~ Chapter 90: The Black Company ~
[Alkelios' point of view]
The following day, we departed early in the morning, and we were told to fight any and all monsters that came our way. The other two groups didn't move a finger to help us, but the woman, Risha, seemed to be the only one worried about this, or to be more precise, about the fact that we might end up snatching kills that could be counted towards the success of the team as a whole.
On the other hand, it didn't bother me in the slightest the fact that we were tasked to kill all of these monsters. While I was practicing how to hold back my strength, Kalderan was gaining levels and combat experience.
He didn't tell me what his new skill could do, and I didn't ask him either. I was going to wait until I either saw it in action or he himself told me about it.
We traveled like that until we reached Lineas Village. It was a simple farming settlement in the middle of these vast plains which name I did not bother remembering. There were still a couple of hours left until it got dark, so we were told to take this chance to look around and relax. The three black hooded fellows chose to remain near the carriages on guard duty, while the four adventurers went straight to the tavern. Kalderan wanted to find a secluded place where he could train for a bit, so I was left with doing whatever I pleased.
I took this opportunity to learn more about the way the humans of this world behaved and interacted. So far, I didn't see that much of a difference between them and dragons.
Lineas Village had a population of around three thousand people, give or take. On the Dragon Continent, it would have been on its way to be considered a small town. There were no big, two story buildings, or impressive architectural marvels. Everything around here was simple and built by peasant hands.
In a way, it reminded me a lot of the time when I visited my grandparents in the country. Although they were always nagging my father about one thing or another, they never missed the opportunity to let us experience the old peasant life. Mother always felt at home feeding the chickens and walking the cows to the grazing grounds. As for me, I often complained about the lack of internet and things to do, but in a way, that lifestyle had its own charm.
Unfortunately, I became aware of this only after I arrived here and got married.
A life without internet... With everything that happened to me, I actually forgot about the ridiculous comfort our modern life offered us. I can't even imagine the painstaking horror the internet junkies felt when they heard there was no such thing as computers and internet here. I thought as I walked down the street.
The people here were all greeting me with suspicious eyes rather than a friendly smile. I couldn't blame them, we arrived here as escorts for a rather strange merchant. The one thing I found odd was in how they were keeping their children away from us. It was like they didn't want us to see them and do something horrible to them.
I wonder. If I were to walk around in my half-beast form, would I receive a more favorable welcome? I thought and let a wry smile form on my lips.
The sudden barking caught my attention, and I turned my head to the right. There, I saw a little dog baring his teeth at me and wagging his tail.
Is he trying to threaten me or play with me? I wondered.
“Pebble! Pebble! Come back here!” a child called out after the little pooch.
“WOOF! WOOF!” the dog barked after his master, with his tongue out and wagging his tail.
“Pebble! You shouldn't run off like that! What if the evil men that steal children find you?” the boy said as he picked up the dog.
His eyes then fell on me, and he froze in place.
I guess I'm one of the bad men? I wondered and then with a wry smile, I said “Hi?”
“Erm... Are you going to eat me?” he asked.
I narrowed my eyes at him.
“Do I look like a cannibal to you?”
“Are you going to eat Pebble?”
“Do I look like someone who wants to get beaten up by his wife?”
The boy furrowed his brow when he heard me.
“Hey, kid. Can you please tell me what you know of the merchant I escorted here?” I asked.
“Erm...” he looked back and saw the worried adults, but no one dared to come close.
“I'm not going to hurt you or anyone here, you have my word.” I said.
The boy looked back at me with curious eyes and asked “You are nobody mister, why should I believe you?”
“Erm... That hurt, but yes, I doubt the news of my achievements reached this place, but hey, what if I gave you something in return? It can be a tool your parents need or something you want. How about it?” I asked and showed him a smile.
“Are you trying to bribe me, mister? I heard that bad men steal children like that, but they usually give them candy.” he asked tilting his head to the left.
“Take me to your parents then. If they agree, we can go on with our deal, if not, I'll find someone else.” I replied and shrugged.
“Hm... Very well, mister. Follow me.” he nodded and showed me a smile.
The boy who was no older than fourteen had a missing tooth.
Moments later, we arrived at a simple cottage. Unlike its neighbors, this one had two chimneys in it.
That's odd. I thought to myself and then I looked around the area.
There was a lot of scrap metal laying around, mostly in the shape of horseshoes or broken tools. From this alone, I judged that the second chimney actually belonged to a forge.
The boy brought me to the door and after he stepped inside, he kept it open to let me in. The place was a bit rundown, but it could still hold on against the perils of winter if managed properly. There was a table in the middle of the room and four chairs around it. On the left side, I saw a pile of stacked up firewood and several pieces of meat laid out to dry. On the right side, I saw the oven and a bunch of cookware around it. There were two other rooms here, but the doors were closed.
The boy's parents were around thirty years of age, but definitely looked closer to forty because of their hard life. My grandmother taught me that when it came to people living the country it was better to subtract a decade or two from their apparent age.
“Good day, my name is Alkelios.” I said.
“Are you here to take our boy away?” the father asked as he came forth, his eyes moved towards a piece of metal leaning on the side of the table.
“No. Never crossed my mind. I'm just here looking for information, more specifically about the merchant I'm accompanying. Whatever you know would be useful. I will pay in tools or coins if you want.” I replied with a smile.
“Why do you want to know? Aren't you escorting him?” he asked furrowing his brow.
“I am indeed escorting him, but that's just a job I got in order to get from one place to another. But, I can't deny the fact that I'm a bit worried about whom I'm protecting on this journey.” I said.
The man looked at the mother, while the boy was still holding Pebble in his arms. The dirty dog was still wagging his tail and holding his tongue out, not caring even in the slightest about the tense air in this place.
“You said you pay with tools?” he asked.
“Yes.” I nodded.
“I could use a new hammer or a shovel.” he said suggestively.
I nodded and then activated my skill [Black Hole] and took out from it my weakest set of tools, which included a blacksmith's hammer, a shovel, a pickaxe, and a fire axe. To be honest, they were also enchanted by me, so I knew that compared to whatever tools they would get from the city, these were by far the best.
“Will these do?” I asked as I closed [Black Hole] and then handed them over.
“These... Erm... That... What was it?” the father was stumped.
“An ability of mine, please keep secret about it.” I winked.
“Understood... Yes, the tools are fine... better than fine actually.” he said as he picked up the hammer, already enchanted by the fine workmanship of it.
“So, about the merchant?” I asked.
“Of course. Please, have a seat...” he said.
I nodded, and after I made myself comfortable he began to tell me over two long hours how merchants like him, who traveled in black carriages, were often rumored to make people disappear. They would buy and sell goods of the highest quality but not always at the best price. They bought cheap and sold extremely high. A lot of merchant were reluctant about dealing with them, but if one of them appeared in their shops, they could do nothing but open up their doors.
Once in a while, the merchants would take what they called 'protection fees', which was a random sum of money or goods they perceived as necessary for the company not to meddle in their business.
As for the merchants who worked for this rumored Black Company, they all had various names, but it was rumored that none of them used their original one. When a merchant failed, he would vanish forever. Not even the nobles dared to oppose them.
From the sound of it, they were talking about mobsters, the mafia. It kind of fit the pattern.
“That's all I know, honestly.” the man said.
“It's more than enough, thank you. But how do you know of such things?” I asked as I got up from the table.
“People talk, kind sir... people talk.” he showed me a weak smile.
I nodded and then walked towards the door. I thanked them one last time and then left.
At this late hour, the entire village was covered by an eerie silence. I could hear an owl far away, but there was no sight of man or beast on these streets. It was almost as if something was waiting to jump at me at the next corner. That wouldn't have been funny, I didn't want to scream like a little girl.
Still, while I was coping with the creepy feeling given by the silence in the village, I thought back at what the peasant told me.
The merchant is bad news... This also explains why he has so much money that he can afford to pay for so many escorts. I thought and before I knew it, I had the black carriages in sight.
The three powerful adventurers were all sitting quietly around the fire, but their senses were sharp. The group of four was not in sight and neither was Kalderan.
He's probably still training. I thought then looked up at the sky. I wonder if we'll reach our destination safely or if something interesting will occur on the way? I let out a sigh.
Regarding my recently acquired information, I wanted to first consult with Kalderan and see what he thought about it. I knew that through this escort mission we were probably helping a bad guy, but to what extent he could be seen as evil remained to be seen.
Although I wouldn't have had a problem with killing him if it came down to it, there were laws within this country we had to obey, laws I didn't really care about, but which if I broke could give a lot of trouble to those I got acquainted with here. Kalderan would be seen as my accomplice and hunted down, for example.
The fact that I had power and could easily topple down a Kingdom didn't necessarily mean that I could get the people living there to listen to me or obey my laws.
There was once a wise man who said that if you wish to conquer a nation, then make its people aide you do so from within. When only the government is left standing, then all you have to do is just take a seat on the throne, not spill the blood of those forced to fight against you. In other words, brute strength could lead to unwanted circumstances. I thought as I approached the black carriages.
I set up my camp not too far from them and waited for Kalderan to return. Meanwhile, I cooked myself some dinner by roasting rabbit meat over the fire. I added a couple of spices for the taste.
About an hour later, Kalderan made his appearance. He looked tired and had a bit of blood on his clothes. The scent told me it wasn't the blood of humans but of monsters.
“Had fun?” I asked with a smile as I handed him a water canteen.
Kalderan took it and drank fast to quench his thirst.
“Puha~! That hit the spot! And yeah, the nearby monsters weren't really a threat for me now, and with this new skill, I feel like I can take down far more powerful targets.” he replied and then return the canteen to me.
“Nice! By the way, have you eaten?” I asked as I held a stick with roasted rabbit meat on it.
“Nothing for dinner. I'm famished.” he replied as he sat down on the other side of the fire.
He took the offering and began to eat.
“I walked around the village for a bit... asking questions.” I said as I poked the embers with a stick.
“What did you find out?”
“Well...” I then began to tell him about the Black Company, the merchant, and also what I was worried about in regard to the laws of this country.
“Hm, unless you deem it absolutely necessary, I would advise you not to make a move against him. This isn't the Dragon Continent, my friend. Not only would I get in trouble, but I heard that those who pick on the Black Company not only put their friends and family in danger but even mere acquaintances.” he replied.
“They are that dangerous?” I asked raising an eyebrow.
“Unfortunately, yes.” he nodded.
“So, what should I do?” I asked.
“For now, endure it. IF and only IF you happen to find yourself in the situation where you can't ignore his wrongdoings anymore, then I will lend you a hand. But then we should be prepared for the consequences. No matter what we say, we will be branded as criminals by country.” he told me with a serious look in his eyes.
“The nobles don't speak against such wrongdoings?” I asked.
“If we were nobles, maybe, but not only we don't have any connections to the nobility of this country, but we are Heroes, which by the laws put us in a different category from Peasants and Nobles. We literally have the law working against it more than we would want to.” he explained.
“Sigh... I guess in the worse case scenario, we'll become fugitives.” I let out a long sigh.
“Maybe, but you know, fighting by your side I managed to grow in strength more than I ever did alone or with other heroes in this world. You also never treated me like trash or acted superior in front of me. You kept your words, that's why...” he looked into my eyes “if you do find yourself in the situation where you are forced to act, I will stay by your side as your friend and ally!” he declared in a firm tone of voice.
“Thanks, I appreciate it.” I showed him a smile.
We went to bed soon after we finished eating and woke up at the break of dawn the following day.
As I was preparing the breakfast, I asked him something out of curiosity “Kalderan, you said you were from Russia, right?”
“Yes.” he replied as he packed the tents.
“Do the Russian people still use 'comrade' or 'tovarishch' when addressing someone?”
“Only the military and officials, but for anyone else it would sound just weird. The Soviet Union collapsed on the 25th of December 1991 last I remember, and since then we've been the Russian Federation.” he replied with a shrug.
“I thought it was 1989?” I asked.
“You got that wrong, my friend.” he laughed.
“Yeah, history was never my strong point. During a test at school regarding international history, I wrote that Washington discovered America when he placed his flag in Antarctica and that he traveled there by rowboat. The teacher had a good laugh at least, but I still got a six as a grade. I did get some things right.” I showed him a wry smile.
“I'm sure that if what you wrote was true, it would have been a very looong and freezing journey for one of USA's founding fathers. The painting Washington Crossing the Delaware is rather famous, so I can't blame you for mistaking it with something else, though how you managed to place him Antarctica is beyond me!” he laughed.
“You know your history, huh?” I asked raising an eyebrow.
“It was a hobby of mine.” he showed me a smile.
After we had our breakfast, it was time to leave, but just as the carriages were being prepared, I saw the merchant from the Black Company ordering someone to get inside the last one. When I looked in that direction, I saw something strange.
The first thing that caught my attention was a fluffy brown tail as it waved and entered the carriage, then it was followed by two women around 20 and 24 with enchanted slave collars around their necks. The merchant followed them inside with a creepy smile on his face.
What's going on here? I thought, but the next second, the carriages were ordered to move.
My questions would have to wait, but I definitely didn't have good feeling about this.
Note from the author: Thank you for reading this chapter, I hope you enjoyed it! Oh, and be sure to check out my other stories too!
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