After realizing that the attack by the bandits was over, the members of the Silver Hawk Merchants Caravan began to attach the shields back to the sides of the wagons and ran a quick check on the merchandise to make sure nothing was damaged.
"What happened, Lyn?" Robin asked. He was still a bit shaken from earlier after that arrow almost pierced through his head. However, he presented himself in a calm and steady way as the vice-leader of the caravan.
"To be completely honest, vice leader, I couldn't say. But, the bandits seemed to have called off their attack and abandoned their allies." Lyn responded.
Lyn was the second in command of the caravan and handled the more grueling tasks so that Robin did not have to. His looks were average with gray hair and silver eyes, while his body was thin yet in surprisingly good shape compared to the other members of the caravan.
"Have you confirmed this? Did you send the adventurers to check the surrounding areas?" Robin questioned.
Lyn nodded and replied, "I've already sent the first and second group of adventurers to do a sweep of each side while the third group at the rear stayed behind just in case anything unforeseen occurred. There was nothing out of the ordinary and no bandits were found during their search. I've also assigned some of our own members to clear the logs blocking the path. We should be able to start moving again within the next five minutes." Lyn said.
"It appears that you have everything under control. I expect nothing less from a vice-leader candidate. Keep this up, and after this trip is over, I'll be sure to write an excellent recommendation letter to support your advancement." Robin said in a pleased tone.
"A recommendation from the esteemed vice-leader Robinarzin. I would be honored, sir." Lyn said in a respected manner as he gave a small bow.
Robin gave a nod of approval to Lyn's respectful demeanor and said, "Since you have things handled, I'll be in my carriage. This goes without saying, but unless it is an absolute life or death emergency, I am not to be disturbed."
"You can leave everything to me, vice-leader. I will make sure everything goes according to plan." Lyn reassured.
"I trust that it will." Robin spoke in a confident tone. Although Lyn had only been assigned to him for a short three months, he had already proved his worth many times over. He was confident in Lyn's ability to get things done and so, he returned to his carriage.
A faint smile could be seen on Lyn's face as Robin entered into his carriage.
A few moments ago...
'That was the last one.'
After eliminating Barbello, Izroth returned his Sword of the Storm to his sheath. He knew that there were no bandits waiting to ambush the caravan on the other side of the forest. They had only sent a small amount to the other side to attack in the first wave to give off the impression of overwhelming numbers.
It would also force those guarding the caravan to split their attention to two different sides. Then, while their attention was split, the rest of the bandits would charge in from one side and completely overrun the caravan. It was a decent plan for a group of bandits, but unfortunately, they met someone like Izroth.
Izroth narrowed his eyes as his head turned slightly to his left side and his hand swiftly moved towards his Sword of the Storm! However, Izroth stopped his movements as soon as his hand grabbed ahold of the sword's hilt.
'It's the same feeling as that time. Strange.'
Izroth had not felt something similar to that bizarre feeling since his time in the Towering Oak Forest back in Amaharpe. However, the feeling was much stronger this time thanks to his Soul Essence trait, or more specifically, the Soul Sense skill that was attached to it.
After waiting for a few seconds, Izroth noticed that nothing out of the ordinary took place. Since whatever or whoever it was had already completely erased their presence, there was nothing that he could do. So, he decided to head back towards the caravan.
'The loot from the bandits wasn't all that great, but the experience was a bit better than I expected.'
Meanwhile, somewhere within the Tiger's Mouth located one hundred meters from the caravan...
A shadowy figure materialized on one of the tree branches within the forest. It was the same shadowy figure that had been following Izroth since the Willowed Forest near Opal Town, and the Towering Oak Forest near the capital city Amaharpe!
"What a little monster..." The shadowy figure muttered with a hint of shock hidden in his tone. The last time he was able to get within thirty meters of Izroth and now, even with his special ability, he had to maintain a distance of at least sixty meters! That was double the amount as it was last time!
He also noticed that Izroth's combat prowess had risen substantially over such a short period of time.
"Is it finally time?" The shadowy figure pondered his thoughts for a moment before making a decision.
"Let's see how he completes the task that lies ahead. Only then will I know if he is truly prepared. Though, I wonder if he has figured it out yet? That caravan is quite bold hiding, a priceless diamond in a pile a gold in hope that the shine of the gold will blind those who crave the priceless diamond from the truth."
"But, of course, what they're transporting is much more valuable than some priceless diamond. How do you intend to contain that which cannot be contained? Indeed, a dangerous game to play with one's very own fate..." The shadowy figure turned into a blur before disappearing from the tree branch.
Meanwhile, back at the caravan...
After double-checking their inventory and removing the trees that blocked their path forward, the Silver Hawks Merchants Caravan continued on with their journey. However, as they ventured deeper into the Tiger's Mouth, they began to surprisingly be attacked by monsters rather than bandits as they expected.
Fortunately, the monsters were only normal ranked and did not take much effort for the Izroth and his party, as well as, the other accompanying parties, to deal with the creatures. But, only fifteen minutes into their journey, everyone started to feel a bit uneasy. That was due to the fact that the frequency of monster appearances on the forest path increased.
There were even two elite monsters that attacked them in the last wave of monster attacks!
"Aren't monsters supposed to stay away from paths like this?" Mirage said with a visible frown on her face. While she did not mind taking on the elite monsters, the normal monsters barely gave any decent experience points and it was beginning to become tedious work to get rid of them all. Not to mention, a huge waste of time!
"It is a bit unusual considering what we were told earlier by Robin during the briefing." Midnight commented.
Robin had informed them that while they may run into one or two monsters along the way, the forest path they were taking did not have an overall high level of monster activity going on. Therefore, it was likely that they would not have even seen a single monster on their journey. After all, they were mainly hired to protect from the bandit groups and factions in the outskirts.
However, including the monsters that the other parties defeated, they had already come across nearly forty monsters in a total of fifteen minutes! What part of that was not considered "high level of monster activity"? Even willing searching for monsters for fifteen minutes straight may not necessarily provide the same results!
"Maybe the caravan is carrying something we don't know about that monsters are attracted to. It could be some kind of exotic food or item we're transporting." Midnight speculated. However, even he did not believe his own words. After all, how could a group like the Silver Hawks Merchants Caravan be ignorant to the dangers of what they carried in their own wagons?
"Or maybe there's something we're not being told." Izroth said in a casual manner.
Mirage, Midnight, and even Ying Yue had a look of surprise all over their faces when Izroth said those words. Something they were not being told? If that was the case then the raised only one question, why?
"That's a bit of bold speculation, don't you think? It could be that we've happened to make the trip at an unlucky time." Mirage stated.
While Mirage believed that something was going on, she did not think that Robin or the Silver Hawks Merchants Caravan would intentionally hide something from them.
It would not only endanger their own merchandise which they were so fond of but even their own lives! Why would they keep anything that was so potentially life-threatening to them on all fronts, a secret? It just did not make any sense to her.
But, as Mirage was having doubts, Izroth's words caused Midnight to enter into a state of deep thought.
"Wait- Don't tell me the two of you are really serious about this?" Mirage said as she looked at Midnight and then towards Izroth with a look of disbelief on her face. However, she could tell that neither of the two was setting up for some kind of joke.
Mirage released a deep sigh and said, "Alright, then what do you think it is that we're not being told?" Since it was already two against one, she might as well just go with the flow of things. After all, she found that to be one of her proud specialties.
"That part remains to be seen. We can only wait and see how things play out at this point. Though, don't tell me you haven't noticed it?" Izroth responded.
Mirage blinked a few times with a blank expression on her face.
"I should warn you that riddles give me a headache." Mirage said jokingly. She felt as if Izroth was speaking in riddles, she did not see his point of view at all.
"Just think about it. A well known and resourceful caravan travels with only a pair of 'young adventurers' as guards on their journey. Not just that, instead of choosing creatures who specialize in speed to pull the wagons, they chose durable creatures who are at least three times slower than the average wagon beast." Izroth explained.
Although the current wagon beasts were not the slowest, they were far from ideal for a place like the Tiger's Mouth. They had been traveling for nearly an hour and had barely covered two kilometers! Even if they excluded the time they wasted during their run-ins with the bandits and monsters, they were still moving at a snail's pace!
"With such a small caravan, I was also wondering why they didn't choose a wagon beast that could cover more ground in less time. Even if they do become frightened and run away during a fight, we would spend less time going to search for them than moving at our current pace. Not to mention, that carriage at the front..." Midnight said with furrowed brows.
"Ah! Resources, guards, speed- Are you two going somewhere with this or not?!" Mirage said in a frustrated tone.
Izroth gave a carefree smile and replied, "Then, I'll put it simply. Something about this caravan is dangerous, and I don't mean the monsters or bandits."
Not only did Izroth connect a few dots, but his Soul Sense was constantly being tested by something in the surroundings. However, he was unable to pinpoint the source of it. As for it being the same presence he felt earlier back when he eliminated the bandits, that was not the case. The two feelings were completely different.
If one was like a watchful gaze, then the other was like a steadily rising foreboding sense.
Somewhere deep inside of the Tiger's Mouth...
In a small tavern run by one of the factions within the Tiger's Mouth, a cloaked figured sat in a dark corner of the tavern. At the moment, that individual was in the middle of a conversation.
"How are things progressing on that end?"
"Everything's on schedule. The seeds have been planted and should have taken root by now."
"You realize what could happen if we fail, right?"
"Yes, we'll die. We will inevitably die."
"I don't know about you, but I'm not ready for death."
"I agree, I'm also not prepared to venture to the Nether Realm."
"Then, shall we go retrieve it?"
"Yes, we'll retrieve it. Then, maybe one of us will finally die."
"Fool, I already told you, I don't want to die."
That cloaked figure stood up from the table and walked out of the tavern, disappearing into the Tiger's Mouth.
One of the bandits at a nearby barstool overheard the conversation and saw everything from start to finish. However, there was a confused look on his face.
"Hey, who the heck was that person talking to?" A bandit at the bar said. He did not see anyone else at that table. Maybe he had downed a few too many and had started imagining things.
"Who knows? Guys like that are nothing but trouble, trust me. Hey, barkeep! Another round!" One of the other bandits yelled as he slammed his empty mug on the countertop.