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525 Not Alone

    The next morning, the first to wake up from her first night of sleep, was Dawn. Her eyes opened to meet the faint morning lights, and narrowed as a throbbing pain made itself known in her head. As she tried to rise in a sitting position, her sore muscles reminded her of the part she had played in killing the massive lizard the day before, as well as the fact that she was not a cultivator anymore.

    As she sat rigidly, still unaware of how to stretch after waking up, Dawn noticed two things. The first one was that the fire that had kept her and her companions warm throughout the night was now almost extinguished.. reason why the temperature had dropped, causing her to wake up. The second thing she noticed was that Daniel was not where he had fallen asleep the night before.

    In between yawns, Dawn looked around until she finally spotted him next to a small boulder, on which he had drawn a humanoid silhouette with a piece of burnt wood, which he was using to practice his knife wielding skills on. "What are you doing?" Dawn asked with curiosity as she approached him. She could not help but feel surprised by how Daniel, who had done more than anybody else the previous day, could have all this energy so early in the morning.

    "Training." Said Daniel while thrusting his bone knife into the eyes, and the guts of the drawn figure, stopping only a few millimeters away from the stone's surface in order to avoid damaging the weapon. Then, as he finished his rotation, Daniel turned to look back at Dawn with a stern expression, and said with a matching tone, "You are a mortal now, which means that your body is quickly decaying.. And that is especially true for your muscles. If you don't train, you won't be able to maintain them, and will become weaker."

    Dawn was aware that the loss of her powers had made her only slightly more self-sufficient than a kid, but at the same time, she had no intention of dying in this dimension. In her mind she had already steeled her resolve to learn how to survive as a mortal, and the fastest way to do that was to commit each of Daniel's teachings to memory.

    After listening to several of his suggestions, Dawn started to realize that Daniel's teachings were not aimed at turning her into a cog in Competition's machine, but at helping her survive the dangers ahead.. A motive that she believed to be nobler than that of her cold and uncaring parents, whom she had seen only a handful of times in her life, and whom at some point, would marry her off to another family to sweeten a business deal, or as the prize of a lost competition.

    As she became aware of this, she could not help but develop a feeling of gratitude towards Daniel, which preceded a sudden surge of power that flared through her body, and reinforced her muscles, bones, and flesh way beyond the strength she possessed since arriving to this universe.

    Even though Daniel could not feel the increase in her strength without his senses, Dawn's expression of confusion and shock were evident enough for him to guess what had happened to her.. So as she looked at her strengthened body with confusion, Daniel approached her, shook her awake by grabbing her shoulders, and after making sure that he had her attention, he whispered in a reassuring tone, "Remain calm. The change you have felt is part of my powers as a champion of Destiny. Nothing is wrong with your body, and you are still mortal.. Just stronger than before. Do you understand me?"

    Still slightly shocked by the experience, Dawn nodded vigorously in response.

    "You need to keep this to yourself. I can't control who is affected by this power, and if you reveal it to others, their desire to obtain it will turn into an obstacle." Daniel explained in a hurry while looking past Dawn's shoulder, and towards their still sleeping companions.

    Ever since he had unlocked the group section of his system, Daniel had tried to find the best way to include trusted people in its effect, and at the same time, prevent those whom he did not find suitable from joining his group. With that objective in mind, after discovering what the requirements to join his group were, Daniel had convinced himself that controlling who was allowed to join the system would be easy, as long as he only shared his group's knowledge to those whom he had picked personally. However, it did not take long for him to realize how wrong he was.

    Joining Daniel's group was only possible if one chose to willingly follow the path that he was creating, and in order for that to count, they needed to fully believe in him. Unfortunately, when this promise of power was given to someone who had yet to willingly dedicate themselves to following Daniel's cause.. Someone who still placed his own interests above the group's, greed would make its appearance.

    Whenever Daniel would share the effects of his system with someone that was not yet part of his group, this person would actively try to join him as a result, but would do so with greed rather than sincerity. This greed prevented these people from trusting Daniel, as the trust that the system required was not something that they could create on the spot.. Their failures would turn to bitterness, and ultimately, hate towards Daniel, whom they believed to be the obstacle that was stopping them from ascending to this higher power.

    After witnessing multiple such cases, Daniel had ordered that the knowledge of his group was to be kept secret, as being aware of it beforehand would not only ruin people's chances of becoming his powerful allies, but would also turn potential friends into enemies.

    That was the reason why Daniel had asked Dawn not to share her experience with the others.

    The change in Dawn's body had surprised Daniel as much as it had surprised her. After all, the existence of his group system was something that would reside passively in the back of his mind, and that was because most of the people he would interact with on a daily basis, were already part of it.. However, now that his group system had made its appearance once again, Daniel was not only reassured about having one less person to babysit, but also reminded that he still had a way to know how his people were doing.

    "Go wake up the others. This is the best time to get some work done, before the temperature starts to rise again." said Daniel before turning to look back at the figure he had drawn on the boulder. Dawn responded by nodding once again, and while keeping on checking her strengthened body, she headed back towards the camp.

    After Dawn left, Daniel did not resume his training. Instead, he stood in front of the boulder with closed eyes. In his mind was the window of the group system, which instead of presenting itself as an enormous list of names, now, only had one.. 'Dawn Abbott'.

    "What.." he muttered in utter shock as a lump formed in his throat, and a feeling of lightheadedness turned his mind hazy, forcing him to struggle against the anxiety attack that he could feel building up in his chest. Before his legs could give in, Daniel leaned onto the boulder with his forearm, and began to breathe deeply while staring at the sand that was at his feet.

    For a few seconds he maintained this state of mind, until.. "AAAAHH!" screamed Saha only moments before Dawn could approach the camp. "HE IS HERE! HE'LL KILL ME.. HE WILL KILL US ALL!!" She cried in terror before burying her head in between her knees, which she then covered with her arms. Rose and the others were shaken out of their deep sleep by her screams, to which they joined in, still hazy-minded and worried about a possible danger.

    This moment of panic was also able to shake Daniel out of his state of mind, allowing him to put the matter of the group system aside and snap back to reality. He then turned to look at Saha, and noticed that she was covered in cold sweats, and was trembling in fear. Aware of what had happened, he headed towards the camp, and as he arrived, he said, "Stop screaming. It was just a nightmare."

    Saha's head emerged from in between her knees, and she asked with a helpless expression and a cracked voice, "A nightmare?"

    "A bad dream. An illusion of the mind that reflects fears, desires or memories.. Mortals have those when they sleep." Said Daniel before sitting with his legs crossed in front of the dying fire. Then, as the others calmed down, he pointed his finger to his left, and said, "I believe that heading east would be the fastest way to get out of this desert."

    "How do you know where we need to go?" asked Rose after taking a few calming deep breaths.

    Daniel moved his finger towards the bottom of one of the large stones next to the camp, where a few dry leaves were stuck in between the sandy ground and the rock itself, and responded by saying, "When I was out looking for materials to start the fire, I noticed that it was easier to find them in the crevices on the east side of these stones. That means that the winds that come from east carried them from a forest."

    "How long will we have to spend in the desert? Mere hours almost killed us yesterday." Said Lilith with worry.

    "Because we don't know how far that wind had to travel to get here.. It could take us weeks to reach the forest, provided that we don't encounter a sandstorm, and get lost. That is why we will go deeper into the stone forest instead, and head northeast, keeping to the edge until we reach the easternmost part of the stone forest." Responded Daniel with a matter-of-fact tone. Then, before Rose and the others could ask any more questions, he continued by saying, "We also have other problems.. Once we are in the stone forest, it will be impossible to start a fire, so we need to carry the embers.."

    For the following few minutes, Daniel explained the next steps to his still sleepy, yet attentive companions, who would often stop him to inquire about every little detail that, for them, did not make sense.

    Daniel's plan was to go deeper into the stone forest, and while moving towards the direction that they believed to be northeast, gather enough materials to craft a few objects that they would need to cross the desert, such as water bags, weapons, and enough food to last them several days. Once they would reach the easternmost part of the stone forest, and have everything they needed, they would cross the desert in search of the forest to which all of these leaves and sticks belonged to.

    Daniel was sure that, if there were sentient beings in this world, a forest was their best bet at finding them, so, with a clear plan in mind, him and the others began their journey by heading deeper into the stone forest.

    -----

    Several days later.

    In the few days that they had spent traveling through the edge of the stone forest, Daniel and the others had stumbled into clear signs of life. Starting from remains of massive animals that had been cut through by blades, faint remains of bonfires and abandoned camps, old battlefields, and dead beasts with missing limbs or ears, and puncture wounds.

    Daniel had seen these types of signs when, right after becoming a cultivator, he had joined a hunting team in order to make money.. so it did not take long for him to realize that this place had been a hunting field of sorts which, for some reason, had been abandoned.. And had remained as such for quite some time. This discovery had changed Daniel's approach in how he had decided to manage the group.

    At first, Daniel had focused on teaching hunting and survival skills to his companions, but now that the existence of sentient warriors and hunters on this planet had been proven, Daniel had moved on to teaching Rose and the others martial arts, improving their weapon wielding abilities, and finally, to giving them an exercise schedule that would allow them to maintain their muscle mass.

    These teachings had prevented Rose and the others from relying too much on him, and in time, had allowed Cassie to join Dawn as a member of Daniel's group.

    With water sacks made out of leather, packs full of furry blankets, and weapons made out of the bones of large animals, Daniel's group kept heading northeast into the forest, until finally, their journey was stopped when, in the late evening of the seventh day, they saw a dilapidated bridge that connected the top of two different stone towers.
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