"The hell!?" Dega was almost barreled over by Mia who crashed into him. With a look of disgust on his face, he flicked off the bat guano that got on his clothing. "What happened to you?"
"Unless you intend to help me here, run! That giant bat is coming!" Mia was in a hurry to get out of here.
Hearing this, Dega's expression turned into a scowl. "Who cares, I can take care of a boss monster that weak in just an instant. So, you can't even defeat this boss monster in here? You failed to prove your mettle, then!"
"Actually, I already obtained this book from a silver treasure chest inside that cavern." Mia tossed the ice magic skill book over to Dega. "This is what you're talking about, right? I didn't detect anything else that really stood out in this entire cave."
Dega was astounded to hear this. She somehow obtained the treasure inside without even defeating the boss monster? How was this even possible? It was simply ludicrous to presume that the bat monster would simply allow her to take it for free. And as obviously evidenced by the fact that the bat monster was apparently chasing after her, it was perfectly fine.
Still, questions would have to wait for later. The bat monster had arrived!
Since Mia had obviously obtained the "most valuable item" inside here, Dega had no more qualms about helping her out. He was a man of his word.
"Step aside, little girl. I'll show you how things are really done!"
"Sure, but could you stop calling me little girl? My name is Mia. If you keep calling me little girl, I'm going to start calling you Mister again."
Dega would have chuckled if it wasn't for the fact that the bat monster was rapidly approaching, having caught up due to their conversation here. He focused his own mana into his sword, and –
Mia witnessed Dega jumping up into the air, and slicing three times in quick succession. The first two slashes were diagonal slashes in an X shape, while the final slash was vertical. The bat monster roared in pain as it started magically dissolving. It had lost in just three hits, without even putting up much of a fight!
"See, that's what true strength is!" Dega seemed quite proud of himself.
"True strength? If you had true strength, you would have went after Count Hart long ago, rather than attempting to take revenge on me. I'm just a little girl, as you pointed out not long ago. You and your friends are all adult men. Do you really think it's a fair comparison?" Mia didn't hold back with her words at all.
Dega was rendered speechless. "I… I…" He could only mutter to himself as he winced. She had hit him right where it hurt. Everything she just said was indeed the truth. He had never thought about "fairness" like that before.
"I obtained the treasure behind the bat monster using strategy, not might," Mia continued. She knew that it was unlikely for a group of adult men to fully listen to everything she said, so Mia intended to make herself sound exaggeratedly intelligent so that Dega would be more likely to listen to her. "Isn't that what you need right now? You know perfectly well that just your numbers won't be enough to win against my father."
Dega nodded weakly. After all these years, he still hadn't figured out a way to deal with the Count's powerful fire magic, or the high number of guards. Not to mention, he was the only member of his bandit crew who had significantly higher combat strength than the others.
"How about we talk more outside? This is hardly the best place for a chat." Mia brushed off the bat guano on her clothing as well and made sure to carefully tuck Whimsy inside her clothes so that Dega didn't notice. Unfortunately, this meant that the bat guano on Whimsy was directly sticking to her skin… she hadn't had the time to clean Whimsy off before Dega arrived. She was definitely going to have to take a bath the moment she got back to the Hart mansion!
"Alright." Dega finally recovered from his astonishment and started walking back towards the entrance together with Mia. He then recalled something. "Oh, here, you can have this back. So, the God of Adventurers gave you a book on ice magic? It's of no use to me, and it's what you deserve to keep after working for it, no matter how you obtained it. By the way, you nobles typically have magic bloodlines, don't you? Do you know how to use ice magic?"
Mia hesitated for a moment, considering how much to tell him, before replying. She decided it would be alright to let him know the truth about her magic. It wasn't like it was something that needed to be top secret, as nobles were commonly in mage job classes to begin with. Besides, if they were to be allies, the more they knew about each other, the better. Although, she would still keep the information about Whimsy a secret for now as a trump card if necessary. She had only met Dega today and still didn't know how reliable he was, after all.
"I know wind magic, at the E rank level. I don't know why the God of Adventurers placed an ice magic book in the chest for me. Is he some sort of jokester? Are the items random? Will that treasure chest respawn?" To be honest, the last question was the one that Mia really wanted to know the answer to. She already knew that monsters were capable of respawning, as they were simply formed from magical energies. But would it be the same for
E rank? Dega paused in his footsteps for a second upon hearing this. Although he wasn't a mage, the letter-based power ranking system was common all throughout the land of Eristan, ranging from magic, adventurers' ranks, item power ranks, and so on. If she was E rank, that meant she only had the most basic amount of control over the wind, nothing more.
Five minutes ago, he probably would have scoffed at Mia. But now, he had seen evidence that she was able to obtain the treasure at the end by herself, although he still didn't know how she did it yet. She had just shown him through her words that might wasn't everything. Dega wasn't entirely sure why, but he got the impression that she was far smarter than her age suggested. He decided not to worry about her magic power level.
"Yes, the items inside the God of Adventurers' treasure chests are randomized, but typically beneficial for the job class you're in. However, the treasure chests won't respawn. Each designated adventuring location will only spawn treasure chests one time per person."
So, there were anti-grinding measures in this world as well? Mia was slightly disappointed. A book on ice magic seemed equally useless to her as it was to Dega. Would it really be possible for her to learn a C rank ice magic spell? Well, she supposed that it would never hurt to try later. And even in the worst-case scenario, perhaps she could keep it and exchange it for something else in the future.
Dega noticed that Mia's pace was much slower than his. This was only natural, as she was just a child and quite fatigued after an hour of trekking through the cave and the battles she just experienced. Dega made an offer to her.
"How about I carry you out so we can leave this place faster? I don't know about you, but this is no place to be having a picnic."
Mia thought about it for a moment and decided to accept his offer. She felt that it couldn't hurt. There was no need for him to use any schemes if he wanted to try and harm her, with the power difference between them.
And so, Dega scooped Mia up in his arms and princess carried her! To be honest, Mia had been expecting to be able to ride on his back. This took her greatly by surprise, and her face started flushing slightly red, not used to having intimate contact with men. She was more concerned about such things because she was actually a college-aged girl inside, after all. Meanwhile, Dega began jogging at an even pace after he cradled Mia in his arms.
Mia closed her eyes in an effort to take her mind off her embarrassment. She found that being carried was a more comforting experience than she expected. It wasn't nearly as jolting of an experience on her body as she expected. Was it because Dega was intentionally jogging as even as possible? How long had it last been since she simply felt the warmth of human contact, even a hug? Her mother in this world had died while giving birth to her, while the rest of her family… Well, everyone knew how her father and half-brother were like. She didn't even have a single person she could call a friend yet in this new world. Tired after a long day, Mia slowly drifted off to sleep while thinking such thoughts in Dega's arms as he kept running.
Dega noticed that Mia's breathing became even and that she fell asleep as he ran. While holding her, Dega wondered about what kind of life she possibly could have experienced so far in her young life. What would it be like to have such a family like hers? What could drive such a young child in agreeing to help him take revenge upon her father? He didn't know. She was definitely far more mature than any child he had ever met. Was it really that hardship brewed maturity?
It took Dega a mere ten or so minutes to jog back to the cave entrance as he avoided all the monsters on the way, much faster than Mia's speed. She didn't wake up at all during the entire way and kept sleeping peacefully.
Dega's underlings noticed when he exited the cave and swarmed around him. "Boss –"
"Shut up!" Dega almost snarled in a low voice. "Let her sleep!" For some unknown reason even to himself, he didn't want to disturb her. "She passes my test. We're going to work together with her from now on."
The bandits all exchanged various with each other, filled with awkwardness, disappointment, and various other expressions. One was even excited, as he was mentally counting the coins he had won in the earlier little bet. They all wanted to know what had happened, but now evidently wasn't the best time to be asking.
"I'll explain later," Dega whispered. "For now, disperse and return to our hideout. I'm returning Mia here back to her home."
The perceptive among them noticed that Dega was now calling Mia by her name, rather than little girl. Still, nobody dared to speak up against Dega, fearing his wrath, as he was behaving differently from his usual self. Who knew what they would talk about as they were on their way, though?
Dega started walking towards the Clearlight Forest as the other bandits left. He recalled what he had said to Mia earlier in the day: that his daughter would have almost been her age, had she only survived. What kind of life would he have been able to give her, even if she did survive? He was nothing more than a bandit now, someone on the wrong side of the law. His glory days of being a skilled mercenary were over. Would she be similar to Mia, wise beyond her years, and only thinking of revenge?
He thought about many things as he walked through the forest. He had the Count's daughter right here in his arms, sleeping and defenseless. If he wanted to, he could probably kill her right here and now in just a few short seconds so that the Count would also taste the bitter feeling of losing a daughter.
In the end, he just couldn't do it. With the Count's personality, would he really even care? It was just like Mia said. Besides, Dega just couldn't bring himself to harm Mia anymore. Although her father may be heinous, she knew right from wrong and was innocent. Dega still had his moral boundaries and couldn't bring himself to harm Mia. Or was it because he was overlapping his dead daughter onto her?
Dega stopped after nearing the Hart mansion in the Clearlight Forest. He gently put Mia down and shook her lightly. "Hey, it's time to wake up. We're almost at your home."
Mia groggily opened her eyes, but quickly sat up in surprise upon seeing where she was. This was the Clearlight Forest! She had actually fallen asleep!? Why did she fall asleep? That could have been incredibly dangerous!
Still, since she had been mostly defenseless, apart from her Slime Armor, this meant that Dega could be trusted, at least for now. She relaxed slightly after thinking of this point.
"Thank you. While I do have a relatively high degree of freedom in wherever I go – that's simply because nobody there cares about me. Although, they'll still notice if I don't return by the time it's night, so it's good that you've brought me here. Again, thank you." Mia paused for a moment. "Let's meet up again tomorrow to discuss things in more detail. Where should we meet at?"
Dega thought about it for a moment. "Let's meet at the same cave as today. Some things shouldn't be discussed out in public. You still remember how to get there from Clearlight Town, right?"
Mia nodded. "Yes, I remember. Alright then, see you tomorrow." She then turned around and left immediately, hurrying back to the Hart mansion. This was actually because she still needed to wash the bat guano off of her skin under her clothing that rubbed off of her from Whimsy!
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