The Search for Knowledge – Chapter 5

Voiced by Amazon Polly

To Rox, it appeared as if the men were moving in slow motion. More than likely, he did not even need to intervene to protect the girls. However, it was his watch, so he figured he may as well take care of it and let them get their beauty sleep. He stepped in, towards the men with axes, as they approached him. They both made overhead swings at him, almost in sync. Unfortunately for them, they were clumsy. They clearly had little experience fighting with people, more than likely relying on sneak attacks like they had just been planning. After all, based on their conversation, they had been stalking the group for a while. Which meant one of them probably had a camouflage, light, or shadow ability; considering they were able to travel unseen while crossing the flatland.

Rox simply grabbed their wrists and quickly slammed the two men together with quite a bit of strength. Their heads slammed together, knocking them unconscious. However, that quickly changed, as their bodies shielded Rox from the ice fired earlier. Blood spat from their mouths, he dropped their corpses, and gingerly stepped over them to walk towards the third slaver. The man realized he was now alone, and it had all happened in less than a second at that. He knew he was more than just outclassed, the man in front of him was in an entirely different dimension of skill. His arms, that had previously been raised towards Rox, now dropped to his sides and he fell to the ground.

He began to desperately beg for his life, “No! Stay away! Why did you kill them?! Please don’t kill me!” The man clambered back on his hands and feet while looking at Rox. Fear apparent in his eyes as well as his breathing, sweat glistening in the moonlight shining through the tall trees of the forest.

“Now, now.” Said Rox in a nonchalant tone, “What are you talking about? I haven’t killed anyone yet. You have.” The slaver curled into a ball on the ground, as if it would protect him. Rox reached down and plucked him up by the scruff of his neck with ease, and let him hang in front of him. “Mr. Slaver, don’t be scared. I’m going to give you a chance to walk away. You only need to tell me two things and make a promise. Not so hard, now, is it?” He finished speaking to the man and gave him a genuine smile. When the man uncurled to see, for some reason it sent chills up his spine. He began to nod vigorously, which Rox took as agreement and spoke once more. “I want to know where your camp is. If it is not the primary base of your slave group, I want to know where the main location is, too. As for the promise, if you can promise you’ll never, intentionally, do another evil deed as long as you live, I will let you walk away as if this never happened.”

The man stared blankly at Rox, who waited patiently for his answer. He had a lump in his throat, so he gulped. His mouth was dry from fear, however, so he gulped again before speaking. “Our camp is two kilometers north of this place, there should be white markings on trees every hundred meters leading to it. It is also our main base of operation, and the merchandise is kept there. That’s all I know, I swear! I promise I will never do evil again, I swear on my father’s grave!” He spoke quickly, and desperately. The man just wanted this nightmare to end, he did not care whether he had a plan for after this or not, he just wanted to get away. To survive.

Rox thought for a moment, glancing around he saw one of the white markings. It was near the base of the tree, in the shape of a flag. At the very least the man seemed to not have lied about leading him to the camp. “Good, now keep your promise. Leave, and never do evil again.” He released the ex-slaver’s collar, dropping him onto the ground with a thud. The man scrambled away and began to run in a random direction, headed anywhere but here.

Now, it was time to get to work. Rox gripped the swords at his hip, steeling himself for what he had to do. He took one glance behind him at the tent of the girls and removed something from his cloak. A pure white stone with the rune for void engraved on it, he dropped it to the ground and stepped on it, pressing it into the soil with his leather-wrapped feet. He focused magic power into it through his foot while imagining a circle surrounding the camp. Runes spread across the ground, centered on the stone he had dropped, according to the image held in his mind. Once the scrawling lines of runes met, completing the circle, a dark bubble formed from the ground, forming a dome over the camp. A powerful void barrier, with the primary effect to transfer everything inside into a separate pocket dimension to keep it safe. It had a side effect of making it look as if the camp were not there at all. It should keep them safe while he’s gone, hopefully, they will not wake up while inside. If they did, they would destroy the barrier from the inside simply by leaving it.

With the barrier in place, he then set out for the camp of the slavers by jumping through the trees, quickly yet silently. While heading north, following the signs as the man had said, he noticed that the closer he got, the more signs he could see converging on a single point in the forest. He thought it was a quick way to get discovered and reported to a city or guild, however, once he arrived at the camp he quickly realized that there was no point in worrying about it. The camp was quite large, after all.

The camp was designed to keep the slaves from escaping while looking like a large merchant encampment, as long as someone did not get too close. It was shaped like a circle, with tents on the outside ring that were the living quarters of the slavers, then a ring of horse-drawn carriages, containing another ring of tents. It was not only to prevent people from seeing what was in the center, the cluster of cages that held the people they had captured, but also to prevent the slaves from attempting an escape. They would have to walk by multiple tents of their captors with their silhouettes being cast on the tents and thus easily discovered. On the outer and inner tent rings, there were intimidating-looking men posted every other tent gap. Torches were placed at every gap in the outer ring, and every other gap of the inner ring to keep the place well lit for the guards, as well as to make sure there would be a light source to cast a shadow even if the trees blocked the moonlight. Rox hated them, but he had to admit that for a mobile camp it was relatively well thought out.

Aside from where the prisoners were kept, two places drew his attention. Both were near the center of the camp, one was a large tent with no other noticeable features besides its size. This was likely a supply tent. The other was a tent that seemed of much higher quality than the rest while being nearly as large as the other one. It was also the only one with a tarp over it in case of rain. This was more than likely the leader’s tent.

Unfortunately, they had cleared the trees from the area Otherwise, he would just hop from tree to tree like earlier to reach the leader’s tent without being seen. He would have to get clever. He checked his utility cloak’s many pockets to see if he had anything he could use to make things easier. What he found was a single smoke bomb, a dagger he kept for cutting rope or other such things, four throwing knives, and lastly a flask of lantern oil. Good, he could work with this.

He positioned himself on the tree closest to the large supply tent. If he was correct, it would draw quite a bit of attention. Lucky for him, there was a torch in front of it, so it was a simple matter. After that, he’d use the ensuing chaos to go into the leader’s tent to assassinate him. He was not sure about guards, but he was confident that the leader would have a key to all the cages. All he had to do then was make sure everyone made it out safely and deal with problems as they arose.

Rox tried not to get too detailed with his plan, the more details there were, the more likely it was to fall apart. Removing a throwing knife and his flask of lantern oil from his cloak, he covered it in the oil to make it highly flammable before returning the flask to its previous place. He sighed, wondering why he always found himself doing things like this without any real benefit, but he could not help it. After resigning himself, and experiencing some Kara-related flashbacks, he threw his knife at such a trajectory that it would pass through the torch into the supply tent.

Thankfully, the wind did not change when he threw, and the tent went up in flames. From what he could see, the inside of the tent had also lit on fire. He turned pale for a moment, realizing they might have been stupid enough to keep explosives in the same place as their food, but shook his head to dismiss the thought and began his mission as the slavers began to scramble in panic.

 

                   – – – –

 

Feera woke to the sound of a large explosion. Her trained body sat straight up and began to analyze how far it was based on the sound. She imagined how close the explosion had to be to sound as loud as it had been while inside of a forest thick with trees. After a moment, she realized that it was not very far away. An explosion like that might have started a forest fire. She looked to Kara first, whom she had been tasked with protecting. The young half-elf had sat up at that moment, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and seemed to not have realized what had happened yet.

Feera left her in the tent, possibly the safest place right now due to the water barrier around it, to observe their surroundings. The moment she stepped outside, she noticed a few things out of place. First, Rox had disappeared. She was sure she sensed his presence sitting on a log near the tent not too long ago. She then noticed the runes sprawled on the ground in a circle around their tent, she was not sure how this had happened, seeing as Rox had no magic and Kara did not have the void element. Shaking her head, she figured the fastest way to figure this out was to have Kara see it, so she turned on her heel and re-entered the tent to see the younger girl finally fully awake. Without giving her a moment to ask what was going on, she dragged her out of the tent as the half-elf managed to grab her magic staff.

“Oh!” Exclaimed Kara, assessing the situation and noticing the barrier. She looked at the runes and began speaking to herself. “Yes, these are void-language runes. Luckily it isn’t combined with any other element, otherwise it would take some time to figure out a cipher, however with just one element it’s very simple.” She then turned to face Feera, staff in hand. “It’s a protective barrier created through a magic item. Rox probably used it so that he could keep us protected while he went to see the source of that explosion we heard.” Then she averted her eyes and looked a bit like she was pouting. “I wish he had told me that he had such an interesting item, I would have liked to know where he got it.”

Ignoring the latter part of what she said, Feera responded with urgency. “Okay, yes it’s fascinating, but how do we get out of it to go help him? There is no way he would have just left us here if something bad had happened, he will definitely need help. He’s just a bronze rank adventurer! If we hurry, I may be able to track him to his location.”

Kara looked at her quizzically, then realized that she was the only one who actually knew that Rox was stronger than your average bronze rank. Rather than explain, she decided to play along. It might be a good chance to see if he is able to handle an opponent that is expecting an attack, unlike it had been with her. “You’re right, let’s follow his trail. The barrier is simple, it protects us inside, but the moment we walk out of it the barrier will shatter.” She spoke with confidence as she strolled across the runes, as she did the sound of breaking glass could be heard all around them. Then it looked as if pieces of their surroundings were drifting to the ground in shards before being replaced by reality once again. “Lead the way.” Kara commanded.

Being more worried about a companion’s life than her pride, Feera decided not to waste time on a retort. She began looking for anything that she could use to track Rox. It did not take her long to find the two bodies, not much time had passed so it was clear they were stabbed from behind by ice magic. She looked at the ground and saw a set of footprints leading in the opposite direction of the explosion, however, they did not look like the strange foot-wrapping leathers that Rox wore. She did see prints like his, but they seemed to start from out of nowhere and end in a similar manner. However, his prints did end in the direction of the explosion, which made her sigh. He had managed to fight off intruders, only to make the novice mistake of running towards danger without even letting his party know. Well, they could not just leave him. “Kara, I know where he’s going. Let’s go.”

“Yeah.” Kara said, doing her best not to look at the dead bodies of the two men. This was the first time she had seen dead bodies of sentient beings. Resisting the urge to vomit, she followed Feera as she ran quickly towards the direction Rox had gone.

Feera had to reduce her pace so that the other girl could keep up, it was a pain, but they were still traveling faster than your average horse. Neither of them was out of breath at all, even as they neared their target. Even pure mage orichalcum adventurers were no joke, despite never training their bodies. It’s said that the higher someone’s magic levels were, the more their body would be strengthened, even if they rarely physically train themselves. It seems it was true, there was no way someone of the Aqua family, with this kind of magical talent, would train themselves to run close to two kilometers without even losing their breath.

As they neared the disaster site, they could see the smoke and feel the heat of the flames from where they were. Breaking through the tree line, they finally saw what was left of a merchant camp blazing furiously. A mere ten minutes had passed since the girls had awoken to the sound of the explosion, however there was an incredible number of dead mercenary bodies laying around the camp. Most of them had broken necks, their throats cut or had succumbed to the explosion. This was clearly the work of a professional assassin, but why would someone hire an assassin to take out a simple merchant caravan?

Kara and Feera both readied their weapons, Kara with her staff and Feera with her twin daggers. They saw the silhouettes of at least twenty people heading towards them, slowly. They prepared for the worst until they saw Rox waving excitedly to them while leading what seemed to be a group of escaped prisoners. The people he led were of various races but were all women or children.

“Hello, ladies! Glad you could join us!” He called to them as he approached. “I was just thinking it would be fun to prank you two with you waking up to your watch and seeing all these people join us. I guess it’s too late for that, huh?” He said as he finally came up to Kara and Feera, who both had dumbfounded looks on their faces.

The prisoners behind him were rubbing their wrists as if they had just been freed from their bindings. They looked around at the fires with a mix of emotions showing on their faces. However, they all seemed to feel some sort of relief watching their previous captors dead or burned.

Kara was the first to regain her composure. “Rox, what happened here? Who are these people?” She asked, doing her best to focus on him, instead of the bodies strewn around the area.

“These people are illegally captured slaves, we need to get them to safety. Also, if it’s not too much trouble, could you please put out this fire before it spreads to the forest?”

She sighed, her first question having been ignored completely. However, he made a good point, so she raised her staff and began to gather magical energy through concentration. Her staff enhanced her ability to do this, so it did not take more than a second. She then imagined a powerful water stream coming from her staff, and it did just that. Once it had started, she used the large water flow to put out the flames of the camp, as well as on the surrounding trees just to be safe. After a few minutes of hosing down the area, the fire was completely put out, and all that was left were the remains of a slaver’s camp.

Once it was all over, Feera had finally regained her sense of self and spoke up. “What the hell just happened?” She asked, incredulously. All of her previous worries having melted away, all of it gave way to her intense curiosity and surprise. One moment she was rushing to save the life of her companion, the next moment that very companion was walking out of a war zone like he was strolling through a park.

“Ah, well, you see.” Rox started with a happy tone, “I met some guys by our camp who were trying to kill me and take you two as slaves. Then one of them killed the other two, and I asked him nicely where his base was. We were close, so I decided to pay a visit. The supply tent caught on fire, I had a pointed conversation with their leader, and then I met you two. Simple as can be, right?” He finished with a smile on his face and hands on his hips as if expecting a pat on the head for a job well done.

The girls could only stare at him with their jaws dropped. Even the slaves he had rescued were staring at him as if he had just claimed to be a god in front of church Templar. He seemed completely oblivious to the mood.

 

(Author’s note: Plastic is a boring person and always refuses to make comments >>…. Anyway, BOOM Author’s note at the BOTTOM this time, didn’t want to distract from our first taste of Rox-tastic action after all. So what’d you all think? I hope it makes you want more, perhaps raised some questions to ((shameless plug)) Go ask me on the S4K discord chat in the RTD server? <3….. Look I’m trying okay? << Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed! I’m loving the comments and feedback, keep it coming :3)

The Search for Knowledge - Chapter 4
The Search for Knowledge - Chapter 6