Since the Hoods were still alive and with him, Rem could ask their boss for another favor. Although that would cost him more, he'd be able to go after the Useless himself, backed up by rifles, just like he intended to do initially. Meanwhile, his Hood allies would be able to quickly reach the Manor since their village was nearby. Bortom had a fast carriage and his girls were always close by. From what he'd heard of them, all three were capable sorceresses, whom the Hoods had saved in the past and then hired to work for them. For sure Rem would have to part with a lot of gold to compensate them for their services, but the reward for returning the Countess's chest was abnormally large. That way, he'd hit two targets with one arrow, get to learn what was inside the chest (if he decided to open it) and ensure Val's safety.
Ultimately deciding that this was the wisest (and safest for Val) choice of action, Rem helped his allies dig the grave of their youngest. Nobody cared about the bodies of their enemies for the Old Forest would devour them soon. Working together and working quickly, it took them no more than ten minutes to dig said grave and bury their companion. Rem, as a devote Kannite, said a few chosen words after, praising the young man's bravery and skill. Obviously, were they not strained for time, his body would've been placed under a simple spell and carried it back to civilization. The priesthood of Kan would then either mummify or otherwise preserve in another way the body, entomb it underground, to be guarded alongside with all of his possessions in Krart's catacombs. In here, with all of Old Forest's dangers lurking around them, they had no time for fancy stuff – the deceased was nevertheless buried according to tradition and proper ritual. Eventually the Hoods would pay for a re-burial; Kan's clergy had certain cannon which barred others from casually exhuming the dead.
Took them another hour and a half of constant running until they reached the vicinity of their quarry's camp. The Useless, all eleven of them were moping around, blissfully ignorant of the dangers which lurked around them. Accurate to the last word, the information which Bortom had supplied him with, allowed Rem to easily fashion his attack. The five warriors he'll leave for his Hood friends; said fighters were calmly dozing around their campfire, their weapons, shields and helmets laying around them. Useless fools... they were about to die snoring. The solver of problems planned on shooting dead the group's mage first, then their two archers. Said marksmen were casually strolling around the camp, yet in stark contrast with their sleeping allies, they had their weapons ready. One even held an arrow notched and ready, while the other played with one vicious-looking projectile, twiddling with it. The man held his bow steady though, it seemed that those two were, perhaps the best of this whole bunch. Their magician sat the furthest away from his “companions” reading a book, colorful glyphs formed by shining mana floating above its pages. He needed to die first; Rem was painfully aware that spell casters, even weak ones could easily kill you with some overpowered magic. That or they might be in possession of an artifact – he'd heard of and seen many a mercenary felled by wands charged with deadly spells. Said items allowed even the skill-less to unleash devastating magics with effortless ease. Rem quickly calculated the wind's speed and decided on which body part he was about to aim for – it was of paramount importance to not let his magical opponent's mouth let slip even one word. Behind the mage and covered with somebody's cloak, Rem's eyes noticed a chest shaped item. After another inquisitive look, scouting the rest of their camp, he logically assumed that was his goal. What was he'd imagined this job would be in the beginning? Not someone to mope around after he'd made a mistake or took a job too hard for him to complete on his own, nevertheless, Rem thought that in hindsight he shouldn't have accepted this one in particular.
While he was looking for the best spot to loose his arrows from, his keen eyes noticed one of the rogues. The fool elf was hiding under a makeshift camouflage - covered with shrubs, leaves and cloaked, the skill-less woman thought herself safe. Moreover, it seemed that the Useless left her to keep watch over their sleeping asses. He smiled viciously under his iron mask; considering the time of the day – it was already late afternoon – Rem's masterfully skulking figure was almost impossible to notice for one such as her. Noticing that his allies had already snapped the neck of another “sneaky” Useless, the solver of problems chose to throw Swallow and then recalled it, after the woman's body stopped twitching. Rem's trusty dagger pulled itself from the rogue's temple and, after cleaning it, he sheathed the blade, carefully pulling three arrows from his silenced quiver. While he stabilized his breathing, Rem noticed his five allies slowly surrounding the camp, then they too aimed their rifles.
The solver of problems instructed them to attack only after his arrow had slain the mage. With bated breath the Hoods waited, fingers on their rifle's triggers, while Rem slowly drew the string of his bow fully, aiming at the mage's torso. Rem twisted the string a little bit and then, sweating from the physical strain, loosed it. Silently, the projectile swished through the air and without a hitch impaled the mage exactly where he aimed at. The stupefied caster flew in the air after Rem's arrow smashed his ribcage and then landed a couple of feet away from the tree stump which he used as an improvised chair. Fluttering, his book of spells floated in the air still, pages turning by themselves, magical glyphs shining. It wasn't blasting him with powerful magic missiles or balls of fire, therefore Rem rapidly notched the second arrow and pulled, his next target the archer whose bow was ready to shoot. By felling the mage, he had already revealed himself and both archers screamed, waking up their allies. While those stumbled around, reaching for their weapons and shields, Rem loosed his second arrow. By now his arm was getting tired since Stake was a powerful bow and the solver of problems had already shot a number of arrows with it already. Not to mention running across the uneven terrain of the Old Forest and fighting in melee before that. That archer tried to lower his body, in an attempt to evade his arrow before shooting back at him. Alas the Stake's magic ended him; the arrow was intended to hit said Useless in his gut, it slammed into his shoulder instead. With another loud crunch, the archer's body rotated madly to the left, while his hand flew in another direction, tore from its socket. The solver of problems was unable to pull his third arrow in time; undeterred by the deaths of his companions and sporting a rather insane smile, the second archer's barbed projectile found Rem's chest. Screeching, metal sparks flying everywhere, the arrowhead blew through Brelt's outer metal plates and impaled the riveted chain, lodging itself exactly one inch above Rem's heart. Before the archer could pull, notch and loose another armor-piercing arrow, the Hoods fired their rifles. He could see one of them, the old veteran, who aimed at the archer instead, blowing one fist sized hole in the chest of this Useless.
The last man left alive decided to run and just before his silhouette could vanish, hiding behind a tree, Rem's arrow found him. Limping away from the tree line, he carefully dislodged the armor-piercing arrow, imagining how deep said projectile would've went inside his flesh, if he took Cyant, instead of Brelt. Nevermind the money he'd spend on fixing his suit of armor, far better it was to be able to spend gold than laying dead, quietly rotting away while your killer was getting drunk on your coin. He'd have to heal that horrible bruise and probably a cracked rib for at least a week, using one of his friend's healing ointments. Rem uttered one short prayer to Kan, thanking his god that he was still around and breathing, then slowly limped forward – harder it was for him to breath but harder does not meant impossible and he ate the pain. Felk floated above the corpse littered camp, inspecting one or another curiosity, then, after he examined the floating book, his friend exclaimed:
“Kan's Mercy! How was this idiot Useless able to even open this book?! Quickly, Master Rem, help me close it, the damned thing is reading itself!!!” - Fighting with severe chest pain, Rem limped to help and with combined efforts both of them managed to close the book, clicking its magical lock.
“What was it reading, Felk, did you...?”
“Nope, I did not peek inside! What, are you crazy? I am not some beginner, but a wise old lich, moreover, no magic user worth their mana would ever read a book from the middle! Thankfully, whatever it was, the thing was unable to finish it, Rem. This is scary stuff... 'twas draining mana from that fool of a mage and probably had been doing so for days. Now, wrap it up in that piece of cloth over there and stash the tome in your backpack. I will do some careful research when we return back home.”
“What about the chest, is it trapped or safe to move? Give it a good look will ya?” - Mumbled Rem and limped over to help his allies search the bodies of the Useless – they might have some gear, ammunition or potions. Despite the fact that finding coin on them was a very distant probability, after a thorough search, Rem and the Hoods pilfered a hefty sum. Divided evenly, Rem's share was fifty gold plus a odd jewel or two, which he'd be able to peddle for more, perhaps recovering some of his expenses so far. While they were looting stuff from the bodies of the Useless, Felk floated around the chest, investigating. Took them around half an hour to search the bodies, stash everything that could be of use on their person, and then all circled around the alchemically locked chest. The Hoods were waiting for their Boss, Bortom to contact them and certainly Rem was anxious to hear that Val was safe, yet so far their magical communicator had remained silent.
“What do you want me to do, Boss? Surely, this 'job' smells like well-plotted trouble, if you and I have ever seen one...” - Felk whispered ominously, his helmeted skull shrouded with mana - “I am sure that the lock is not within the ability of most alchemists to open, yet it is me we are talking. You only need say it, and I will pop this lid...”
Rem looked at the beautifully engraved chest and scratched his neck. Now the time came for him to make a choice most difficult:
He could order Felk to use his considerable skill and unlock the alchemically sealed chest, then probe its contents. Although what would happen when his employer caught wind of this serious breach of contract? Rem thought for a second, removed his helmet and spat angrily on the ground – to the Vortex with her! No, something sinister was afoot and he, a neutral solver of problems had suddenly been placed right in the middle of it all. He gave Felk the go and waited, sweating, trying to divine what the contents of this all-important, alchemically locked chest were and, of course, for Bortom's call. – If that is Rem's choice, post 1 in the comments below.
On the other hand... Rem had plenty of problems right now. Somebody wanted him gone, moreover, that same certain somebody was in command of well-equipped, skilled agents. Said agents were also sent to snatch his innocent house maid and deliver her to this mysterious mastermind, "alive and unspoilt". After Rem saved the unsuspecting girl from the claws of that cult, he had hoped that she was just yet another of their would-be victims. Apparently that seemed not to be the case and he reminded himself to investigate into those slain cultists' activities more. Rem asked one of the Hoods to pick up the Countess's still safely locked chest and then, move out. If they hurried and took shifts carrying the thing, running, they could be safely out of the forest in a couple of hours. 1000 gold coins were quite a tidy sum, and Rem could care less what would that creepy Countess use the chest's contents for. Most probably it was chock full of rare, obscure spell ingredients - such as dried dire bat wings, pickled eyeballs, or mummified monster flesh... – If that is Rem's choice, post 2 in the comments below.