Proofreader: Orion Dye
Some hours later.
I’m walking at the border of the forest, the whole terrain begins to become more like woodland further to the west.
Of course, I used all my repertoire to hide my presence. With all these trees to mask my spirit, it’s almost impossible to detect me in any way.
Then I saw them. Hynoar. Three of them and they look strange to me. It’s like someone decided to create beastmen, but couldn’t decide what animals to use.
Instead of regular legs, they had some canine-like ones with claws. They even walk on their tiptoes, but considering how big and muscular these legs are, it doesn’t look unnatural at all.
Then someone put an ape-like torso on them. The hynoars aren’t wearing armor, only something like a loincloth, much like ss’rak, the lizard people.
They have arms and hands like humans or apes. The arms more like apes, long and strong. The hands are more like humans, but instead of fingernails, they have actual claws, small ones, but definitely dangerous.
The head was like a hyena’s, or more like a hyena is the base while the actual form is more like that of a horse, and they got tails like horses too.
Yep, hard to call them anything other than hynoar.
Beside their loincloths they wear several belts, some over their shoulders, some over their hips. On these belts hang pouches and weapons.
They carry a large arsenal of knives and machetes, some of these weapons have strange grips. Also, each of them has a crossbow.
One of the hynoars walks on all fours, putting its nose right on the ground. But [Hide Smell] works, they don’t smell me, so their sense of smell might be stronger than a human’s, but still not as strong as a dog’s. Valuable info.
The one sniffing spoke, “Yes, they entered here. Good for us.”
“Shall I tell Boss?”
“Yes, in the meantime we’ll stride the border.” They separate and, since it’s easier to hide in the forest, I followed the two who tried to find out if my party left the woods.
A few minutes later, I put my hood on, draw my bow, and “[Seeker]!” shot one of them in the head. Then I drop my bow and jump on the remaining one with my knife, holding it to his throat. “Too bad!”
Of course, he tried to resist at first, but after feeling cold steel on his neck, he was all submissive. “Please don’t kill me.” His voice is still somewhat strong, he is really pleading for his life, but he’s still in control of himself.
Is that a good sign?
“Answer a few questions.” I watch every movement, but the hynoar takes it pretty calmly.
“Depends.” His brown eyes are looking at me, and I can feel a bit of a threat.
Most likely because I just killed his comrade, hynoar are supposed to care more about the pack than about themselves.
“Who are you and why are you following us!” I’m surprised at how calm I am. It’s not like my kill-count is that high, but I take it quite easily that I just ended a life which still had so many opportunities.
So I can truly kill now. I do feel a bit of guilt, but it’s nothing compared to when I killed the ss’rak patriarch.
The hynoar seems to understand that I would really kill him, “We’re the Bloody Nose Mercenary Company,” but his voice still doesn’t waver. Most likely he doesn’t think that it would affect them much if I know it. “We’re following you because of that blonde girl.”
Rine? They’re after Rine? “What do you want with her?”
“Capture her alive.”
“Are you employed by Feuerberg?”
He snorts a bit. “Feuerberg? The kingdom itself? Why would they hire people like us? I’ll tell you because we’re supposed to tell you this: A guy called Correo hired us and asked us to let you know.”
So Correo is interested in Rine. He wants to capture her alive, and he works with the demons.
It all makes sense.
If Feuerberg is searching for their crown-princess, then, of course, the demons wants to get her alive. To use her as a hostage or to force Feuerberg to make a disadvantageous gambit.
To use her as a tool.
Don’t fuck with me!
“Correo seems to be very confident about this, letting us know.” But there are still some open questions. “Where are the monsters? It’s suspiciously easy to travel here.”
“We killed some while we were looking for you.”
“About twenty days?”
“How large is your Company?”
“About four hundred.” That’s quite big. Maybe they could actually clean up enough mobs, causing the rest to retreat for a while.
“How did you know that we’re here?”
“We’re just one Company. Correo hired several mercenaries. I guess the others are placed elsewhere.”
“And how do you profit, if you don’t capture us?”
“Half the promised reward if we keep looking for two months.”
“For capturing? 4 million Newgold. For waiting and keeping vigilant, 2 million.”
… Damn. That’s quite an amount of money that is thrown into the mix. Correo is actually a rich man, or maybe he got this much from the demons.
Or he might trick them, but I guess that he was able to show them that he could pay this high of a reward.
“Where are your people?”
“I won’t say.” This would actually endanger his pack, so he won’t tell.
I’ll try something else.
“How many are on the way here?”
“I won’t say.” Again.
“Do you know-” Suddenly, someone tackles me from the hynoar.
It’s that alfr woman. She used [Mask of Wildlife] and ambushed me from behind.
I also feel some steel hitting my side, but my armor deflected it, so her dagger didn’t cut.
It still hurts, so there was some force in that attack.
The alfr looks me right into the eyes, and I begin to feel sleepy. She just manipulated my spirit, but even knowing that, it’s hard to resist.
Then the hynoar rises, he holds his neck, which got a shallow cut. Then he takes a dagger with a strange handle and put it into his mouth while using two normal-handled ones in his hands. Ah, I see…
He jumps at me and, with furious attacks, he put scratches all over my body. “Wait! I give up!” It wouldn’t make any sense to fight back at this point.
Now I’m a prisoner. Well, it’s not like that’s something entirely new to me.
My weapons and backpack were taken, and I was bound with a rope. They didn’t even wonder about the seemingly empty backpack, so they know that I’m a hero.
The hynoar carried the body of his killed companion, while the alfr woman has the end of my rope in her hand. They lead me about two kilometers (about 1¼ miles), behind a slope.
About fifty mercenaries are here. Most of them are hynoars, followed by humans, and the icing is the alfr woman and a small, hazelnut-skinned man, with short fingers, large feet, and kinky, bronze hair. The face is broad, and the eyes are big, same as the lips.
That’s a folkman, I saw some before in Feuerberg. You’d call that a halfling or something like that in games.
He grins at me with too many teeth, and his wide face and angular ears are twitching. He seems to be the leader of the squad.
“Welcome. Kenta, right? I suppose that Jarghls’ death is your doing, right?”
“Ugh!” The folksman punches me in the stomach, even if he’s less than half as tall as I, his fist is hard and merciless as steel. Folksmen are known to be extraordinarily strong.
I fall to my knees, and he grabs me by the throat. “Now, asshole. We’re only after that blonde girl, Rine.” He throws me to the ground and kicks me in the side. “And from what I know, you’ll be a good hostage to exchange. That Rine girl won’t abandon you.”
So they know that much.
Yet it looks like Correo introduced her as Rine to the mercs. “You don’t know, right?”
“That girl is royalty.”
“From which country?”
“Feuerberg. Katarine von Stolzherz, their crown princess.”
“Do you have anything else to say?” Of course, he won’t trust my words.
Just like always.
The folksman turned to his subordinates. “We take the whole squad, but only half will enter the forest. I want some of our scouts to look out for traps.”
The decision was quickly made, the preparations as well. Those are mercenaries for you, they’re professionals.
“Kenta, don’t even try to escape,” the folksman warns me. “Our Company is already on its way here, and we’re coming from all sides. We know that you’re within this sector. Iri’attas told me that you’re a ranger and that you might be able to slip through, but just on your own. We’ll get your companions. So be nice and let us capture your Rine. Then you and your other associates may leave.”
I just nod, but take a look at my weapons that the alfr woman carries. Spear, bow, quiver, knife, backpack. Her ears are rising, a sign of her amusement, while she distributes them between the other mercenaries.
She’s taunting me.
Or she just thought of a dirty joke, but working with other races for a while made her learn that she should not say them out loud.
Of course, they have no trouble to find our tracks. Also, their scouts find the traps I set up as well. Everything is going very smoothly for them, they have no problems at all. It takes them time to avoid some of the obstacles, but I had hoped for more.
Bear traps, snares, glue traps and more, each one is found. I have been especially proud about that one trap, that would let heavy branches fall from a tree, but that’s also not triggered.
“Strange.” One of the hynoar scouts sniffs at the ground. “It stinks, I can’t find a scent trail. From the tracks, I can tell, that they waited here a while, but…” He looks around that place, that looks like a random spot deep inside the forest. “…I can’t see them, the tracks that the human girls would have left behind, but for some reason, there are some sods.”
I kick the ground hard. Right on one of these sods. In each of them was a smoke-bomb and I’ve just detonated one, which stirs up white fumes.
“[Entangle]!” I use it on a tree, the branches are grappling me, lifting me up. Same goes for the alfr woman, who still holds the rope, but she let it go, either because of surprise or suspicion.
Nonetheless: Step one is a success.
[Hide Smell] and [Mask of Wildlife], additionally [Wild Eyes]. Dammit, the alfr woman also used [Mask of Wildlife]. Except for her, I can roughly feel the positions of each mercenary by their spirits.
I dispel my [Entangle]-spell and land on a branch. Even without arms, I’m used to fighting in forests enough now that I won’t fall that easily.
Plus, on that branch is another thing I prepared: Fire-bombs. “[Entangle]!” As I only need my spirit-capabilities, I don’t need my arms to make this spell happen. The branches grow and move to entangle a mercenary, but while they do so, they let the bombs placed on them fall.
*bam, bam, bam, bam*
Good thing that Ara-san won’t know about this since flames and explosions will take a toll on these trees, but I have no time to worry about that.
I had already jumped to another branch. I need to retreat, for now, to get the time to unbind myself.
After changing back and forth between [Pikeman] and [Student], the rope was loose enough to get out with a last class-change into [Ranger].
This really hurts! Since you try to grow into a restraining device, the rope cuts into your flesh, while you have trouble getting any air.
But now I’m free.
Still, I have to return to the supplies. I put two caches here, with one HP-potion, one SP-potion, one simple knife, and a cold medicine at each.
I couldn’t know if I have the time to pick them up, but just to be sure, I still placed them. Being captured was within the error margin, but now I have to get my stuff back.
I gulp down the cold medicine to make sure that it won’t return mid-fight this time. Only a knife for this battle, huh?
More like a hunt.
I’m a solo-player and they’re now in my farming grounds.
[Mask of Wildlife]. [Hide Smell]. I need to conserve my resources here.
And I want that alfr woman.
I see some of them, they’re looking for me, one of them has some burns. I hear others that try to evacuate the ones, which were badly hurt by the fire bombs.
Better check the wounded ones. No, no alfr there.
But a folksman, who carried two of the hynoars all by himself. Just why are these little suckers so strong?
“[Entangle]!” I commend the folksman for throwing his companions out of the way before all three of them got grabbed by the branches of the surrounding trees.
However, that was his last deed. I rush forward and slit his throat. “Yoink,” taking the dagger, which was on his belt.
The folkman’s main weapon, a mace, would be too unfamiliar to wield.
Attacking someone ends [Mask of Wildlife], so I recast it. The mercenaries, which were accompanying the wounded, just realized what happened, that’s how fast it went.
Plus, they can’t see me anymore. They look at me, but overlook me, since I messed with their perception by blending in with the spirits of the forest.
“RUN!” Someone of the retreaters screams in panic, a human. The hynoars are calmer but don’t hesitate. “That guy is a ghost!”
Well, thank you. I guess. Someone who just appears, kills, and vanishes is a pretty scary guy.
I use my [Wild Eyes], trying to figure out where the alfr woman is, but she has the same advantage as me in this forest, using [Mask of Wildlife] to counter it.
Then it comes down to individual skills I guess, I just need to get closer.
Or I just get targeted by an [Entangle], and this time it’s not grass, but thick branches.
“[Entangle]!” I use it on the same branches, which causes them to move in strange ways and use my pure [Strength] to break through the thinner parts.
There she is, right above me in a tree, but she vanishes.
However I don’t need to follow her. She doesn’t have my stuff. I use the [Mask of Wildlife]-[Hide Smell]-combo and add [Camouflage] and [Sneak] after I move a bit.
This way she will have a hard time finding me.
I guess she detected me when I was killing the folksman, and just kept her senses on me. That’s the reason why [Mask of Wildlife] isn’t enough. She’s an alfr, after all.
This hynoar! It has my spear and is sniffing for me.
Too bad for you.
I grab his head from behind and stab it into the side of his neck. He might not die outright, but with [Assassinate] the damage was high, and he won’t be able to do anything anymore.
Also, that spot is easier to aim at than the throat, where there are no bones or cartilages in the way.
I drop the dagger and take my spear, then I roll forwards, since I’m sure that the alfr won’t let me do all of that without any form of retribution.
I was right, I just avoided an arrow from a blind spot.
Hey, this is one of mine! Did she just pick it up from somewhere?
Too confusing to keep track, but she has my quiver at least, so I’ll take it back.
She may use [Mask of Wildlife] again, but I’m confident that I will win this game.
I retreat to the point where I laid down my big trap, and dig out some smoke-bombs. I throw one right away since surely she’s right behind me.
I may not see anything either, but I use [Wild Eyes]. Trees, grass, bushes, no critters or birds, but an alfr, who just made the mistake of coming too close.
“[Speedthrust]!” I stabbed something, right through it, and it hardly stops my skill. I charge out of the smoke cloud.
Yellow-green eyes somewhat wide in shock, the ears point to the sky, blood coming from her mouth. Her one little mistake of entering the cloud full of confidence in her superior senses, which brought her close enough for me to detect her.
That single mistake, and now she’s dead.
Another bit of guilt is put on my shoulders, but she tried to kill me as well, so I’ll live with it. It still doesn’t feel as heavy as the ss’rak patriarch.
She has my bow and quiver on her, she must have taken them from another mercenary. Well, it was an alfr quality short bow, and it’s quite alfr to use your own weapon against you, so it fits.
I take my stuff back, and now I look for my knife.
“You’re the most unfortunate person right now,” I tell a mercenary. He just tried to sneak up on me through the smoke cloud, but he couldn’t mask his spirit, and [Wild Eyes] is active again. “Tell me, do you have my knife?”
A strange noise, I jump to the side and look to see a knife being thrown at the point where I was standing.
That’s mine, bastard!
“And where is my backpack!?” The knife-throwing human comes from the smoke, wielding an axe, and he actually has my backpack on his back.
Not that I’m complaining, but isn’t it too convenient that I’m meeting all the people who have my stuff? There were already some mercenaries on the retreat, so why does this guy stick around with my backpack at all?
…could it be? I mean, I read about my [Luck]-stat every day, but so far I had never had a way to confirm if that stat was properly working. However, as [Ranger] has the best [Luck] out of all my classes, this really could be the case.
Crossbow-bolts are flying at me, I jump behind the nearest tree so that I won’t end up as a pin-cushion. The human with the axe does the unthinkable: He throws his axe. “Next volley!”
So basically I have a choice between being hit by an axe or bolts, that’s what they think. “[Entangle]!” I let the tree I’m hiding behind lift me up once more.
Now his axe will be stuck in the tree, and I….can see how it curves and flies back into his hand instead.
…I know that non-heroes can learn [Skills] as well, since Ara-san mentioned it before, even if it’s much harder for them than for heroes. But I hate it.
Well, it’s time to find out where those crossbow archers are. Then I’ll take them out. Here up in the trees…
Looks like it’s becoming more complicated.
Hynoar, three of them, wielding knives in their mouths while nimbly moving across the branches on all fours. They’re running like large cats right now. Hynoars are like the best of the animal kingdom united, I guess.
Why are those guys even still attacking me, when retreating would be the option that makes more sense? They also have the rest of my equipment, and the axe-wielder just recovered my knife as well.
Doesn’t matter. “[Entangle]!” First, I make the footing of the hynoar unstable. They’re trying to fight the branches back, quite successfully. I will have only a small time-frame here.
Another volley of crossbow fire, but I had already activated [Mask of Wildlife]. They can’t even sense me anymore, so it’s more like a bunch of blind shots.
I was called a ghost before, and now, with my [Ranger]-training, I feel invincible inside these woods.
None of my enhanced senses can catch any other mercenaries around here except those fighting me. I guess they’re the rearguard, buying time for the others to retreat. That may be the reason why this human has my stuff, to keep me here, instead of following the rest.
I climb down the tree silently. The hynoars are where I was just now, trying to find my smell, which I’m hiding.
My eyes are fixed on the human, who surely is a capable mercenary, someone who trained enough to be confident in his capabilities, someone who thinks he could fight me, an inexperienced hero, on equal terms. Maybe he’s able to, but right now we’re not fighting, I am hunting and he’s my prey.
“Rally around, give him no chance to take us out individually!” The human makes some gestures. I’m sure it’s some sign language they use, so his shouting is more about making the others look at him to see the real message.
Better to end it quickly. I have [Mask of Wildlife], but while it works at a distance, it becomes less reliable the closer I get to my prey. So I throw my spear, impaling the human, and throwing him backward. He still swings his axe in a panic, realizing that he’s about to die. I take my bow, shoot him across the short distance, pick up the corpse, and run like hell.
Bolts are shooting in my general direction, but it’s a thick forest and, for some reason, even the hynoars don’t follow me. Maybe they have had enough, or they know that following me within the woods would play right into my hands.
Unloading the human axe-wielder, I take a last look at him, his barely shaven face, and his big build. Another kill, my first human, but it doesn’t feel different from killing hynoars, folksmen, alfar or ss’rak.
Guess, I’m no racist. Or would it be speciesist?
I yank out my spear, remove my backpack and knife from the corpse, and use [Mask of Wildlife] just to be sure.
This is enough damage, I hope. It’s not like I want to kill people.
Now I need to escape before the mercenaries around here regroup or before their reinforcements arrive.
I take out paper and coal, and try to write clearly that I’m alright and will catch up with the girls, but they need to hurry.
Not everything went as planned, but at least it worked.
I guess that’s more than usual.
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