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“Eric is going to have you gutted like a pig!” Fred swore. “You don’t know who you’ve decided to mess with, knight. Consider yourself dead already… *cough*...”

“Yeah, I don’t think so.”

Marcello raised his fist and punched the bearded man in the face, just hard enough for it to sting. “That one was for spitting at me earlier.”

Fred cleared his throat and spit again at Marcello, aiming for his eye slit in his visor. Thankfully, the knight turned away just in time, but the phlegm still hit his helmet. Absolutely disgusting.

Marcello raised his gauntleted hand up again. “You asked for it.”

His metal fist connected with the bearded bastard’s face, this time even harder. He then raised it again, socking him in the eye and leaving Fred with a swollen eye and a cut on his lip.

“You’re dead meat…” Fred groaned, still defiant.

Marcello resisted the urge to whip out his dagger again and emulate the sadistic behaviors of a certain clown character in a popular superhero franchise on this warrior.

“Tell me, who is Eric? And why do you have so much confidence in him?” Marcello asked, fist raised.

Fred laughed through his bloody teeth. “Eric’s one of the strongest warriors there is in this forest. He’s been promoted, and let me tell you he sure as hell is stronger than you. Back at camp, we have over a hundred capable fighters, all of them pledged to Eric’s banner.”

“All the experience in this part of the forest belongs to Eric and our faction, no exceptions. Troublemakers like you are the first to go.”

Marcello frowned. He would’ve expected one of his old crew to have control over a large faction, possibly Emma or maybe even Jason. Agnis probably seized some control as well. So who was this Eric and why was he in charge here?

Never mind about Jason, Marcello forgot for a moment that he was killed back in the second hard trial during the boss fight.

“What sector are you from?” Marcello asked. He recalled that there were multiple sectors of humans released into the forest at the same time.

“Sector three,” Fred replied. “The strongest sector, no doubt, with Eric coming from there as well.”

Marcello scoffed. He found it amusing that this human was so cocky about his own sector when Marcello’s sector produced Emma and himself. Eric was a promoted class, which was an enormous feat by itself and probably allowed him to snowball his level and lead way further as he hogged experience, but that crazy bitch Emma received a promoted class upon landing in the tutorial and bluffed her entire way through until the final boss fight, and Marcello himself went through the impossible trial alone and came out a changed man.

Marcello still did not have knowledge that his own sector produced another terrifying powerhouse by the name of Gabriel. By all measures, sector two was among the top two or three sectors for producing powerful initiates.

He also found it a bit amusing that Fred did not realize just how high level he was. Eric was probably also unidentifiable to him, so Fred just assumed that Eric was higher level than him when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.

Still, Marcello was curious about how strong this Eric guy was, that Fred respected him so much.

There was still a lot more information he needed though. Time to put his fists to work again.

Marcello smiled behind his helmet as he proceeded to beat every last piece of information out of Fred.

-------

Some time later, at Eric’s camp…

A delirious scout burst into the camp, his face bloodied and his eyes holding a wild look. He limped past the wooden barricades and crossed the makeshift butchery, where venison was being processed by the workers.

The camp was bustling with activity, and two of the guards engaged the scout in conversation after noticing him.

“What happened to you, scout?” one of the guards asked.

“I-I need to talk to Godfried,” the scout replied, short of breath and clearly unnerved. “It’s an emergency.”

The guards looked at each other, then nodded. They escorted him towards the tent owned by the scout master, a rogue by the name of Godfried. He was the boss’s right hand man, and the only person in the camp with an advanced version of identify.

The guards escorted the scout to the front of the tent, then announced their presence.

“Scout master, there is a scout from one of the hunting parties here that requests your audience urgently.”

A man’s calm voice answered promptly. “Let him in.”

The guards opened the fold of the large tent, revealing a bearded man with knotted hair who was polishing off his skinning dagger with a whetstone.

“Scout master Godfried,” the scout said quickly. “Our party was–”

“Close the curtain first,” Godfried replied, pointing his knife at the entrance to the tent behind him.

The scout nodded, turning around to draw the curtain across the large tent.

“Now, what were you saying?”

“My hunting party was attacked by a single person, and he killed so many of us. Fred sent me back to report to Eric about what happened. I-I couldn’t see what level he was!”

Godfried’s eyes narrowed. “Was it the lion of sector seven?” he asked cooly.

He was referring to one of the most powerful initiates in the tutorial, a cloaked man with a powerful promoted class that allowed him to shapeshift freely into a lion and back. He had wiped out two of Eric’s camp parties in the last few days, and was the camp leader of the western portion of the forest. Nobody knew how he got a hold of such a class, but there were rumors that he was the only survivor to emerge from the first hard trial in sector seven.

“Or the black witch?”

The mysterious female mage dressed in all black robes dwelled on the northern edge of the forest. Almost every scout they had sent in that direction was promptly killed by the most fearsome mana bolts. Strangely, the surviving scouts were all female. It was unclear whether that was a coincidence or something more sinister, and it was agreed upon after a camp council that there would no longer be any more scouting teams sent north.

“N-no, I don’t think it was the witch. I’m positive that it was a man, since he spoke. But I do remember that he was wearing full plate armor, like a knight! Oh, and he said something about wanting to hunt monsters in our territory. That’s why we attacked him.”

“I see,” Godfried replied, putting down his skinning knife. “A rogue figure preventing our hunting parties from performing their duties is unacceptable. It’s best if we talk to Eric about how to handle this matter. Come with me.”

They traveled through the camp while escorted by a new set of guards. Security was taken seriously at Eric’s camp, especially after the last attack.

The scout had never been in this part of the camp complex before, as this was a restricted area for the officers and higher ups. He saw several questioning gazes shot at him from other members of the camp.

Passing through another set of wooden spiked barricades, they entered into the captain’s quarters, which was a giant tent with a guard posted outside. The scout could hear multiple female voices coming from within the tent.

“Urgent business,” Godfried said, tilting his head to tell the guard to step aside.

“Understood, scout master,” the guard replied. “Boss, Godfried is here!”

An annoyed voice came from within the tent. “Tell him to come back later, will you?”

Godfried shook his head. “I’m not coming back later, it’s urgent.”

“He said that it’s urgent!” the guard shouted unnecessarily loud.

Some rustling sounds came from within the tent along with some female voices, and Eric emerged from the tent with his shirt unbuttoned. An eyepatch hung over his left eye.

“Come in,” he said.

The scout followed Godfried into the commander’s tent, immediately noticing a brunette and a somewhat pudgy redheaded woman still laying on his bed, both half naked. They were reasonably attractive, although nothing to write home about. But there was a third young woman, a blonde, standing to the side with her arms crossed. She had white healer robes on and was fully clothed, and looked a bit angry.

The scout had seen her around the camp before, and recalled that her name was Alice or something like that. Compared to the other two women, she was on a whole other level of beauty.

“I’m leaving,” Alice said with a look of disgust on her face, promptly exiting the tent while sticking the middle finger up at Eric.

Eric simply laughed. “Don’t mind her. We were just having a little chat about a possible… arrangement.”

The eyepatched man buttoned up the middle button of his shirt and smiled. “So, what’s the new development? Has the black witch made a move?”

“No,” Godfried replied. “One of our scouts from Fred’s hunting party was sent back, and just informed me that a lone knight killed the majority of Fred’s party. The knight also verbally voiced a desire to farm monsters within our territory. Here, he can explain.”

The scout quickly explained the encounter with the strange knight to Eric, and why Fred sent him back.

Eric shook his head, an angry expression on his face. “We can’t let this happen. Who does this guy think he is, attacking my faction so openly like that? Does he think that our entire faction is as weak as those unpromoted pushovers in Fred’s party?”

Eric counted down with his fingers. “As of this morning, we have thirty four promoted fighters. These two lovely ladies are next on the list,” he said, motioning at the brunette and the redhead on his bed. “We’ll have thirty six promoted fighters soon, which should be more than enough to stand against the Lion of Sector Seven if he shows his ugly mane around here with his warriors.”

“We have this much manpower, and this lone knight thinks that he can provoke our faction and that we will just let him live?” Eric continued. “He’s in for a rude awakening.”

“Godfried, repurpose one of our recruitment parties to scout for this knight and kill him on sight. Send a few promoted fighters with the party as well for the kill job. I want him dead in two days, at most. Otherwise, he will be interfering with our camp’s promotions if he takes any more experience.”

“Understood,” Godfried replied.

“Since I’m already here, I need to discuss some other matters with you,” he continued. “One of my other scouts just came back from parlaying with the smaller camp that I told you about earlier. He said that the leader, a mage called Michael, is willing to negotiate and possibly merge with us. But… he mentioned that he is also in talks with the lion. Their camp is smaller than ours, but if Michael’s camp merges with the lion’s we could be in a lot of trouble. We’re currently bigger than the lion’s camp, but that might change if they get a sudden influx of recruits. It’s best if we negotiate with Michael’s camp as soon as possible and find a way to come to an agreement.”

“What does Michael want in return for joining with us?” Eric shot back.

Godfried sighed. “I know you won’t like this. The tentative terms were hunting rights for a third of the forest, past the pond.”

“I can’t do that,” snapped Eric angrily. “Out of the question!”

“I know,” Godfried replied. “So what do we do?”

Eric paced around the room for a minute, and then stopped. “You three, get out.” He pointed at the scout and the two girls.

A shuffle of feet and a rustling of clothing later, and the three were kicked out of the tent, leaving only Eric and his lieutenant Godfried.

“This is what we’re going to do,” Eric said in a low voice to Godfried. “We will take Michael’s camp by force, by the end of this week. With that and our current recruitment efforts, we will be the largest camp in the tutorial.”

“Eric, although this is good for our growth, I have to ask…” Godfried said slowly. “Why go through all this trouble to grow? Is this kind of violence necessary? It’s not like this tutorial is meant to be a confrontational one.”

Eric shook his head, speaking in a hushed tone. “After I was first promoted, I received a glimpse of what is yet to come in this tutorial through a strange quest description. Conflict is coming, my friend. By the end of this week or the next, there will be a blood moon. We will have to be ready by then.”

“Ready for what?” Godfried replied.

“We can’t advance through the forest because the monsters are too strong. But that is the least of our worries. After the blood moon, there will be new monsters,” Eric replied solemnly. “This forest will be transformed after the full moon, and only the strong will survive.”

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HereBeTreasure

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