- Shari -
It took a while but at one point the screams started to become less frequent and further away.
So I decided that by now it should be safe to follow behind the trail of desolation to find their headquarters.
It's not a pretty sight.
One would think that killings that leave nothing behind would not be such a distressing sight but the opposite is the case.
Naturally, Liqu had to let go of the excess.
The result is an abundance of human-sized bulges of slime scattered throughout the forest.
Smeared in every way one might think of on the trees and ground.
I notice how my companions grow nauseous.
Nonetheless, just from the number of blobs, I can tell that I made the right call.
Already this much should count as a success for this mission.
Eventually, we find Liqu.
Or rather she finds us.
By dropping from a tree right in front of us, startling half of our group.
"Oh, there you are, finally. Wasn't done yet." (Liqu)
"Eh? What's left to take care of? It appears you were quite thorough." (Shari)
"Quite the euphemism." (Elin)
Ignoring Elin's remark I wait for Liqu's answer.
"There was this large camp but they cut all trees around there so I had no cover to approach." (Liqu)
"This must be the headquarter!" (Balion)
Thank you for your input, Balion.
"Any idea how we're doing this?" (Shari)
"We could try to rush them. The problem is they might be alert by now and we don't know with how many we're dealing with. Alone what we saw was more than predicted." (Vela)
"No, no, no! These crossbows are too vile! They pierce right through me! I couldn't take them head-on. And my Shari won't go there!" (Liqu)
"Calm down, Liqu. I never said I would risk my life." (Shari)
Yes I know, bad mindset for a soldier.
But nobody wants this slime to freak out.
"Okay, Liqu. Any idea with what we'd be up against in that camp? Are there still any of them left?" (Shari)
"Maybe a dozen? Most went out, running towards the screams. Quite stupid, huh?" (Liqu)
This slime's tendency to make inappropriate comments is quite something.
"If I fight from the distance and always stay in cover it should be fine, right?" (Shari)
"It still so dangerous. You don't even know how to properly swirl your insides. And those bolts fly so fast that it's hard to deflect them." (Liqu)
"So I need to be especially careful. Got it. It's not like they didn't already shoot me." (Shari)
"Yes, they did! And this one time was already bad enough!" (Liqu)
"Liqu, I can handle this. We'll do it like this: You're going to circle the camp. When you think it's a good time you attack and take down as many as you can. Safely! Use your slime bullets to take them out. Maybe you should overeat a bit in advance so you have more shots." (Shari)
"But I already did so." (Liqu)
That was to be expected.
"Then this is settled. While you're drawing their attention the rest of us will rush them from behind. This way we should be able to take them out safely." (Shari)
"A dozen is quite a number. Not sure if I can shoot them fast enough before they notice us." (Vela)
"You're going to use those crossbows. There are more than enough scattered around in the vicinity. Each of you takes one and after shooting, you can switch weapons instead of reloading them." (Shari)
I know from observing Jacob that this would take far too long.
"Hm, that could help. What about you?" (Vela)
"I have my ways." (Shari)
I also know that I suck at using crossbows.
I once asked Jacob if I could try using his and the shot went totally off.
I couldn't take the backlash of the machinery and pulling the trigger is quite tricky with slime fingers.
Maybe some more training would have helped.
Yet I couldn't possibly ask him for another try.
Almost hit him back then.
Instead, I'll stick to my blades and bullets.
We position ourselves close to the clearing where the camp is.
A number of tents in black-brown.
But again it's strange.
They look professional.
Uniform and neatly placed.
Rather soon my gaze settles on a bigger tent in the center.
It doesn't need much imagination to know this is the place I'm looking for.
I see how several people nervously gathered in front of it, probably stirred by Liqu's recent culling.
Then it happens.
Slime bullets hit some of the men and send them to the ground, clutching whatever body part got hit, mostly their heads and necks.
As soon they line up behind the tents and shoot their bolts in Liqu's direction, for no effect, it's our turn.
After Liqu's initial attack there are nine enemies left who are still able to fight.
Since there is quite a commotion and they don't expect an attack from behind we have a clear view.
Our first salvo perfectly hits the mark.
As there were more than enough crossbows and bolts left I naturally let them first do some test shots to get used to the weapons.
Elin is disturbingly adaptive when handling new murder instruments.
Yet these crossbows don't require much skill in the first place as it's only about aiming and pulling the trigger.
Meanwhile, I have to run a little closer before I can use my two daggers which each aim for different necks.
The one for slicing goes a little off the mark, so I'm wasting some time by stabbing continuously.
Balion abandons his crossbow and readies his giant two-handed sword and wastes no time, cutting down the first guy who comes too close.
It's not like I've expected his opponent to be able to block this strike with a piece of wood.
Yet now the remaining four have noticed us.
Naturally, I make sure that I'm not a good target.
As unlikely it is that they might hit my core of all the places I won't take chances.
Vela switches to her bow and occupies one who is seriously troubled to not have a cover as Liqu's onslaught from the other side still continues.
Another one decides to run at this point.
This leaves two more.
Suddenly, one of them pulls his sleeve up and reveals a mini-crossbow, fixed to his arm.
He aims at Vela, shoots...
And Balion jumps in between.
The bolt pierces his waist.
I can already see how this guy readies another shot.
- Shit, they're too far away for my blades.
Vela can't concentrate on two targets at once.
This leaves me no choice.
- Slime bullet!
"Wha-what is this!?" (hand-crossbow guy)
I used the more sticky slime to render his abilities.
Anything else wouldn't be more than a nuisance from this distance.
I don't lose any time and follow up with all my blades to tear him to shreds.
Just then Liqu finally arrives and takes care of the rest and with this, it's over.
I should look for the others.
"You idiot! What was that supposed to be?" (Vela)
"Urgh. Please, I'm injured." (Balion)
Well, he isn't losing too much blood but this might be because the bolt still sticks.
Quite deep inside him, that is.
As far as I know, inner injuries aren't too great.
"And whose fault is that? You should have tried to block it with the sword or directly attack this guy, but no... You imbecile jump in front of me only to look like a damn hero! That was completely unwarranted!" (Vela)
Wow, she is quite hard.
Anyways, I should provide first aid.
"How is it?" (Shari)
"Bad. This probably went through something important or at least a greater blood vessel and we have no healer with us. I have some clearsprout with me, but transporting him to the carriage and then all the way back to the estate... I'm not sure if he will make it." (Vela)
"Hey, I'm still here. I can hear you. Ugh!" (Balion)
"Only half of you! The other one is already in the grave, so shut up!" (Vela)
"Pfft. Sure." (Balion)
"I might know a way to close the wound provisorily. But it's a deep one. This could pose a problem." (Shari)
"Really? What is it? If it helps, sure!" (Vela)
"Uh, well. How does he stand towards having slime in his body? The right composition could probably stop the bleeding." (Shari)
"Absolutely not! Argh!" (Balion)
"Idiots have no word in this! Do it!" (Vela)
"I would rather have Liqu do it. I probably could pull this off but she has far better control." (Shari)
And naturally, she's already close.
So I explain the situation to her.
"Sure. But the stick is in the way. I can't dissolve that precisely without melting the flesh." (Liqu)
"Damn. These bolts have hooks. We have to pierce through or we're going to rip him open." (Vela)
"I can dissolve the end away!" (Liqu)
"Good, if it's only that one place the damage should be limited enough." (Vela)
With a sudden tug, Vela pulls the bolt out.
This woman knows no mercy.
"You're not dying on me! You listen?" (Vela)
"Liqu, mix the clearsprout with your slime. That should help to heal the wound." (Shari)
"Yes, yes." (Liqu)
And so commences our unusual emergency treatment.
I trust Liqu that she knows what she does.
At least the slime should prevent inflammation and well, keep him from bleeding out.
The excess blood Liqu dissolves straight away.
I don't feel like berating her about this at the moment.
Balion is meanwhile somewhere between freaked out about his treatment and too much in pain to think proper thoughts.
It doesn't look too nice but I think he will make it.
At least the bandage we put on stains mostly in green.
I notice how Elin comes by.
Bloodied knives in her hands.
"Took care of the one you let escape. Unfortunately the poison showed effect before he could tell me anything interesting." (Elin)
"Thank you for that." (Shari)
I don't want to inquire any further about what exactly she did to him.
"I know we have to get Balion back to the carriage but first we should search this place for any information about who these guys even were. Elin, Liqu, look if you can find something of interest. Balion, stay put." (Shari)
"I can still walk. Uh." (Balion)
"That's on me to decide. Vela, please come with me to that tent over there. Guess you know better what we're looking for." (Shari)
She doesn't answer but it seems to be fine.
The big tent is while utilitarian far too good for a bandit hideout.
I guess it's safe to assume that something else is going on here.
So we have to look for anything that confirms this notion.
I rummage through the crates and piles while Vela goes straight to the table.
There might be no great revelation on my side but I need to say there are all kinds of fancy things.
I consider taking this fancy knife I find but decide against it.
Its edges are smooth and it's small.
Like this one might use it to open letters yet there is no utility for my purposes.
There is more stuff but I don't really know what I'm looking for.
But then I notice some kind of crest that looks as if it's made of pure gold.
I would be stupid to leave that be.
"Got something!" (Vela)
"What is it?" (Shari)
"Most of these documents just depict scouting reports and supply deliveries. It seems they spotted us shortly after we left the main road. But this here is different. It has a sigil." (Vela)
"Sigh. That means this could tell us who is responsible for this operation." (Vela)
"Fine, then continue. What does it say?
You are hereby demanded to take your men and head to the Nemarra region, northeast of Ekoras. Your task is to draw as much attention as possible and take care of any troops that will be sent your way.
We need to decrease the count's influence in these lands and the best way to do this is by annihilating his soldiers. I don't want that you let anyone escape to tell the tale. When you've done significant damage give word. Our great plan is so close to its conclusion, just a bit more. Don't fail me or you will bear the consequences.
Ps: Don't forget to burn this document after you read it.
Okay, this was quite much.
Someone apparently used a professional force to hunt down the count's soldiers.
This means we are basically already at war with whoever we're up against.
"The count must know about this. We have to return, immediately!" (Vela)
"I am with you about this. Let's collect everything that could somehow help to deduce stuff. You know, documents and such. And then we get back to the carriage." (Shari)
I let Vela gather all the documents she deems important.
I would do it myself but slime and paper don't work too well together.
However, there's a sword I take with me.
Far too long as that I could effectively use it but it looks really fancy and like this might help to identify that commander.
We move out again.
Balion still lies where we left him and I notice that Elin took two crossbows.
"Ehm, is that what you gathered, Elin?" (Shari)
"Ehm, yes I did? The most noteworthy about this mission were those things. So we should absolutely bring them with us. And a second to show how similar they're made." (Elin)
"Okay, got it. But you're carrying them." (Shari)
Suddenly, Elin's expression turns grave.
"You know what we've got here?" (Elin)
"What do you mean?" (Shari)
"I mean that those were no normal bandits. Whoever is responsible for this was out to wreak as much havoc as possible on the count. And if they're the count's enemies they might be those we're looking for. And I'm again one step closer to my revenge." (Elin)
"Wait, isn't this a little farfetched? We have barely any evidence for such an assumption." (Shari)
"That's not important. Everyone who was involved with my parent's death will pay. I will exact my revenge no matter what. I don't care if it's costly, dirty, cruel, or in this case slimy." (Elin)
Her look sends chills all over me.
Before I can find the right words to answer something else comes up.
Naturally, Liqu joins in.
"I'm afraid to ask. Are you full, Liqu?" (Shari)
"Yes, totally! I feel great! Why do you ask? Do you need some?" (Liqu)
To be honest, I'm a bit drained and could need some replenishment.
But not this!
"No, absolutely not. I know that you consist right now almost entirely of humans. Also, we took care of the threat it should be fine." (Shari)
"Sigh, fine. But you shouldn't force yourself." (Liqu)
- Oh, I will if it's about that.
"I don't want to interrupt your private time but we have a small problem." (Vela)
"What is it now?" (Shari)
"We are overloaded. With all the evidence we will be troubled to carry everything back. The main issue is Balion. He shouldn't move in the first place. Even with your "treatment", this might kill him." (Vela)
"Don't worry about me. I can... Urghh." (Balion)
He tries to stand up but instantly crumbles back down.
I get where she's coming from.
That little plugging of the hole in his body we did won't be enough to get him up and running.
"Uh, seems like there's no choice. I've got a solution but he won't like it." (Shari)
"The last time you stuffed him with slime. I guess it can't get much worse." (Vela)
Balion on his side looks rather done for.
I give Vela a look that indicates that I'm rather sure that Balion would abstain if he had a choice.
"Are you serious? How could this get any worse?" (Vela)
"Just know that I'm very sorry for what is about to happen." (Shari)
"Wait what?! Sorry? What are you talking about? For what are you sorry?!" (Balion)
"For this near-death experience. Liqu, take him." (Shari)
At my command, Liqu comes close, loses shape, and spreads below him.
Directly after this, he gets lifted upwards by drifting slime.
The screams and flailing get quickly subdued and remind me of the start of a certain episode in my life that didn't end too well for me.
"Yep, that could work." (Elin)
"Are you serious about this?" (Vela)
"Absolutely. Like this, he will be literally unable to move at all. Elin, l count on you to scout the area in front of us when we get close to the village." (Shari)
"Sure thing, boss." (Elin)
I know Balion doesn't like this but it's the safest on-the-fly transportation for an injured person I could come up with.
"This... I'm not sure if this is a good idea. It looks terrible and the strain is bad for him." (Vela)
"Believe me, I know very well how that feels. But I don't see another way to get him back. He's a big man and none of us would be able to carry him. Hell, I believe you and Elin together wouldn't even come close to his weight. We have no other option." (Shari)
Vela doesn't seem to be completely convinced but as long she isn't directly opposing I will stick with my solution.
The main issue right now would be how relentlessly Liqu holds him tight and makes sure to prevent screaming.
Yet everything else would be annoying.
In her expanded form, Liqu can easily carry any items which we don't care about if they get slimy.
This includes Balions heavy greatsword.
And due to our recent purge, we don't need to worry too much about potential witnesses.
Like this, it's no problem to return to the village.
Naturally, I let Liqu switch back into her uniform before we enter.
I think Balion is also glad when she finally lowers him down.
At least he kissed the ground.
While it's true that we couldn't possibly have carried him all the way, these last meters he can stumble with some support.
I notice a commotion in front of the building we claimed as our temporary base.
"You need to leave! You have no idea what you're bringing over us!" (Villager)
Seems like the villagers are worried about getting punished by the guys we just took out.
"Hey! Everyone, calm down! It's done!" (Shari)
Unbelieving stares gather on me.
"This can't be! You're lying!" (Villager)
"What do you want to hear? We obliterated them! Either way, we're leaving now." (Shari)
"Isn't this good?"
"But if they find out?"
"Maybe we should take care of them? They might show mercy on us."
"HEY!!! Just another word like this and I'll show you how we dealt with the bandits! And believe me, it wasn't pretty!" (Shari)
This threat was enough to open a path to the building.
There we find the rest, visibly tense.
"It's... We need to talk, later. Did something happen?" (Shari)
"A group of bandits might have instigated the people. They didn't dare to challenge us directly, but the change among the villagers was obvious." (Jaren)
Does this mean some of them could escape?
Very likely, but surely not enough to pose a continuing problem after that blow we dealt them.
I shouldn't stall our departure as we have an injured person with us who needs treatment.
The fact that he's completely drenched makes him look even worse.
But it's not like I need to answer the villagers' questions.
"He got shot. We could treat the wound to a degree but he still needs a real healer. So we shouldn't stay here. Let's get back to the carriage and then let's get out of here." (Shari)
"I get it. The mission was harder than you thought." (Jaren)
"Understatement. But they didn't expect what they had to deal with. Niboku, can you do some kind of treatment?" (Shari)
Just had the thought that blood and water aren't too different.
So maybe he knows something.
"No, I am no healer. All I could do is provide him with enough water to replace the lost blood." (Niboku)
Not sure if that's medically accurate, but it makes sense to replace the lost liquid.
"Fine. Everybody, let's go. We can rest on the carriage. We've got no time to lose." (Shari)
Fast they claim our stuff and bring it over.
I don't feel like talking to the villagers.
Not to forget that such a talk could go completely wrong.
During the journey, I relay everything we found out to the others.
We decide to make quick and forego our rest.
Even if this is terrible for the horses.
Eventually, we arrive at the estate.