8-2 The Worst Laid Plans
The Captain closed his eyes and tried to focus on what his subordinates were reporting. When the ranger had nonchalantly walked back into camp, everyone prepared for the worst until he waved them down. A couple minutes later, when Lotus and Champ came running in, no one knew what to expect. Then Lotus opened her mouth…
“It’s not good,” Edge declared stoically, turning to glare into the trees.
“That’s an understatement,” Knot added with a sour frown.
“Why?” The Newbie asked, shifting his gaze between the two.
The Captain, for his part, said nothing. He didn’t have time for speaking. He needed to do something. If he wasted any time, people were going to die. He had to put together his priorities. As he thought through his options, his gaze turned towards the army’s main camp. The ranger hadn’t left that long ago. If he hurried…
Without wasting another second, the Captain started to run. He ignored his team calling out after him and put all his focus into his legs. He needed to move. He needed speed.
Only a few seconds after he started running past the orderly lines of soldier’s tents, they were replaced by the larger, canvas rooms, of the knights. There, in that quiet space, devoid of the vagabonds that wandered the rest of the camp, he found a figure draped in green.
“Wait,” the Captain called out as loud as he dared.
The ranger turned to look back at him, wearing that same expressionless face he always did. Then he slowly declared, “I have to make my report.”
The Captain hurriedly moves closer and leaned in to whisper. “If you tell them about that village, they’re going to kill everyone inside.”
“I have a professional obligation,” the ranger responded, his face completely unmoved by he Captain’s plea. “It isn’t my business what they do with the information.”
In front of that perfectly blank face, the Captain’s heart sank. He didn’t know what he expected in rushing here, but whatever his feverish mind had come up with had been too naïve. Even so, he couldn’t do nothing. He had to find something within his reach.
The Captain clasped his hands together tightly as he desperately changed his approach. “You could at least wait, right? They have no way of knowing that you didn’t discover the village a few days from now.” As he spoke, the Captain stared into the ranger’s eyes in the hope of finding something to play off of. He was, again, left disappointed. “You can take things easy for a while. Maybe get a more completely survey of the village’s supply roads.”
As the Captain’s whispers faded away, the ranger continued to stare into his face. After a painfully extended silence, the ranger curtly declared, “Two days.”
“Thank you, you’ve done the right-“ The Captain began with a deep, and deeply felt, bow.
“And in exchange,” the ranger continued, abruptly cutting off the Captain’s gratitude. “You’ll provide a thirty percent discount on your services.”
As the ranger finished the declaration, the Captain could feel his face freeze. Thirty percent was too much. More than he could cover by giving up his whole share. No matter how you looked at this, it was extortion.
The ranger extended his hand to shake and the Captain stared at it, hesitating. If he tried to negotiate and ranger just decided to complete his report… the Captain couldn’t live with the consequences of that. Money wasn’t worth it. Not when lives were on the line.
Gritting his teeth and closing his eyes to keep himself from glaring at the hateful man, the Captain extended a hand and clasped the ranger’s. With that, the agreement was made. They both turned back to their own camp. The Captain, however, held himself back for a moment. He didn’t want to be walking alongside that man. Not right now.
As the Captain made the trek back to his team, he tried to think of what he could tell them. They weren’t bad people, but they wouldn’t easily accept that he rashly handed away almost a third of their payment. Especially when some of them needed that money so badly.
In the end, he decided to tell them nothing. As long as he was the one to accept their pay, they wouldn’t need to know about it. He had enough savings piled up, even after buying that woman a car. He could cover this himself. This was his own responsibility, anyway.
After gathering his resolve for that, the Captain stepped back into the circle of tents where his team awaited him with uncertain faces.
“What’s going on?” Edge asked looking the Captain up and down as he approached.
His gaze made the Captain suddenly aware of how disheveled his clothes had become. He surreptitiously attempted to straighten his shirt as he answered. “We have two days.”
“Two days for what?” Champ asked, furrowing his brow in confusion.
“To save all the people of the village,” the Captain declared. He tried to sound confident, but he didn’t know how that came out. It was hard to be confident in a plan that was yet to be made.
“How?” Lotus asked, retaining the cool composure that rarely slip off her.
“That’s what we need to decide,” the Captain answered, trying to smoothly glide past the part where he was pushing his responsibilities off onto the group. He looked over his team and they looked back at him. Almost a minute passed like that and the Captain was forced to continue, “We need plans. Any plans at this point.”
“We could kill the ranger,” Cauliflower suggested, cocking her head to the side, nonchalantly. “Then we’d the only ones to know about the village.”
“Any real plan,” the Captain added quickly. “Any real, workable plan.”
“It would work,” Cauliflower protested sullenly. “Plus, he’s already weird and suspicious. It’d be no big loss.”
“It’s not going to happen, let’s move on,” Edge cut in with a wave of his hand.
“Why don’t we just warn them about the army?” the Newbie asked, his eyes full of hopeful expectance. “We could get them to evacuate before the soldiers arrive to… do anything.”
“Not a great long-term solution,” Knot criticized with a frown.
“Telling a bunch of Aurorian citizens about the invading army wouldn’t do a lot for our relations with said invaders,” Edge added smoothly.
“Kind of betrays the basic purpose of this job,” Cauliflower agreed with a nod.
The group fell silent as they all stared into the dirt, daring it to give them inspiration. Eventually, Edge lifted his head and spoke. “We could always lie. Tell them something else is going to sack their village. ‘a horde of monsters is coming, grab what you can and run!’ sort of thing.”
“No matter what warning we come to give them, they don’t have a lot of reason to believe us,” Lotus replied with a frown. “A bunch of strange mercenaries that haven’t even once passed through. How can they tell us apart from bandits?”
“What if we don’t lie?” Cauliflower asked slowly. “I mean, there’s got to be a few terrifying things hiding in these woods. We could probably lead a couple over there.”
“To keep the army from destroying the village, you want us to have monsters destroy it first?” Champ asked with a frown. “That’s insane, right?”
“It’s not insane,” Lotus responded, closing her eyes as she considered her own words. “it’s just… parallel to sanity.”
“Is that a math joke?” Champ asked hesitantly. “I-I don’t do math.”
“It seems like the only thing we can do with what we have,” Edge responded with a bitter expression.
The Captain nodded in agreement. As much as he may dislike the idea, it should work. “If the army shows up and finds the village empty, but pristine, it’ll be too suspicious. Whether the villagers leave before or during the attack, we’ll need something to trash the place.”
“So, we’re gonna lead a bunch of hungry monsters to them and hope for the best?” Champ asked, turning around to study the faces of the team. “That’s really what we’re doing?”
“Edge, Lotus and I will approach the village and attempt to get them away before that,” the Captain corrected, not having much hope in his own words even as he said them. “While we do that, the rest of you will work on the other half.”
At the declaration of the orders, Champ shut his mouth. The protest didn’t vanish from his eyes, however. The Captain couldn’t be angry at that. This plan had too much margin for error. If they actually had to use monsters to chase the villagers away, there’d be no way some didn’t get caught in the chaos. It really was the worst plan. Too bad it was the only one.
Leaning against the unreliable canvas of his private tent, he considered things. There was a village and the mercenaries didn’t want the commander to know that. There was something there. Something there for him. Two days. Then he could make his little mistake go away.
He smiled to himself. He could never understand why the older generation hated humans so much. They were so small. How could you hate something below you? However, watching them kill each other was somehow so satisfying. It brought joy to the heart and lightness to the step.