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19 The First Kill

    "Sir, thank you for being here." Said the lean man with the large nose.

    According to the Huntsmen Guild's regulations, in order to form a hunting party, the presence of an escort was required.

    That role was usually taken by a member of the Mercenary Union, or at times, by a licensed member of the army or city guard.

    The escort were required to have reached the cultivation rank set by the Huntsmen Guild, which was the peak of the corresponding rank of the strongest known monsters of the area. For example, if the general strength of the beast inhabiting the area in which the hunting party was heading to, was of the second rank, the escort needed to have at least reached the peak of the second rank.

    Their group's escort was set to be at the peak of rank 3, as powerful rank 3 beasts lived within those canyons.

    Daniel's hunting party was heading out to hunt for Steel-Back Scorpions, a rank two beast which nested the canyons that separated the immense mountains of the Sinleah, the mountain range south of Phyrri.

    The canyons and mountains of the Sinleah, due to the large number of mines, had a constant stream of people coming and going. Therefore, after numerous reports of attacks from Steel-Back Scorpions had been sent to the city, the Huntsmen Guild had been charged with the task of reducing their numbers within the practiced zones.

    "Names and guild's badge." Said the robust man in a domineering tone while taking a small list out of his pocket.

    "Sella, silver hunter." Said the lean man while handing his badge to the robust man.

    The rest of the group, used to this kind of procedure, took their badges out of their backpacks, and handed them over to the escort while stating their names.

    "Garth.." Said the old man in mimetic attire while handing over a pale gold badge.

    The teenage boy took a step forward and said "I am Legoh, and she is my sister Fiora. We both are silver hunters."

    Daniel imitated what the rest of the group did, and handed his newly acquired badge while stating his name. "Dan, bronze hunter."

    The brows of the entire group except for the old man's furrowed after Daniel's words. They collectively looked at him.

    The escort was the first to talk "A bronze hunter? What the ** do we need a bronze hunter for?! How did you get assigned to this hunting party??" Said the escort as rudely as he could.

    "There must have been a mistake.. bronze rank is for rank 1 hunters.. or first time hunters.. We are hunting for rank 2 beasts" Said Sella, trying to calm the escort.

    "This is my first mission" Responded Daniel, confirming Sella's theory.

    After looking at Daniel one more time, the guard harrumphed and said "Whatever.. brat, try not to slow the group down." He then turned towards the rest of the group and said "I am Stueh, an elite of Karalis's army."

    From the military rank, the party could guess the strength of their Escort.

    Similarly to hunter's, the military grades existed to separate their members by strength. Those who had reached the rank 1, if part of the military, were common soldiers, while if part of the Huntsmen Guild or Mercenary union, they were considered as bronze members.

    The difference between military ranks and ranks granted by other types of groups, was that one's cultivation wasn't enough to advance in the military.

    A mercenary or hunter could simply gain experience and, after reaching a new cultivation level, they could apply for a promotion within their group. Differently, soldiers had to pass various tests that would determine their ability to command.

    An Elite was a member of the military that hadn't managed to pass the tests to advance to the next grade, so, instead of being a Lieutenant, Stueh had the rank of Elite Sergeant.

    This ensured the party that their escort was of, at least, the peak of rank 3.

    "Let's move out" Said Stueh before heading towards the city gates.

    -----

    50 kilometers south of Phyrri, 21:38

    After twelve hours of uninterrupted walking, the hunting party had decided to set camp for the night.

    During their journey, none of them, except for Sella, had talked much. Daniel considered him the group's chatterbox. The members of the hunting party had been approached more than once by him, in hope to start a conversation, but whenever Sellah approached Daniel, he would start playing with his throwing knives.

    He would always pretend be a beginner, almost dropping them and scaring Sellah into leaving him alone. The rest of the group gave him no more chances than he did. The escort acted annoyed whenever he was talked to, the two siblings would keep to themselves, and the old man refused to interact even if talked to.

    Five tents had been set around a small campfire. Daniel was on guard duty, so he sat on a tree stump next to the campfire. In his hand, a piece of dried meat which he munched on slowly.

    The rest of the group was resting inside their tents.

    Four hours passed uneventfully. Only the noises of insects lurking within the grass reached Daniel's ears. They had yet to reach the mountains, so their camp had been set on a patch of forest that had been cleared of trees. Only a few tree stumps remained.

    Daniel got up on his feet, and as he was about to go to Garth's tent, who's guard duty was about to start, he heard a distant scream coming from behind the tree line.

    The scream was a terrified one, and it sounded like the scream of a woman.

    -----

    *Primary Quest started: Just a Wandering Hero*

    -Description: Save those in need.

    First objective set: Save the woman in distress from the beast.

    Optional: Kill the bandit mage along with his summoned beast.

    Optional: Kill the hidden bandits.

    Reward: Karma +300(+200)(+500)

    Time limit: 4 minutes

    -----

    "Damn it!.." With no time to think, all Daniel could do was grab his sword and dash towards the tree line while shouting "BANDITS!"

    Half a minute later, he had reached the tree line.

    While closing in, he had noticed flashes of various colored lights coming from behind the trees, signs that a battle was taking place.

    "Sewah, my alternatives?!"

    -----

    Open approach

    Difficulty: Extreme

    -Defeat the beast along with its summoner.

    -Survive the bandit group's assault until the arrival of reinforcements from your party.

    Time limit: 3 minutes 20 seconds.

    Countdown: 5 minutes and 34 seconds.

    (Requirements: rank 4 of martial cultivation or rank 4 of spiritual cultivation)

    Reward +200% (1000 KP)

    -----

    Defensive approach

    Difficulty: Hard

    -Support the woman until the arrival of reinforcements from your party.

    Time Limit: 3 minutes and 20 seconds

    Countdown: 5 minutes and 34 seconds

    Reward +150% (350 KP)

    -----

    Stealthy approach

    Difficulty: Hard

    -Sneak attack the summoner hidden 35 meters southeast from your position.

    -Do not alert the remaining group of bandits laying in wait 150 meters southeast from your position.

    Time Limit: 3 minutes and 20 seconds

    Reward +150% (350 KP)

    -----

    With quiet steps, Daniel started heading towards the summoner's location.

    As he was closing in, he had managed to see the two battling parties. One was a woman in dark green robes, her face covered by a large hood. She was kneeling behind a thick wall of ice.

    On the other side, was a creature that Daniel had never seen. Its body had a humanoid shape and it walked on two feet, but its surface was covered in patches of rock, glued together by a thin layer of glowing lava. It looked like the a lava lake on which melting rocks were slowly floating. From in between these glued rocks, molten lava dripped whenever it moved.

    This summoned beast was a lava elemental, which was summoned by mixing earth and fire magic. This combination of elements wasn't unusual for elemental mages, for example, during the war in which Daniel's father had died, the mage that had summoned the meteor shower which had wiped that division out of existence, had used a combination of fire and earth magic.

    Of course, Daniel didn't know anything about this.

    This lava elemental kept spouting a constant stream of molten rock out of his hands, which then crashed with the woman's ice wall, creating thin bubbles of lava filled with scorching steam.

    The ice wall kept repairing under the elemental's attacks, but unfortunately, it couldn't keep up with the speed it was melting.

    Only two minutes were left until the time limit, so Daniel stopped spectating the magical fight, and approached the summoner from the other side.

    He was currently ten meters behind him, only a few trees were in between them. In his hands, he held two throwing knives.

    Step after step, Daniel approached the summoner. As he thought that he could avoid killing him and force him to surrender by pointing his sword at him, a snapping sound came from under his feet.

    "Shit!.." Panic filled Daniel's heart as the mage turned around, but as soon as his eyes landed on Daniel, two small knives pierced through his throat and chest.

    In front of the shocked eyes of the dying summoner, stood a teenager with an expression filled with dread. In his mind, shame and regret for dying by this brat's hands.

    The moment the summoner dropped on the ground, the red flashes coming from the place where the battle was taking place disappeared. By reading the quests description, Daniel had guessed that when a summoner dies, the summoned beast disappears as well, and now his guess had been confirmed.

    Shaking off the thoughts of having just killed a person, he approached the summoner's body and took his backpack, he then rushed towards the place where the battle had just ended.

    What he found in between the charred trees, was the woman in green robes. She was laying above the only patch of unburned grass and looked to be unconscious.

    Daniel knew that the rest of the bandits were nearby, so he decide to take the woman and go back to the camp. In a few long steps, he arrived next to the woman's body, but as he was about to grab her, the woman's arm moved.

    Daniel had a knife pressed at his neck. The sharp blade had only dug half a millimeter into Daniel's skin, so no blood came out.

    The woman, expecting him to be the summoner, had gone for the kill.

    If Daniel hadn't been a martial cultivator and his skin wasn't as durable as leather, he would have gotten his throat cut.

    Before the woman could react, Daniel grabbed her wrist with one hand and the closed her mouth with the other. "Shhh.. I am not one of those who attacked you, I am the one who killed the other mage." He whispered..

    The woman didn't look convinced, and as she kept struggling, Daniel continued "I'll let you go now, but if you scream, i'll just run away and leave you to the group of bandits that's approaching.. do you understand?" He said, his tone slightly annoyed.

    After a few moments, the woman seemed to have slightly calmed down. She nodded weakly and Daniel removed his hand from her mouth.

    "W-who are y-you?.." Asked the woman with a trembling voice.

    Daniel helped her up and responded "I'm a hunter from the Huntsmen Guild, my party is camped two hundred meters from here. Can you run?"

    "I can't.. I can't even use magic.. that elemental was so s-strong.. they k-killed my guards" She said, almost on the verge of tears.

    Daniel looked at her for a moment, only a pair of heart shaped pink lips could be seen from under her hood. "Remember not to scream.. and.. sorry for this.." The last part had been said with a hint of embarrassment. The woman was slightly confused, but right the next moment, she realized why. Daniel had wrapped his arm around her waist and lifted her over his shoulder, then started running before she could fight back.
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