When the night had began to fall, Mile and the others began preparing for the night in the forest beside the highway.
Nobody would camp right next to the highway where every other traveler and bandit would immediately spot them, and the forest blotted out the faint illumination of the night sky, so it would be too dark to prepare after night had set.
Under instructions of Rena who was the most used to this, 『Red Oath』 swiftly prepared their night camp, a camp fire, as well as dinner.
And the one to appear at this timing was…
「Hello there, good evening!」
A short and rotund man who was smiling appeared together with two escorts. It probably was the parasite merchant.
Even though they were only two for the two carriages, it seems like he did hire some bodyguards. Although they probably weren’t there to protect the cargo, but rather the merchant himself. Even if he lost the the carriage with the cargo that much could be regained quite easily, in contrast to his life.
There should also be drivers for the carriages, but they probably left them at their campsite.
「Good evening. My name is Dyuberi and I am a merchant at the capital. We saw your campfire in the distance so we decided to come over and greet you…」
As expected, they were parasites
And he was playing dumb about it, but complaining would just be a waste of breath.
「How nice of you. We are the C-Rank Hunter party 『Red Oath』, and I’m Maevis, the leader.」
Usually Reina with her real-life experience directed the party’s actions, but when it came to official dealings with people, the formal leader of their party, Maevis, took over.
Rena on the other hand looked like she had bitten into something bitter.
It was an expression of her dissatisfaction with Meavis for easily telling someone, of whom they didn’t know what he was scheming, that they were C-Rank Hunters on their first meeting. But Maevis didn’t seem to notice that though.
「Would you like to join us for dinner, to get to know each other better…」
The merchant said so with a smile on his face, but he was certainly plotting something. Sharing the tightly rationed food they had brought along with strangers just because they were camping nearby? You wouldn’t survive long as a merchant doing things like that.
He either saw them as inexperienced youngsters and underestimated them, thinking he could easily manipulate them, or he had more sinister thoughts as they were all women…
Either way, Rena was convinced that nothing good would come out of accepting this invitation and secretly gave a signal to the others. It was one of the many hand signs the party had agreed upon, “show them the difference in power and chase them off”. As it would be annoying if they got pestered because they were underestimated, everyone agreed with Rena’s proposition.
「If my eyes don’t fool me, it looks like you are not carrying much food. If you were to join us, even if it might not be enough, we would be willing to share some of our rations.」
「No, that won’t be necessary as we have plenty of food ourselves. If you are troubled by your remaining provisions, please use them for yourselves.」
Like this, Rena sharply cut down the merchant’s invitation.
「Eh? But I can’t see any…」
「Mile, take out some food please!」
Mile started pulling out a wide variety of food from her Item Box after Rena had ordered her to, interrupting the merchant in the process.
Meat, vegetables, fruits, etc.
Since the meat was kept fresh by cooling it with magically created ice (such was the cover story for putting it into the Item Box), it was raw instead of dried meat.
The merchant and his two escorts turned into statues in shock.
「So that’s why they are C Rank….」
Leaving the merchant and his guards to watch, Maevis swiftly chopped the ingredients with her short sword while Rena had start roasting the meat on a non-magical fire, and Pauline had produced hot water and filled a pot with it. This view made Mile feel nostalgic, remembering their field exercise.
And she quietly wept as the first battle of the short sword, her master piece, was preparing ingredients…
By the way, Rena was using a normal fire since Fire Magic would turn the outside of the meat into coal while remaining raw inside. It was much more delicious to simply roast it over a normal fire. Rena also was a girl capable of learning.
「As you see, there is no reason to be worried about us,」
In reaction to Rena’s words, the merchant group quietly left.
「What do you think?」
Brandishing a piece of roasted meat, Meavis asked this. Rena’s lips turned into a frown as she answered.
「Well, they probably won’t try doing anything by force. At most they’ll try to cling to us if they’re attacked by monsters or bandits.」
「…that is also unpleasant. It is one thing to save a merchant who by chance got into a hard spot, but when they try to use uninvolved people because they want to save the money….」
At the same time the Hunters who could have earned their living have nothing while the unrelated Hunters are forced to work for free. It was by no means funny. Even Pauline felt that is was unpleasant.
「Then, let’s get uninvolved!」
The other three were surprised by Mile’s sudden exclamation.
「It is not as if we have accepted a request for protection from them, right? We only coincidentally travel in the same direction, right? And no matter what we say, having them die to monsters or bandits in front of our eyes leaves behind a bad taste.
So, we just need to 『stop looking』. What happens to strangers in a place we can’t see is none of our business!」
Mile had a bright smile as she said this.
「Enemy attack! A group of Orcs is attacking! Number unknown!」
In response to the guard’s voice resounding through the night, the merchant, the other guard who had only just turned in after his shift was over, and the two carriage drivers woke up.
「Fuck, you usually don’t get attacked around here! No choice, let’s go with the usual plan!」
He left the handling of situations like this to his guards. The merchant simply listened to their exchange and followed their orders.
The plan, as always, was to pull their attackers towards the people they were following and have them take over.
They seemed like inexperienced little girls, but they were C Rank, and since they had a precious owner of Storage Magic with them, they should be able to stand their ground, at least for a bit. And soft freshlings would never turn down even complete strangers because of some sense of justice. It was truly stupid, but very convenient for the merchant’s group.
And this time, because they were all young women, they even went as far as greeting them.
They sadly couldn’t get them to share their night camp, but they should have been able to go from 『complete stranger』 to 『slight acquaintance』. For them to run and leave the merchant behind was unthinkable.
The carriages weren’t filled with food and the horses were tied to trees. So the Orcs first attacked the humans who could run away. Like this, they could pull the Orcs towards the girls’ camp site and have them deal with the monsters. They wouldn’t have any other choice than to fight.
Seasoned Hunters might demand money from them later on, but young girls like them he could talk into not having to pay a single coin. Well, if the girls were to survive and meet them again, that is.
While the girls would fight for their lives, the merchant and his guards would say something like 『We’ll go around them and attack from behind』 as they return to their camp and then escape with their carriages. All would be well as long as they could fend off the few Orcs that would follow them.
They were truly lucky that this time the target of their parasitism were a party of young girls and the attackers a group of Orcs.
(Still, why did they come here first instead of the place smelling of grilled meat and women? Could it be that the Orcs already attacked and beat them…
They are C Rank, so they shouldn’t have gone down quietly…)
The escort Hunters thought while running.
Pulling along the merchant and drivers, Orcs hot on their heels, the Hunters arrived at the campsite of the female Hunters. What they found there were the traces of the buried camp fire and nothing else.
「They… ran away….?」
Orcs are focused on female prey.
Four young women should have easily drawn the attention of the majority of Orcs.
They had planned to use that moment return to their carriages and carry out a swift escape, but now…
Then the grunts of the Orcs, who were getting closer and closer, reached the escorts’ ears.
『Red Oath』 was walking down the road beneath the starry sky.
If it was only walking down the highway, having only the stars as illumination was no problem for the four girls.
「Rena-san, are Goblins and Orcs carnivores?」
「They’re omnivores. We learned that in school, remember?」
「Eh, did we……..」
Mile scratched her head after having her question answered by Rena.
「So, why did you suddenly ask something like that?」
「Ah, well, we cooked a lot of meat back there. I think that with such a nice smell wafting around wouldn’t monsters be lured in by that?」
「And here I was thinking what you’d say…」
Mile shrunk in response to Rena’s exasperated voice.
「Of course they’d come running.」
Seeing Miles astonished face, Pauline asked her a question in surprise.
「Eh? Didn’t you do it while knowingly? When you started a big barbecue we hadn’t planned I was sure you….」
「Well, there won’t be that much of an effect. If there were any monsters close enough to smell the meat we grilled they’d have noticed from the smell of the horses, their voices, or some noises they made either way. The probability that the monsters notice them just because of the smell is close to zero. No matter whether we did a barbecue, if they get attacked, they get attacked, if not, then not. It’s all up to their luck. We’re no longer part of their 『luck』 though.
And those guys knew just as much. Even so, they prioritized continuing their parasitism instead of changing their camp site, so that’s their problem. We simply resumed our travel after a prolonged break for dinner. It’s that simple」
Rena noticed the reason behind Mile’s complicated expression and tried to lift the weight from her shoulders.
Thanks to it, Mile felt a little bit better.
「But really, you sure know a lot, Rena-san. I still can’t believe that you were a fresh E Rank Hunter before entering the Training School!」
「………..it’s more that you just don’t know so much.」
In response to Mile’s light banter, for some reason Rena’s face suddenly lost all expression before she answered with a level voice. After that Rena stayed quiet.
(Ah, seems like I stepped on a landmine…)
Her bad mood was obvious enough that even Mile took understood it.
Rena’s bad mood continued until they had set up their new camp, after putting sufficient distance between themselves and the parasite merchant.