Mia had just finished her beef stew and paid her bill when she noticed a large group of dots approaching on her mental minimap. She wondered if this was related to her search for information regarding the Thieves Guild, since no group of people as large as this one had come visiting the Bear's Paw tavern as of yet. It was getting to be quite late for lunchtime now, and no other customers remained in the tavern. And if they still weren't related to the Thieves Guild, Mia figured she could just try the direct approach and asking for the guild. Or, there was one particular person located close by on her mental minimap who hadn't moved all this time, but was apparently inside this tavern somewhere that she couldn't discern. This was actually Miguel, the Thieves Guild leader.
Approximately thirty seconds after she noticed the dots, a group of seven men entered the tavern together. Mia looked them over and felt that none of them appeared to be ordinary villagers. Most were rough and burly in appearance and had more imposing auras than even the Hart domain soldiers. Well, except for one man amongst the bunch – he had a rather incongruously silly grin.
Were these people related to the Thieves Guild? Mia felt like they definitely seemed like the type. She got out of her seat and prepared to leave, intending to go back outside and then secretly eavesdrop on their conversation.
However, this was where she was mistaken. This group of men wasn't related to the Thieves Guild or here to do business with the guild. They were Dega's bandits, a group of local outlaws who had an axe to grind against Count Hart, sent here on a tip by Nymon the thief. They were here for her, rather than having any business with the guild.
"Whoa there, where are you off to in such a hurry, little missy?" A tall man with curly brown hair and a rugged face that had a classic slash scar diagonally across his face stepped in front of Mia, blocking her path. "How about taking a little stroll with us?"
The other men stood around her in an encirclement somewhat threateningly. Mia found to her surprise that they were actually here for her. Why was this? She hadn't done anything at all besides order some beef stew here. Mia remained calm, as she wasn't the type to panic at such a situation. She could only rely on herself here, and knew that panicking in dangerous situations meant that it was likely she would head to an early grave.
"Who might you all be, Misters? I don't know any of you, so what business could you have with me? My mommy always told me to never go with strangers."
Well, technically, her mother in this world had died in childbirth, but that was beside the point. Mia just wanted to know who she was dealing with, and why they were here for her.
"Little girl, come with us if you don't want to get hurt. There's something we need to talk to you about."
So, they were specifically targeting her? There was just one thing Mia wanted to confirm first before anything else.
"Are you all pedophiles?"
The men were all dumbstruck at her question. They exchanged awkward glances with each other while the man with the goofy expression hurriedly responded.
"No! Me no harm children! Me like children very much! Me no pedo file!"
Alright then, that was a response that was quite easy to misconstrue. The awkward expressions of disgust on the other men, however, slightly reassured Mia. At the very least, it wasn't the worst possible result that she was fearing.
The brown-haired man cleared his throat and a steely glint appeared in his eyes. "You should be careful what you accuse people of, little girl. You just said it's not safe to talk to strangers, right? Well, why don't we escort you back to your parents and have a nice discussion with them about your upbringing?"
Her parents? Mia speedily came to a conclusion about what this was about. Was she being targeted because of her status as a noble? If so, her father's identity and his heavy-handed despotic rule was creating quite a troublesome obstacle for her now. However, Mia had only come here today to scout things out at the Thieves Guild, and hadn't prepared anything like a fake identity. There would be no way to get around this. Mia was the type who preferred telling the truth anyways, although she understood the necessity of lying and scheming when necessary.
She decided to drop the pretense of being an innocent little girl and went with the direct approach.
"My parents? I'm Mia Hart, the daughter of Count Hart. Am I who you're looking for?"
The steely glint in the brown-haired man's eyes grew even harsher upon hearing her admittance. Mia also noticed that the other men, apart from the goofy one, were all glaring at her with more unfriendly expressions than before. "Since you've introduced yourself, I'll return the honor. Call me Dega. Little girl, we may not be pedophiles, but we're not going to take no for an answer. You're coming with us. You can do this the easy way, or the hard way. I can promise that you'll be in for a world of pain if you don't. We have a lot to talk about with you regarding your father."
Mia mentally assessed the situation as she thought about what to say. She had her Slime Armor available, which would likely keep her safe – but only to a certain extent. There was probably no way that she would be able to outrun seven adult men even if she somehow managed to slip free from their encirclement. Not only that, all she had was a wooden practice sword, and she doubted that she would be able to knock any of them unconscious even in a one on one fight. After all, in training, she wasn't even able at the level of being able to land a single good blow on Colson yet. And even if she screamed and shouted and attracted some attention, it was highly doubtful that any villagers would come to her aid the moment they learned that she was the daughter of Count Hart.
Mia wondered about if she should have told Colson about where specifically she was going to go today after all, but then put the thought behind her. There was no use crying over spilled milk now. The most important thing right now was to figure her way out of this predicament. These men had obvious hostility towards her, but it wasn't at the extent of having attacked her right away even after she confirmed her identity. It meant that they could still be reasoned with. She decided to be proactive here.
"You're all members of the Thieves Guild, aren't you? Why not just talk right here? Isn't this your home base? How about we get a room in the tavern for a good private discussion? I promise not to scream and shout or make a commotion. There's a lot I want to talk about regarding my father as well." Saying this, Mia then called out to the server before Dega could even respond, as he was still taking in her words. "Give us a normal room, please. We'll be staying here for a while."
"Understood," the server answered. In the Thieves Guild's line of business, if something didn't involve them directly, sometimes it was just best to turn a blind eye. However, he paused for a moment in his footsteps upon hearing a soft wind chime's ring. That was a coded message from his boss, Miguel, to give them Room 3. The server instantly understood that something was about to go on. Room 3 was a room that was specially designed so that it could be easily eavesdropped upon. His boss wanted to listen in to whatever was about to be said inside!
Dega mulled things over and decided why not, it couldn't hurt to stay here for a little while. Although he had great enmity towards Count Hart, he didn't want to simply kill off his daughter like this now that she was in her hands. She could be quite useful to him as a hostage.
Just as Nymon had told him, Dega ascertained that she was indeed here alone for whatever reason. Dega didn't fear her running away or causing a big commotion that would put him in danger somehow – he considered it impossible for a little girl like her to accomplish.
However, this was the Thieves Guild's tavern. He didn't want to antagonize the Thieves Guild right on their home turf. And while he wouldn't hesitate to knock Mia unconscious if she resisted, trying to figure out a way to transport an unconscious little girl back to their hideout would still be somewhat bothersome. Since she was apparently under the mistaken impression that they were members of the Thieves Guild rather than the bandits that they were, Dega decided to play along and see what it was that she wanted to talk about.
After all, he was fully confident that he had this excellent hostage right where he wanted her. Right now, more than anything else, Dega was surprised at Mia's unflustered manner and adultlike manner. He was self-aware that as a former mercenary, he had a hardened appearance that was prone to scaring children. Not only that, Mia was a far more eloquent child than any he had ever met, not that he had met many, of course. Dega had been expecting a pampered, spoiled brat, in all honesty. He attributed her seeming intelligence to the excellent education that nobles probably received compared to a commoner like him, rather than anything else.
Dega decided to speak to her alone and assigned two of his subordinates to guard outside the room's door, and three to stand watch outside the tavern for anything suspicious. The seventh member, Derek, was a gentle giant who was rather simple-minded ever since he took a nasty blow to the head as a child. Still, Derek possessed great physical strength and obediently followed orders, although he wouldn't be able to carry out complex ones. Dega told Derek to simply go enjoy himself and have a meal.
Mia had been nonchalantly observing the tavern room ever since she entered, while waiting for Dega to finish arranging his subordinates. She paid close attention to anything that could be useful, but came to the conclusion some seconds later that there wasn't anything she could use. The window was also far too high up for her to easily reach.
This Dega carried himself with the demeanor of a veteran warrior. There was no way he wouldn't notice her climbing up and attempting to escape, even if he had his back turned. And what was she supposed to use in the room? Hit him with a pillow from the bed? Was this supposed to be a girls' pajama party pillow fight? Smack him with a chair? Her current physical strength as an almost six-year-old would be only sufficient to drag around this heavy wooden chair obviously designed for adults, not lift it and swing it around.
Besides, she really wanted to hear Dega's motivations. Only that would help her understand what he truly wanted with her, as long as he was willing to tell her by not treating her like a little girl. And if possible, perhaps she would be able to offer him something that he desired… No, obviously not anything improper!
Mia also noticed somewhat to her surprise that the dot on her mental minimap which had remained stationary and hidden from her for so long had suddenly moved. In fact, she could detect this mystery person in the space adjacent to this room, but Mia swore that she only saw a hallway when passing by that area of space. Mia had questions about who this mystery person and apparent secret passage were, but this was the Thieves Guild, so she wasn't all too surprised. It also wasn't really the time to make this a major concern right now.
Mia sat down on the edge of the bed, while Dega sat down in the chair, slouching rather than sitting up properly. Mia took the lead again in speaking first.
"So, Mister Dega, what is it that you would like to tell me?"
"First of all, stop calling me Mister! I'm only twenty-six, you little brat!"
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