Chirps and cries of bird wyvern echoed softly down to the forest grounds. Creaks and squeaks of wooden wheels could be heard along with the stamp of steel-toed boots.
"Bronco One to Bronco Two, have you got eyes over Blue Diamond? Over."
"Two, affirmative," A low voice replied 1st Battalion, Bravo Company, Platoon 1's earpiece. "Two, two wagons spotted, a large herd of livestock and at least four zero bodies, over."
"Roger, keep eyes on them, over,"
The convoy of wagons and livestock with the guards rumbled on unaware of being observed by a platoon sized recon party hidden in the forest. The convoy so stopped next to a clearing where a small spring was nearby. The wagons were drawn up into a circle and the livestock and dragons used to pull the wagons were kept coraled in the middle of the encirclement. The guards and the wagon drivers collected fresh water from the spring and set up camp within the wagons, some kept guard, while others pitched tents and prepared cook fires for dinner.
"See anyone following them?" Third Sergeant Eunos Silverstar asked his point men over the comms.
"Negative, Sarge," The replies came back from the scouts scattered along all likely approaches to the clearing. "Nothing here."
"Roger, stay alert, out," SGT Eunos ended the comms and gestured his radioman over. The backpack-sized radio equipment carried by the signaler was a new product from the mysterious factory of the Iron Castle. Due to the lack and shortage of the vastly more advanced communicators, only certain personnel will be issued with the communicators while the rest had to use bulky radio sets for long distance communications or for platoon based communications, they used a low tech short distance walkie-talkie.
"Radio back HQ, and tell them Blue Diamond has arrived, Bronco Two and Three are standing by for further instructions." He passed his instructions to the radioman, who nodded and remove his backpack radio and started to fiddle with the controls of the radio set.
"Bronco Two to Thunderchief, come in over?"
Due to the thick canopy and strange properties of the trees, radio waves, laser, and even infra were blocked or partially scrambled by the forest. The tech guys came up with an idea to plant relays at fixed intervals all around the surrounding areas. An all-weather antenna rose above the thick canopy of the forest and a signal transmitter is housed in an armored camouflaged casing at the bottom of the antenna.
The relays were installed next to the tallest trees in the area and used the trees as a natural support. Each relay uses a battery able to last a week and the Marines used the relay points as patrol routes, heading to each relay in sequence and ensuring that the expensive relay stations have power or were not damaged or tampered with.
"Sarge, HQ is telling to hold and proceed according to the plan," The signaler looked up from his radio set, wearing a pair of large ear cups.
"Got it," SGT Eunos nodded, "Inform all units that Operation Chaperone is go."
The signaler nodded and returned to his set, and started to issues out instructions to the rest of Bronco Two and Three. SGT Eunos looked up to the gaps in the canopy and looked at the matte black hooman made digital wrist watch and mentally calculated. "Still three more hours to night fall, tell the team leaders to let the men rest and rotate the watch."
Soon night came, and dozens of fire from the camp cast shadows to the surrounding forest. The men of Bronco Two and Three hunkered down in tree roots in ones or twos or slung themselves up onto the tree branches. Night creatures and monsters came out and stalked the caravan but none approached, just keeping to the edge of the clearing, watching and growling at the ring of wagons with the alert guards.
The creatures and monsters ignored the men of Bravo Company, as they had sprayed something called a Monster Repellant on themselves. Rumor among the Marines had it that it was made from the dung of the Mutated Super Silver Dragon aka Mini Godzilla and the spray does smell bad, but it worked and the low leveled monsters avoided the Marines.
The night passed peacefully for the caravan, as the pointmen of Bronco Two, stealthily lobbed a few Monster Repellant stink bombs around the caravan, protecting them from the creatures of the night. As day broke out, the camp stirred to life, groups of elves headed towards the spring to refill their water buckets and others started to make breakfast and break up the camp.
Sergeant Eunos walked out calmly with two other Marines as escort towards the camp in full view of the guards. He kept his hands off his weapon and waved at the guards who looked dumbstruck at their sudden appearance. "Hello, the camp!"
Norman Stone was washing his face when a loud commotion broke out, outside his wagon. "Foreman Stone!" A guard in leather armor and wielding a windup crossbow yelled urgently, banging at his wagon. "Eh... something or someone is here! Anyway, come see!"
"What thing?" Norman gave a confused look and hurriedly wiped his face with a towel draped over his neck and followed behind the frantic guard. He noticed the whole camp in an uproar as they all stood around nervously and staring at the same direction the guard was leading him to.
"What is going on?" He pushed his way past the caravan workers and guards. He climbed up on top of the outer ring of the wagons and peered over the roof to see a trio of strangers in strange items of clothing and appeared to be covered in paint and bits of leaves and twigs on its helmet or head, he couldn't be sure.
"Greetings to the camp, is there a Foreman Norman Stone among you?" SGT Eunos ignored the looks and crossbows directed at him and his men. His escorts, however, were on high alert, their Magelocks snuggly nested against their shoulders, ready to aim and fire at the first sign of danger.
"I am Foreman Stone," A sweating, half dressed, potbellied elf, waved his hand from one of the wagons. "Are you the contact we are supposed to meet here?"
"Yes, we are. We will be your escorts and guide," SGT Eunos nodded, "We can move off at any time when you are ready."
Norman wiped his face again with his towel and frowned, wondering what kind of barbarian tribe did they came from. On close inspection, all three of the guides wore the same item of clothing, and have tree leaves to branches to pieces of shrubs struck all over their bodies. The swords on their side looked more like a long dagger, and the long wooden sticks they carried doesn't look like any weapons he had seen before in his many years working in the trade industry. And the barbaric paint that covered all visible parts of their body was just so uncivilized in his opinion, but he kept his mouth shut, and instead forced a smile out.
"Come, share our salt and bread," He gave a traditional greeting to the strangers, offering salt and food in exchange for peace in the camp. "Alright make way!" He turned and shouted at the gawking workers and guards. "Finish your breakfast and prepare to break camp! I want the caravan to be ready to move out before high noon!"
The three Marines easily climbed up the side of the wall of wagons and found Norman waiting for them, offering them a waterskin. "Here have something to drink."
"No, thank you," SGT Eunos declined politely, "My name is Eunos Silverstar, my rank is Sergeant, you can call me Sergeant Eunos or Sergeant. As you know, we are here to escort you through the forest to our camp where payment will be made on delivery of the goods."
"Eh, of course, Sergeant," Norman gave a short bow, being used to the strange customs of many tribes and nationality he had encountered over the years. "Food?"
"We have eaten," SGT Eunos declined again, "We want to see the full ledger or inventory list for this shipment."
"Eh, sure, sure," Norman gave a complicated look, wondering why won't a barbarian want to see something like that? Would they know how to read civilized words? Still, he kept his mouth shut and lead them to a cluster of wagons in the center of the camp, and climbed into one of the more sturdy looking wagons and soon reappeared with a covered slate, which he removed the cover, showing an inventory list of items in the caravan written down in white chalk.
"Good," SGT Eunos reach over and took the slate from the startled merchant, he quickly scrolled through the list and said, "I want to do a stock check."
"What?" Norman looked surprised, "I-it's all there!" He gestured to the list, "Look, you can't read, then let me explain to you."
"4 tons of grains seeds, 3 tons of buckroot seeds, and 3 tons of purple yam seeds." SGT Eunos read out from the slate, "1000 heads of Muffalo and 2000 bird wyverns." He looked up and scowled at Norman, "I know how to read, and count." He gestured to the herd of shaggy looking muffalos. "There is barely 200 of them there."
"Ah-h, they... they were killed by goblins and monster raids while we are getting here!" Norman stammered at first before firming up his voice. "We can't help it if they died along the way!"
SGT Eunos shooked his head and the two Marines at his side looked at Norman with pity in their eyes. "We followed you ever since you left Falledge, you had only suffered one attack by a small group of goblins, which only two of your guards got minor injuries. This is the same amount taken out from the town since you left it, minus whatever livestock you and your men slaughtered for meat."
"Wha-what? How?" Norman's eyes went wide in surprise and fright. "G-gu-!"
One of the escorting Marines rammed his fingers in a strike against Norman's throat, while the other moved quickly and braced Norman up, preventing him from toppling over. Norman's eyes bulged wide open and grabbed his own throat and dry heaved, his face turning red as he choked.
"Now, now, Mr Stone," SGT Eunos patted Norman's cold sweaty cheeks in a friendly way, "No more lies, what happened to the rest of the cargo?"
"I-I-I," Norman coughed and hecked as he struggled to breathe.
"Loosen him up, let him breath," SGT Eunos gestured to his men, who lowered their grip on his collar, letting him breathe. "Slowly now, take in deep breathes. Now tell me what happened?"
"I-I- so-sold th-them off," Norman coughed, "I- didn-didn't think you wou-would find out."
"Please," SGT Eunos sighed, and gestured to the livestock pen, "One look and anyone will know at least half is missing."
"But we didn't count on you following us from the start!" Norman replied meekly as he rubbed his sore throat.
"Ahh, nevermind," SGT Eunos said, "We take what is left, payment will, of course, be deducted from the missing amount."
"W-what?" Norman looked up in surprise, "Ah- no is good, all good," He quickly changed his tune when he saw the evil glare from Eunos.
"Once you delivered the goods to our camp," Eunos glared at the trembling merchant, "We will do full stock check, any missing goods will be deducted from the payment. So it will be in your best interests to keep the livestock alive and also not to lose any more grain!"
"Yes, yes, yes!" Norman bowed a few times rapidly, "I shall make sure everything is in proper other." And with that, he quickly made his escape.
"Sarge, this is farked up," Private Toton said as he looked at the escaping figure of the fat merchant. "HQ will be pissed off."
"Well, no plan survives contact with the enemy..."