“Hey, we got these guys.
You're not going to touch them.”


Ataru stepped in between the merchant and the adventurers and nailed the merchant, who looked as if he wanted to punish the adventurers at any moment.


“I know, I know.
I was just blurting it out.
Besides, you guys seem to be pretty good at what you do.”


The man who cowered aloofly shifted his attention from the adventurers to Ataru and Caro.
And he had a sullen look on his face as if he were assessing the situation.
In response to this gaze, Caro glared at the man warily.


“I'm sorry about that.
So who the hell are you?”


Despite the praise, Ataru wasn't interested in what the man had to say, but who he was and why he let the adventurers do this.
That's what he was curious about.


“Hmmm, I like your boldness too.
Fine, I'll tell you.
I'm a merchant, as you can see.
I am however, a ……
underground merchant, or Dark Merchant as they call me.
I find powerful people and introduce them to noblemen and royalty, earning me a middleman's margin.”


Ataru's eyes narrowed as he felt a tug at the words of the Dark Merchant, who smiled happily.


It seemed that the Dark Merchant was not lying about what he was saying, but there was more that he was keeping quiet about.
That's what Ataru felt.


“Well, that's why we're here for you, isn't it?”


“Yes, they're good adventurers, but they pale in comparison to the two of you who beat them so easily.”


The Dark Merchant, who smiled as if he had found a new favorite toy, looked Ataru and Caro up and down with a mocking gaze.


“Don't give me that creepy look.
I'm telling you, we have a purpose.
I'm not going to fall for your bullshit.”


Ataru refused firmly, shielding Caro from the disgusting gaze, but the Dark Merchant's smile only deepened.


“That's right, of course.
If someone were to take me up on my offer so easily, I doubt they would have been defeated so easily.
Hmm, I think I'll leave it at that for now.
If you would, I would appreciate it if you would let them go.
I've hired them as my guards, you know?”


Ataru glanced at the adventurers, feeling uncomfortable about the Dark Merchant who backed down so easily.


The leader of the group looked as if he wanted to say something, but then closed his mouth and nodded quietly.


He thought that if he could tell them in detail what had happened, they might be able to forgive him or change the situation.
He thought about it, but decided that he couldn't ask someone who had nothing to do with them to clean up the mess of the choices they had made.


“All right, they seem to be okay with it, so let's do it.
But don't ever try to do anything to us again, okay?”


Although his words were quiet, Ataru's gaze was cold and filled with killing intent, indicating that he would not tolerate any hostility the next time.


“Yes, I understand.
I don't want to antagonize you, you know.”


The Dark Merchant stammered back a reply to Ataru as a chill ran down his spine, making him regret ever making eye contact.


“Ho, come on, let's go.”


“Yeah, let's go guys, …….”


Caro released the adventurers from their restraints as soon as they had spoken, and the four of them, along with their companions who had regained consciousness by that time, followed the merchant.


When the merchant's back was out of sight, Caro slowly opened her mouth with a hard expression.


(Please read original at https: //sites .
google .
com /view/shadowgardentl/home just remove the spaces!)


What was that all about?”


Caro, who had been silently watching the situation, did not believe that the man's words were entirely true, and kept wondering what his real purpose was.


“The man may have been a good judge of character.
When I went to greet him, I had the feeling that he was inspecting my abilities.
I don't know if he has that kind of ability, or if it's just a longstanding intuition.


When Caro heard that, she remembered that time, and she also had an idea.


“Yes ……
I had a weird feeling when he was just staring at us.”


“Maybe there's something to it.
Whatever it is, we should be careful.”


There was a feeling of uneasiness in their hearts regarding something unknown, but they shook it off as they entered the tent and fell asleep for a while.





The next morning



When Ataru and Caro packed up their belongings and returned to the front of the forest by carriage, the merchants were already gone.


“It looks like they've all gone on their way.


There were still traces of the bonfire, indicating that they must have remained here afterwards.


“They may have gone on, or they may have gone off …….
Considering that they were camping here to look for their next move, it's possible that they couldn't play us and went back to their home base.”


Ataru predicted, as he looked around but saw nothing new among the wheels heading into the forest.


“Well, either way, let's get on with our objective.”


'I guess so.
But let's keep our guard up.”


Ataru, who reminded himself that there was no point in worrying about them any more, was thinking the same thing as Caro, so he nodded his head in agreement.


“I didn't know there was such a thing as a black market …….
Well, no matter.
If they stand in our way, we will defeat them.”


He said this to no one in particular and slowly drove the carriage into the forest.


The forest was thick with trees, and somehow it was quieter than it had been on the way there.


“There's no sign of monsters.”


“It's a nice, quiet forest.
The only thing that bothers me is that there is no sign of animals either.


It was a good thing that there were no monsters in the forest, but Caro felt uncomfortable because there were no signs of wildlife or birds singing, which she had always heard.


“Did those guys set something up?”


“Oh no, something that could affect the entire forest? ……?”


Normally, Caro wouldn't have said anything to contradict Ataru's words, but she couldn't believe that a mere person could make such a change.
This made her more cautious.


“I hope nothing happens to you before we get through the forest.


“Yes, …….”


The two of them tightened their expressions in the still forest and looked at the road ahead of them, pondering what might be waiting for them on the way.


(Please read original at https: //sites .
google .
com /view/shadowgardentl/home just remove the spaces!)



Translator’s notes:

[1] That’s a flag!

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