Commence Operation – Part 02
The coachman was in low spirits.
Enticed by the astonishing payment, he took the job not knowing that he was to transport a noble, and a murderer at that. What’s more, he was threatened by a knight, who warned him not to trust the adventurers with him.
The coachman showed the commission papers to the guard at Pond’s gate.
“Hmm, transporting a suspect to the capital. I’ve been informed about this.” He checked the inside of the carriage. “The capital might be close, but still be careful.”
The carriage passed through the gate of the massive outer walls.
The coachman felt something odd.
He sensed the legs of the horse grow heavy ever so slightly. He had been traveling these roads for twenty years. He would notice even the slightest difference.
He looked over his shoulder. Two adventurers on their horses were positioned left and right, stifling their yawns. Turning his eyes back up front, he saw the party leader Nogusa.
“Nothing seems out of the ordinary… It must be the road, then.”
The road outside of town was rough. Though well-trodden, it was unpaved. The horse’s legs must have turned heavy because of the change in the road’s surface.
The coachman sighed. “I don’t feel too good about this. I’ll just have to finish the job quick.”
The carriage rattled onward. A bunch of keys clinked.
The Rank C adventurer, Nogusa Garage, was in high spirits. He had not expected to get promoted to Rank C so soon. He was glad they managed to snatch the transport job from the four-woman party called the Four Eastern Stars. He never really liked them. The brothel prepared for them in Pond—a town they ridiculed for being scrubby—was full of fairly beautiful ladies. And the girl they were escorting was pretty as well.
Things were going great. Nogusa even thought that the world was revolving around him.
The escort job was an easy one. It would take six hours from Pond to the capital by carriage. The horses had to rest every two hours, which meant taking a break twice before reaching the capital.
The first break was over and they were moving again, when Nogusa, who had mostly sobered up, suddenly gained interest in the girl inside the carriage.
Nogusa, riding up ahead, moved his horse closer to the coachman.
“Hand me the keys.”
“The carriage’s keys. I’ll look after them.”
“I-I can’t do that…”
“Do you have any idea who I am? I’m Nogusa, a Rank C adventurer. You dare oppose me?”
“I-I-I would never! I-It’s just that nobles are involved in this matter,” the coachman stammered.
“Hey, Nogusa! Up ahead!”
Immediately, Nogusa reached for the sword hanging by his waist and surveyed his surroundings. Depraved as he was, he was still a Rank C adventurer.
“What’s this? Someone collapsed?”
A man staggered out from behind a tree by the side of the road. He seemed to have gone to the forest to collect medicinal herbs, fruits, and mushrooms.
“E-Excuse me, good Sir,” the man said. “Can you spare some water? I got lost in the forest and just now got out.”
Nogusa gestured to his comrades with his chin to go ahead.
“Fine.” He dismounted from his horse and handed the man a flask. “This enough?”
“Thank you very much!” The man accepted it, overjoyed. “I only have this to show my gratitude.” He presented a wilted medicinal herb.
“Tsk. Keep it. Now get out of here.”
“Really? Thank you so much. You are such a big-hearted man.”
“That’s right. You can show your gratitude by spreading my name. It’s Nogusa Garage. A man who will become a legend.”
“A legend… I understand, Sir. I will do just that.”
Nogusa got on his horse and chased after the carriage. His colleagues, who were positioned at the front and back, returned to their original formation as soon they spotted him.
“Helping others sure is a lot of work,” Nogusa said.
“They say that’s the best part of being an adventurer.”
“Sure, if you’re helping the ladies.”
The three men burst out laughing. It was an uneventful escort mission, and things were going well…
…or so they thought.
While they were taking their second break, Nogusa punched the coachman and took the keys to the carriage.
“I’m just gonna say hi,” he said as he opened the carriage door with an obscene smile on his face.
The girl was lying down on the seat… No, it was a bulging sheet.
Nogusa removed it only to find a pillow and cloths stuffed under it.
The young girl was nowhere to be found.
“What?” Nogusa muttered in confusion, unable to comprehend what was going on.
A small, locked carriage. They kept their eyes on it all the time. Yet abruptly, the girl—Lavia D. Morgstadt—had disappeared.
Let us turn back the clock a bit to when the carriage carrying Lavia had just finished its first break and was starting to move again.
Lavia was seated inside the rocking carriage, staring at her own hands on her lap. Hands that were handcuffed.
The boy named Hikaru had not returned since then. He said he would save her today. But with no contact at all, she was starting to think that he only gave her momentary hope. That the boy was just sweet-talking her.
There were only three escorts. A large number of people could probably surround them and take them down easily. But Lavia didn’t think she was that valuable, and even if there were people who wanted her for her abilities, they wouldn’t risk going against the king.
Lavia let out a deep sigh.
“Where I’m from, we have a saying that sighing will make good fortune run away from you.”
“But there are times when you just—”
Lavia gave a start.
“Keep it down, now. We don’t want to alert them.”
A boy with black hair and black eyes was sitting next to her.
“Ah, uh, what?”
“You want to know how I got in here? While I’d love to explain, we don’t have much time.”
She kept staring at Hikaru in disbelief—at the boy who appeared inside the carriage out of nowhere.
This person is my savior, she thought.
Hikaru had assumed every possible escort pattern before he executed his plan, but what he was really worried about was the key. How many locks were there? How many did he have to unlock before he could set Lavia free?
The worst possible scenario he imagined was the Alchemists’ Guild’s guildmaster accompanying the transfer. He would construct a magic cell and go with the carriage to the capital, then unlock it there. In that case, Hikaru would have no other choice but to kill the guildmaster en route to free Lavia.
Fortunately, the man was busy. Hikaru snuck into the Alchemists’ Guild to check the guildmaster’s schedule and found out that he would be having dinner with someone today at a restaurant in Pond.
The next worst scenario was if there were multiple keys. They could have two identical keys, one in Pond and one in the capital. In other words, no one had the key during transport.
In that case, it would’ve most likely gone like this:
1. Once Lavia got in the carriage, it would be locked.
2. A knight or someone from the mansion would put the key in a safe.
3. Hikaru would then steal the key from the safe.
4. Go after the carriage.
5. Return the key to the safe after Lavia was rescued.
Fortunately, the coachman had the key. In short, all he had to do was steal the key from the man, then return it afterwards. It was the best case he could imagine.
And then there were the handcuffs. The alchemist guildmaster fitted Lavia with handcuffs that would come off on their own after a period of time. A logical approach—no need for a key, but it still lasted a while. Fortune was smiling on Hikaru. All he had to do was get Lavia out, and in time the handcuff could be removed.
Hikaru assumed other scenarios as well. He went over what he had to do for each situation, even checking the location of the safe for the key yesterday. But fear often exaggerates danger. He only had one key to steal.
And the coachman had it.
The coachman was always on his seat. Sneaking up to him and taking the key was the perfect job for the Stealth ability.
Hikaru made his way to the dungeon earlier to check the handcuffs, and witnessed the Alchemists’ Guild’s guildmaster putting them on Lavia.
As soon as he learned that the coachman had the key, he immediately headed to the gate, where he waited. While the guard was checking the carriage, he got on top of the roof and lay down.
The solidly-built vehicle did not so much as budge. The horse, however, seemed to sense the added weight. It turned its head to the back. Hikaru’s blood froze. But that was all.
After that, he simply lay sprawled on top until the first rest break was over.
When the carriage started moving again, he crept up to the coachman and took the key. The rocking of the carriage prevented the man from feeling anything.
Hikaru then unlocked the carriage, snuck back up to return the key, and entered the vehicle.
He had already anticipated that with his Stealth and his Blessing set to Stealth God: Bearer of Darkness, the adventurers wouldn’t see him, but just to be safe, he did all this as a caravan passed by.
And that was how he appeared before Lavia.
“Get a blanket right away to make it look like you’re sleeping,” Hikaru said. “If it’s not enough, stuff in some clothes as well. Wear this too.”
The camouflage was crucial. With this trick, even if they peered inside, they wouldn’t realize right away that she had escaped. It would probably be effective until the next rest stop.
Hikaru took out a plain brown coat from his knapsack for Lavia to wear. It also hid the handcuffs, so there shouldn’t be any problem even if they passed by someone on the way back.
And now for the crucial part.
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