Conflict resolution is by many professionals considered an art that few will ever master. From smaller group projects to large enterprises, in the end, everything is made up of humans that have to interact for the cogs to turn. And when that happens, some friction is inevitable.
And that is in a school or corporate setting. In most cases, the worst-case scenario is just a lost job or a reprimand from upper management. However, In this new world, where a conflict would often spiral into a full-on fight to the death, conflict resolution only became even more important of an art to master.
William had never quite been one to care much about conflict resolution. Not because he didn’t know how to handle it. He knew exactly how to handle it in the new world. Have a conflict with another human? Just kill the conflict in the most literal sense possible.
For a guard to be taunting someone he clearly couldn’t read the power of was also highly questionable behavior.
At least all of this was Kim’s fast analysis of the situation that was quickly devolving into something that could only end in bloodshed. And not William's blood.
When William said his somewhat threatening words, the six men reacted as one would expect. Three of them drew swords, one a bow and two more clearly prepared some kind of magic skill.
“Please, there is no reason to fight!” Kim practically yelled, trying to diffuse the situation.
“Won’t really be a fight either way,” William snickered. “It is their choice to walk towards death.”
“William, we agreed to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. We have nothing to gain from fighting them.”
“Oi, stop fucking ignoring me, or I’ll blow your head o-“
Before he could finish his sentence, he croaked. Something none of the men had seen was wrapped around his neck, cutting off air. In a panic, he tried to get it off him but failed as his companion yelled at the newcomers.
“What did you do! Release him right now, or I’ll-“
“You’ll let us in? Great!” William smiled as the suffocating man was released. “See, negotiations are so easy!”
The men looked at him in fright, but William didn’t bother giving them a chance to respond. “Now, before I regret my very merciful decision, get the fuck out of my way. If I wanted you dead, you would be dead, so stop wasting our time.”
Which turned out to work perfectly well as the men just stood by as William walked into the camp. Kim with Seo in her arms, just following silently along. While she disapproved of his methods, she had to confess that it worked and that sometimes power was the only thing enabling one to truly have it their way.
The camp itself was rather basic, and the populace less than energetic. Most just sat listlessly staring into thin air, while those slightly more motivated did basic tasks or practiced what was likely their profession.
None of them seemed to pay William and Kim any mind. The only thing that caught a bit of attention was the sleeping Seo, as children were relatively rare. A sad testament to the fate of the youngest generation.
Also, one of the men who had stood guard was now trailing along with them. Keeping a good ten or so meters away. It was the first guy to speak and the one who seemed the most diplomatic.
“Man, this place sucks,” William said, not caring how loud he was. “Who is this friend of yours anyway?”
“A friend from university. We shared quite a few classes and kept in contact afterward. She is also Seo’s godmother,” she answered.
“Oh, another shrink?” William asked, with quite a bit of distaste in his voice. While he liked Ms. Kim, he didn’t have the same love for the professional field of psychology as a whole, and she was perfectly aware of this. His trauma with other medical professionals was one of the most common subjects in their talks.
“No, a normal doctor. Has her own practice. Or, well, she had her own practice before the system. I just hope you are right and that she survived.”
“Well, better than a shrink, I guess. So, does she know about me?” William asked.
“Of course not. You were my patient William; confidentiality is the most basic of principles. And as I promised you, that confidentiality still stands,” she explained.
“Fair enough.” For some reason, though, he looked a bit annoyed at that.
After walking on a bit more, William got enough of their stalker as he turned back to the guy following them. “Yo, since you’re following us anyway, at least tell us where this Mary woman is.”
“O… okay. Mary is in the big white tent over there,” he answered, pointing to what was indeed a big white tent.
“Thanks, mate,” William said as he returned to ignoring the man.
Kim had, of course, also heard the man and sped up her pace as she made a beeline for the white tent. It was a lot like those party tents and was one of the largest tents in the entire camp.
Getting closer, she began to smell something that had become all-too-familiar after the initiation. Blood. The reason for this quickly became clear as they headed inside.
The tent could only be described as a makeshift hospital. Several mats were lain out on the floor, with gravely injured people on all of them. So many that some were forced to just lay on the bare ground. Their wounds mainly being large gashes, clearly caused by claws or fangs.
At one of the men who was missing both an arm and a leg, a woman was desperately sweating as she had her hands on his chest. It didn’t take a genius to see that she was currently channeling some kind of healing skill.
She barely managed to stop the bleeding before she fell over, barely being caught by another woman who stood by her side helping.
“You need to rest and get your mana back; you can’t do more as you are right now,” the woman supporting the healer said.
“I know… but there is no one else,” she sighed as she stood up, still wobbly on her feet.
It was at this point they turned around to see the three new arrivals in the tent. It was also the time that Kim saw the healer as both their eyes opened wide.
The two women sounded like schoolgirls seeing their girlfriend after a long summer break. Mary, still a bit unsteady on her feet, hurried over as she hugged Kim, squashing poor Seo in between them.
“What are you doing here!? Is something wrong with little Seo?” Mary said as she looked alarmed down on the sleeping girl as she let go of her old friend.
“No, she is fine. I just put her to sleep with a skill,” Kim answered as she looked her friend over. “We came here to find you and see how you were doing. What happened here?”
“The situation is bad. There is a pack of powerful monsters that have their eyes on the camp. They never come directly, but they attack any team sent out. This here,” she said, motioning to all the wounded people around her, “this is the result of trying to fight them off. And this is only the survivors.”
“Interesting,” William said, interrupting their little reunion. “What level are these monsters?”
His question grabbed her attention as she now noticed him for the first time. “Oh, I am so sorry I didn’t see you. Are you with Kimmie?”
“Yes, this is William,” Kim answered before he had had a chance to do so. “He is someone from work that I teamed up with after we both returned to earth.”
“Ah, good to meet you, William. I didn’t know she had such a handsome young colleague,” Mary said teasingly.
This time William answered before Kim could. “Yeah, because she didn’t. For some reason, they never offered me a job.”
“Huh? Who are you then?” she said, confused.
“Just a good friend of hers. But we did meet at her work, that is true.”
“A patient then?” she said, nodding as if she was sure to be right. “Taking care of your mental health even before the system was indeed important, and even more so now. Good to see that the younger generation is catching on.”
“Oh, I wasn’t a patient by choice,” he waved his hand dismissively. “I am still pretty sure nothing was ever really ‘wrong' with me per se. Not sure about now, though.”
“What do- “
“Shouldn’t we talk about these monsters you mentioned?” Kim interrupted.
William looked at her and quickly got the hint not to overshare here and now. Fine, he thought as he agreed.
“True, so what are these things?”
Mary looked between the two, a bit confused as she spoke. “They are bipedal cat-like creatures. They hunt mainly during the night, so we tried to attack them during the day… you see the result. We are at our wits end here, and the leadership is unsure how to proceed. They often don’t kill on purpose but only injure… they seem to like playing with their prey.”
“Again, what’s their level?” he asked, not really caring much for the details. If they were just a bunch of level 50 monsters, they wouldn’t be worth jack.
“At least above 60.”
William turned to see a new man had entered the tent. The highest level individual he had seen so far since returning to earth, sitting at level 39. Still below William by quite some, but respectable, nevertheless.
“You fought them?” the young metal caster asked, now beginning to feel a bit excited.
“Yes, I led the squad. There are five of them, all at a level I can’t identify. I can’t see your level either, but I have a feeling you are above mine. Am I correct?” the man answered, adding on a question of his own.
Naturally, William had a skill to hide his own level. That was one-o-one of karmic magic.
“I can neither confirm nor deny that accusation!” William answered cheerfully. “But I can confirm that I would very much like to go kill these little kitty-cats.”
“Wait, Milas, is that you?” Kim suddenly butted in as she recognized the man.
“Yes, I am sorry I didn’t introduce myself earlier. My wife and I arrived here with Mary,” he said.
“Wait, you two know each other?” William jumped in once more.
“They are my neighbors, and Kimmie also met them at a party of mine a few months back,” Mary came in explaining.
“Ah, that explains the two other thin threads of Karma,” William nodded, only confusing the others. “Anyway, point me in the direction of the cats, then you guys can catch up while I go and do some pest control.”
Milas looked quite unsure of what to do, but Kim gave him an affirming nod. “Fine, they are normally in the block two or so kilometers north of here, up past the old hospital. They usually keep watch, so chances are they attack you before you even spot them.”
“Sounds easy enough, be right back,” he said as he got up.
“I must warn you; they are swift and strong. We barely survived an- “
“But you did survive. If they can’t even kill a bunch of weaklings like you, I doubt they are worth much,” he dismissed the man’s concern. “So just sit tight.”
“William. Never be overconfident,” Ms. Kim said sternly, adding in a bit softer of a voice. “And be careful.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He walked out of the tent with quite a big smile on his lips. Guess I have to watch out, or she’ll reprimand me, he thought to himself, making his smile only more genuine.
After he left, the four also followed as Milas had brought another healer to replace Mary. They went to another tent not far away, where Anton began making some coffee from some beans they found while the two women talked.
Seo had also been woken up and was now playing around with the only two others kids in the entire camp.
“So, who is he really?” Mary asked as she kept on pushing to know more about William. “Also, isn’t he a little young for you?”
“It isn’t like that, Mary…” she said with an exasperated sigh. “As he said, he is an old patient of mine. We made an agreement where I help him out, and he helps protect Seo and me.”
“Oh… ‘helping out’ eh?” she said, nudging her old friend with an elbow. “What kind of ‘help’ are we talking about?”
“The psychological kind Mary.”
“Okay then, keep your secrets,” she said, laughing. “But you must say he is quite the looker.”
“He is nineteen. He is also my patient,” Kim sighed.
“Are you sure he will be fine? Exactly how strong is he?” Milas asked, placing two cups of coffees on the table.
“In terms of fighting, he is more powerful than any I have encountered so far. We have yet to meet any monster he couldn’t kill nearly instantaneously,” Kim explained as she took a sip of the coffee, stats making the fear of burns redundant.
“Exactly how did he get so strong?” Milas continued asking.
“A lot of fighting naturally,” she answered promptly. It wasn’t her place to share.
“Human or beast?” Milas kept asking, with a serious look in his eyes.
Mary looked a bit shocked as she regarded him, while Kim also looked up at him rather abruptly.
“Why would you ask that?”
“I have also done a lot of fighting, Ms. Kim. And when I stand in front of that young man… I feel like I am moments away from death. Like he is prepared to kill me and anyone else in the room at a moment’s notice,” he said, feeling a slight shiver run up his spine. He still remembered the look the young man had given him earlier in the tent.
Sighing, Kim knew it wouldn’t make sense to hide it. “Both.”
“Kimmie… is he forcing you to…?” Mary asked, feeling horrible for her earlier jokes.
“No, nothing like that. We are in a partnership of sorts. William needs me, and I need him, so please don’t be worried. I have done nothing and will do nothing that is against my own will,” she said, trying to reassure her friend.
They kept talking for a few minutes until Milas suddenly frowned as they heard some commotion outside the tent. They all rushed out to see William having already returned. Not a scratch on his body.
However, what was truly frightening was the bloody bag and the six heads of cat-like monsters on the ground.
“Sorry for the wait Ms. Kim,” he said with a big smile. “The kitties were a bit tougher than expected; one of them was even at level 77!”
The entire camp was in an uproar. They were afraid of such power - all except for one.
“William! What the hell do you think you are doing!” Kim yelled as she stomped forward. “There are kids here, so clean up that macabre mess right this instant!”
Time passed as they decided to stick with the group. Eventually, they encountered a bubble as they traveled from their original camp, and within that bubble, a D-grade resided along with many other powerful monsters.
William killed them all, except for the D-grade. He actually felt a bit nervous facing it, as it was far stronger than anything ever before. In the end, he only killed it after he was forced to do so after It said ten were already claimed, and even then, it was a good while later. After the Pylon was claimed, Milas was made City Lord and William the official owner, but…
“You aren’t going?” Ms. Kim asked, confused.
“Nah, I don’t see any reason to,” he answered, shaking his head.
“Why not?” she pressed.
“It’s just a waste of time,” he insisted.
Over the last months, William had made a lot of progress. He had slain only a few humans throughout this time, only hunting beasts and overall acting like a decent person… a lot of it due to him following her advice and trying to resolve issues with other humans not using violence.
She had learned all about his tutorial. What he had done. It was unforgivable… but her job was not to pass judgment but make him understand why he did as he did and figure out a way to move forward. Yet there was one point he never addressed... how it ended.
He just said that he went to train with his master. He said he “died and went there,” but he deflected when she asked for details, often just using humor or shrugging it off, but she still saw him begin sweating a bit and look uncomfortable whenever she made him think of it. She was confused for a long time, until one day where he finally had to sleep… and she heard it.
William woke up screaming in a cold sweat, his entire body shivering. In his sleep, he had talked about yellow eyes and a monster… she also came to notice that he often looked an extra time after everyone wearing an archer’s cloak. One time he yelped back when someone used some skill with dark-mana, and he categorically avoided anyone whose level he couldn't see.
Kim could get him to talk about anyone but the yellow-eyed monster, and now she was clear he would be in the congress. Which meant she would just have to go herself… and hopefully try to understand exactly what had happened.