Mia soon began wondering if she had made a mistake when she asked Dega to tell her what it was that he wanted.
Rather than giving her some short and simple answer, it appeared that Dega was the really talkative type. He started getting all nostalgic about the past and began telling Mia about his life story…
The abridged version was that Dega had been a mercenary in the past until he left the trade four years ago and returned to his hometown of Clearlight Town after having saved up enough money to marry his childhood sweetheart. Yet, the good days were destined to last only a short while.
Soon after the birth of Dega and his wife Iris's first child, a daughter, Count Hart just happened to go out and take a fancy to Dega's wife upon seeing her coincidentally. The rest was yet another typical example of the result of noble villainy and power abuse – Count Hart wanted to take Iris for himself, but she refused. When Count Hart ordered his soldiers to seize her, they discovered to their surprise that Iris was more iron-willed than most women or children they seized, as she fought back with a knife. When it became obvious that she was no match for the soldiers, she then turned the knife upon herself and committed suicide.
Count Hart was one who believed in never leaving any loose ends behind, and sent a small fireball at the wailing infant daughter that perhaps managed to instinctually sense the death of her mother. All that remained behind was a scene that Mia had to do her best to not imagine.
Dega had been out on a hunting trip at the time, not knowing what was going on in his family's home. Only when he returned home did he discover the truth. In his grief, he instantly attempted to take revenge, but was thwarted constantly by the Count's fire magic keeping him at a distance as well as the Count's high number of personal soldier bodyguards. Dega was a veteran mercenary who was amongst the more skilled of his group back when he was a member, and managed to retreat with only some medium injuries, including the scar inflicted across his face.
Now, Dega had apparently been biding his time for the past several years, gathering a crew of like-minded individuals who had similar hatred of Count Hart for various differing reasons. Well, with the exception of Derek the simple-minded. Dega hurriedly added that he was only looking out for him as a favor to Derek's elderly mother.
That was the gist of what Mia understood from his tale. This was just the summarized version of what she heard as Dega talked her ear off for an entire hour and more. To be honest, she had trouble concentrating on paying full attention as he talked, as she was constantly thinking about what to say and how to deal with him. After all, would a normal person be able to listen to a threatening kidnapper talk about his life story and fully focus on that alone? She doubted that anyone would be able to fully empathize when placed in such a dangerous situation. Even Stockholm Syndrome wouldn't develop this quickly.
Dega had a soft expression of sadness as he told his tale. However, by the end, his expression had hardened into one of burning anger. His expression was somewhat frightening, causing Mia's heart to skip a beat. Although she was somewhat flinching inside, she steeled her resolve to speak her part, knowing that things would likely get highly dangerous for her if she didn't do something for herself.
"If my daughter had received the chance to grow up as she deserved, she would have been just a little bit younger than you are. Tell me, little girl, no, Mia Hart. Just what is it do you think that you can do for me?"
Mia had plenty of time already to consider what to say in response to such a question. Dega was someone who was obviously motivated by the idea of obtaining revenge. What remained now was to see just how much reason was left in him apart from the desire of revenge. Would it be possible to negotiate something with him?
"I can offer you my father, Count Hart."
Dega scoffed upon hearing this. "Hah. As expected of nobles. Are all nobles like you, willing to sell out their own fathers when faced with danger?"
Mia was unruffled by this retort. She supposed that what he said was perfectly reasonable, after all. She did indeed sound like someone willing to betray her father just because she was being threatened.
"Aren't you familiar with how nobles are? That's just how things work in noble society. Sometimes in life, we must choose the lesser of two evils. The world isn't made up of black and white choices. You see, I'm currently having an inheritance dispute with my older half-brother, Barnaby Hart. Since you're a local, you must surely know of him and his behavior. He's just like a younger version of my father, Count Hart. Assisting you will be the equivalent of assisting myself."
Dega was inwardly astonished to hear such words coming out of a young child's mouth. The lesser of two evils? An inheritance dispute amongst nobles? Was this how all noble children were? Unsure what to make of it all, he indicated with a hand gesture for Mia to continue speaking.
"If you kill me, Count Hart won't be bothered as much as you would like, because he still has his bastard son as a successor. Rather, your action could very well cause more people just like you to appear, as he would likely vent his rage on the innocent villagers. No, I doubt there will be many other people like you – you only survived so long because you were a trained warrior. Nothing but death will await any that try to resist against Count Hart, as I'm sure you well know."
The burning flames in Dega's eyes were somewhat doused as he recalled back to four years prior. Indeed, at that time, after he caused a huge mess by attacking the Hart mansion by himself, he had managed to escape successfully. However, his friends and family had undergone much suffering afterwards at the hands of the soldiers' interrogations, demanding they give him up. Dega gritted his hands tightly as his knuckles whitened. He would never be able to forgive Count Hart, never.
"So, you're saying that I should support you in competing against your older half-brother and your own father? An amusing proposition. Do tell me more about this idea of yours."
"Do you know why I came here today? This is the Thieves Guild, as I'm sure you well know. I actually came here to see if I could receive training and teaching in the thief job class, so that I'm able to better fight against my older half-brother."
Dega paused in surprise upon hearing this. Indeed, he hadn't thought too much about this question. Why was she here, anyways? He had merely gathered up his bandit crew and rushed over here upon receiving Nymon's tip that Count Hart's daughter might currently be at the Thieves Guild. He hadn't had the time or the mind to wonder what a young girl like her would be doing here alone. It was more obvious than anything else to him now that she must be a girl born of nobility, as no commoner girl could possibly speak like that. He also knew that nobles typically went around everywhere with their retainers.
"As is obviously apparent, I'm a girl. I have no interest in such uncouth behavior like men would in stealing women and children away from their families. I believe that you should be able to at least trust that much. I'm willing to offer you detailed data on the Hart mansion's layout. I can also help to get your companions undercover into the Hart army. Not only will that make things much easier for you when it's finally time to make a move, this can help to mitigate the impact on the citizens by warning them beforehand whenever the Hart army is about to make a raid."
The last part of Mia's offer was especially enticing for Dega. Could things really work as well as she said?
Dega hadn't managed to accomplish anything much in the past few years apart from picking off one stray drunk soldier from the Hart army. Count Hart's soldiers made sure to always stick together in large numbers, making up for their insufficient combat skills. Although Dega was a former mercenary and combat veteran, he was actually the only member of his bandit group who had killed before. This was also because he didn't want to dirty his companions' hands, bearing all the burden by himself. While Dega taught his companions what he could, he knew that there was no hope of ever confronting Count Hart head-on with the current situation as it stood.
Coming here to capture Mia Hart was just a coincidental opportunity. It wasn't like he had the time to plan things out beforehand. Although Dega was skilled in combat, he would readily admit that coming up with plots or schemes wasn't his forte. He figured that if they really did meet the Count's daughter here, that they could do something typical like hold her for ransom and make her father suffer as much as possible. Honestly, doing something like killing or harming a little girl was something Dega found quite distasteful. Dega inwardly began wondering to himself, would he really be any better or different from Count Hart if he resorted to such an action in the end? Dega was no saint, far from it, but he still had his moral boundaries and felt that there were boundaries that weren't meant to be broken.
Meanwhile, Mia's offer sounded quite good at giving him what he wanted. The biggest problem was, would she really be trustworthy? Could he actually rely on a little girl like her to do as she said she would?
Dega decided to discuss the situation with his companions. He called all the bandits into the room, making the room quite crowded.
"Boss Dega, what took you so long?" One of his underlings was apparently rather curious.
Mia almost wanted to make a joke here about what a man and a woman could do together in a tavern room for so long, but decided not to out of respect for Dega's feelings and the story she just heard.
Dega explained to his companions about what Mia had just proposed to him.
"I think she has a point. However, I'd like to hear your opinions as well. What shall we do?"
"Why don't we just kill her and be done with it?" One man had a sinister expression and made a hand gesture of slitting someone's throat. Mia glanced over at him and recorded his face in her mind. If he wanted her dead that badly due to her father's crimes, this man was a dangerous element that needed to be dealt with, no matter what her father deserved.
"It sure sounds good, but can she really be trusted?" This man seemed to support her.
"Me want more potatoes please!" Okay then, this was Derek the simpleton. At least he was polite and knew to say please?
The men all glanced around at each other awkwardly. They had mostly been ordinary villagers and farmers before being forced into banditry by various circumstances involving Count Hart. None of them, except for the man with the sinister expression, were particularly taken with the idea of doing something overly cruel to a little girl. All of them had grudges against Count Hart though, and Mia seemed to be an excellent opportunity for them to do something about that.
In the end, they decided to leave the decision up to their leader, Dega. He mulled things over, but still didn't know what to do. Neither Dega nor the other bandits had ever received any higher education beyond basic reading and arithmetic. They weren't the type to come up with or analyze complex plots.
The best that Dega could come up with after consideration was to test Mia's worthiness, much like how he had handpicked each of his companions.
"You said that you came here to learn from the Thieves Guild, didn't you? Well, how about you try learning a few skills from me instead? Prove your worthiness to me."
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