any of the five. All four humans had likely never suffered a form of direct imprisonment based on their ages; the closest to slavery was most likely their feudalist submission to their local lords. As for Baik, he was still far from being the towering beast that Bai was for intimidating this many people. The roar of combat and his skill had cemented their obedience — save for the too-weak to threaten him mage — but it was possible that without a sword in hand they may try something.
So whilst they made the slow trip back, Baik eventually let them set-up a temporary camp. The prince selected a well-enough clearing with just enough brush to protect it from any pesky wolves or the cowardly pigs. All four were chained to individual trees and forced to wait while Baik prepared a small fire in the crest of a tree. A few chipping strikes of his dagger let him use a hollowed-out trunk like a smoke muffler; the empty interior basically split and moved the smoke into a wider spread, helping avoid too much collecting for a proper giveaway plume. Even in the woods, he had to be careful of anyone climbing trees to look for tell-tale signs of campfires.
This must be why Bailaka never has any campfires in the open for long. Or that they always try to get the cleanest and most smokeless burns possible. Knowing that there are humans who might find ways to track them... just how lucky were we to not get discovered at the tower? If Baikan is to be successful... I'll need to do more than keep learning about humans.
The healer spoke at a hushed whisper, drawing the attention of the kobold. Unlike the silent and accepting soldier or her cowardly friend, she had managed to retain a lot of her stability. Her smile made Baik recall how someone acts when faced with a great threat.
She was trying to appeal to him much like a mother might beg a wolf.
"What?" Baik knew his word was wasted but turned his attention back to the cindering flame. "Can't you see I'm trying to get a fire for us to cook with?"
"Ah... mishtirvan.... sorn els."
The blue kobold turned to see her pulling out some of the rations he handed her earlier. "Don't you get it? I don't understand."
The woman held the food out and bowed her head. "Sorny nas kobold. Erfo mik!"
Although he wasn't able to understand her language, the gesture she was making and the repeated use of that "sorn" bit was starting to give him an idea of what she was saying. The way she used it before addressing him, then when he told her to leave him be, and now when offering something to him meant that "sorn" likely meant something like excusing or pardoning her.
Baik dismissively waved a hand at her and then pointed at her food, drifting his hand toward her friends. "I gave it to you so you lot don't starve. Eat it yourselves."
There wasn't any further need for words; Baik turned his back on the healer and heard her mumbling and rattling her way over to the two men.
They're human... I didn't expect to feel this bad about treating them so differently in this life. I relate to them but... I'm a kobold. If I treat them too well, it'd be disobeying the Key Laws.
Humans were his enemy. He couldn't forget that.
Artherias had spent their time resting and watching the kobold cook his own meal trying to figure out just how bad he was. His voice still hadn't returned to him but the scratchiness at the back of his throat meant he probably had screamed in agony too much and lost his voice. Much like he worried, his fingers were workable but far from as dexterous as they used to be. Forming a fist alone put a wince on his face, let alone trying to hold the weight of something even as heavy as his arm.
"Even if I were to farm, it'd take me all day to plow a field."
Virmilax sat at his side, eating his own bread in silence while Renia tended to the man's legs. Whilst Virm wasn't injured directly, the walking meant his fatigue had been accruing while carrying the near-exhausted mage. The Order's females were few and far between because they were expected to be able to carry their male members, yet it was far less enforced in this age. Virm wasn't old but the lifestyle up north had left him disheveled... and in his current mental state, it seemed more and more likely he might try to take his own life.
But all three of them were better off than the sickening sight of Celinus. It was obvious after a while why she had been the only survivor, but only Artherias was willing to spit whenever the snitch tried to approach.
"You're treating her too harshly, Artherias." Renia moved her hands away with her mana exhausted, looking at him with her own stamina running thinner than earlier. "If she didn't say a word, she'd have been killed."
"Better to die and possibly save one than get them all killed."
Renia's expression darkened in sadness to contrast his boiling anger. "You don't mean that. Artherias, you're not thinking straight. Korten wouldn't want this."
"... Korten would have killed her."
The two weren't going to see eye-to-eye on this. Right now, Renia may have been an angel for saving him... but she was no better. The injured mage turned his glare at her, scoffing in feigned astonishment.
"But then, it makes sense why you think she's any better. You offered that beast food if he'd treat me better? Don't you get it? He's going to kill Virmilax and I later and keep you both for his slaves."
At long last, he felt the other man's eyes fall on him.
"Enough," he huskily barked. His voice was graveled and drained, but it sounded far better than any of them right about now. It even inspired the damned kobold to cast a look back at them. "If we think he'll do that, I'll kill them both myself so they don't suffer that sort of defilement."
Artherias cast his eyes on the man and found resolve at least in that. He rolled his eyes and turned his head away.
"... Whatever you say, Virm."
Their morale... is worse than I thought.
Although their words were lost on him, this time had let Baik gather enough to know of their names. The largest one who was carrying the mage was Fearm or something, the mage was Artorius, and the healer was Rinia. At least, their names sounded that way to his ears; it was impossible to know if they meant something literal or were names without structure but gifted meaning. Humans in his prior world had a mix of both, so it was possible that the ones in Daesal were no different. His information on the fearful and shaky woman was still too little... but by now he knew something was up. Fearm had spoken very little but his status meant he may have been on the edge of doing something drastic. Most likely, they could be discussing plans to either fight back, run away, or kill themselves.
The pool of options was too great.
Baik stood up with the skewered fruit in hand, making his way over to the trio. The mage cast a dark look, the healer bowed her head, and the other man merely stared at him... but the three's attention was on him. The fourth human tried to act as if she wasn't watching, eating her food and cowering to try and make herself small.
Three of them are enough.
"You," Baik said, pointing the stick's pointed end at Renia. He waited for her to raise her head. "Rinia?"
The blonde's jaw dropped and Artherias paled, yet Virmilax was the one who reacted. He sat upright.
"That kobold just-"
Their captor raised a hand to silence him; his gaze never left Renia. "Rheniuh."
As shocked as the healer was, she hastily bowed her head and raised her hands. It was the only gesture back home at her temple that she knew to submit to someone's will. "Y-Yes, I-I am Renia, kobold!"
She is smart.
Baik lowered the stick and grabbed the fruit, pulling it free. Compared to their dried rations, a fire-warmed Bailaka fruit was considerably more appetizing. It had more energy within, too, compared to a field ration meant to keep you just barely moving. The prince waited for her to look up from her groveling bow, tossing the fruit to her and then moving the same hand up to his mouth and biting.
Even though she was smart, it took a lot to not laugh at her disbelieving blink and look at the other two. The mage's silence didn't stop him from shaking his head and mumbling in their tongue... but the other man nodded to her.
And at last, she took a cautious bite... and immediately exclaimed some strange words before biting hungrily into it. The pair nearby shared looks of confusion before she forcibly pushed it to the mage's mouth and made him eat. A successful attempt for once had the trio all tasting and testing it while Baik turned his head over to their solitary companion. Kobolds didn't outcast one another for looks but they would have probably done something similar or far worse to a person like her. Yet she wasn't going to be cut down; he needed her to help carry supplies right now and the more humans back at Baikan, the better and faster he could likely extract information about humans.
So he walked his way over and gently grabbed her chains.
"Ahhh! Help me! Help me!"
The trio looked over from their food while the kobold grabbed and shook the chain, sending Celinus into a terrifying fit. Artherias boiled with rage and dropped the fruit, trying to get up and pulling at his chain.
"Leave her be! You rapist monst-"
The anger in their companion had both Renia and Virm standing and getting ready to apologize, but once more they were shocked. Even Celinus went quiet.
Although they had been captured, the blue kobold sat his hand on her shoulder in a way far too strikingly human. He stared the woman down, unfastening the chains and forcing her to go still. None of them could understand what he was saying but the hushed manner he did it in forced all of them to acknowledge that it wasn't just flukes or random moments of possible intelligence.
"W-Wait... this kobold... is a prince. A-Aren't they... they're all supposed to..."
Artherias wanted to be angry but the sight of Celinus breaking from terror into sadness as she clutched herself and cried forced him to believe for just a moment in what Renia had been telling them. Although the Order had taken them in and given them this role, they had been told their entire life that kobolds were nothing more than killing monsters. Tales of women who escaped had long verified just how monstrous a kobold could be.
But before their very eyes, the one that had torn through their squad was trying to comfort one of them. Even if it was merely to make them more obedient, such an act was completely unfounded in their lessons. Renia slowly sat back down... and clasped her shaking hands tight onto her arms.
"We camped to rest," she whispered. "We camped... because he knew... we were tired? Even if it was dangerous to do it. This kobold isn't normal. This... this must-"
"He's a king, right?"
Virm had said what none of them wanted to hear. Muttering those words made him topple to the ground as if his legs had turned to pudding.
"That creature... isn't he the legendary Kobold King?"
The remainder of their rest went off without issue; they spent a few calm hours eating and letting the healer tend to the larger man and mage. She may not have sat with them, but the hour or so of Baik offering food to the fourth let him learn her name: Celinus. It was a tricky name to say but she had been willing to talk to him for a long enough time to get it learned. Compared to the other three, she was much more chatty and obviously out of her element. It was extremely likely that the humans were using not just willing but conscripted soldiers. Her mentality and unease at handling all the death from before had made it clear she wouldn't have been fit for a battlefield.
Baik passed the packs out and found to his surprise that the angry mage at least took a pack and planned to walk for a while this time. He wasn't sure what they had said but they had been mentioning kobolds and looking his way long enough to make him suspicious of exactly what they were discussing.
All the more reason to learn their language.
Baikan wasn't too much farther. They would likely reach it during the night, so long as nothing forced them to change their path. With the mage able to walk and carry his own bundle of loot, it would make progressing far faster than when he served as dead weight and the girls carried twice the amount.
The trip back went off without a hitch, of course; all four of them had taken the few hours to process events well enough to meet his expectations. Baikan's towering heights were visible beyond the trees, with its new crystalline lighting shimmering dimly through its windows. All four humans shared looks and were fearful, but none of them acted harshly. They were quiet and waiting to see what would happen.
Just like me. Maybe I stayed more human than I thought.
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I'm a writer who originally started in forum-based roleplay before I moved into writing seriously. I currently act as a volunteer/commissioned writer who has done work with a few games and am seeking to expand my writing into more proper book-like and web novel formats to support swapping to writing full-time.
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