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[ForWire] slashed at an [Otter Pest] as it crawled out of the water, then used a [Hawk Slash] to weaken it. Seeing it lunge at his leg, he used a [Lunge] of his own, and roughly stabbed through the otter's head until it fell to the ground bleeding. He had taken a slight scratch to the knee in the process, but barely felt it. A [Slash] to the wounded otter was enough to kill it.

As he reached for another otter to the left, his Guildmate [Franciscus] impaled it with two quickfire arrows which were enough to kill the creature. He was still surprised at how much damage Franciscus' arrows dealt, and had tried to keep up by increasing his own Strength stat and buying an expensive, black-hilted [Ghost Voice Blade]. Though equipped with this light silver sword, which made a wailing sound as it swung through the air and sounded like a ghost, he was still far off the damage from his compatriot, and was not sure why. Typically, archers were not expected to hit so hard.

Due to Franciscus' reputation as one of the Guild's more powerful local members, he was regarded as an unofficial de facto leader by the few [MaxNexus] Guild members in the region. The Guild's leadership hadn't yet officially given Franciscus a position, but had made overtures in this direction by sending Franciscus some expensive, gold-lined light armour and a shirt with glittering silver shoulder-plates. Wearing these made Franciscus' higher position in the Guild hierarchy obvious to most players, and he was treated with the respect due to a leader. However, they also made him quite conspicious, and so while hunting he wore a dark green cloak over his other clothing to avoid alerting the animals.

ForWire, however, was mostly considered a regular member of the Guild, despite being one of the Guild's stronger players in the area. There was a slight sense of futility as he watched Franciscus effortlessly shoot through each wave of otters.

"They're getting tougher, I think," ForWire said, with a slight British accent.

"Are they?" Franciscus replied nonchalantly. "I guess, they're taking slightly less damage. But you don't kill them that quickly anyway. Look, just draw aggro so they gather near you, then I'll kill 'em. It's faster."

"Um, so just hit them to get aggro, but nothing else?"

"Yeah, how else are you going to get aggro? Anyway, your sword is quite long, you can just sweep it across the otters. Crouch down."

"If I crouch, then can't the otters attack me more easily?"

"Yeah, but look, it's faster. This pond has already taken too much of our time, and I'm getting tired of hearing them insects. Plus I have a date in Kaxil this evening, girl named Samantha, I don't want to spend hours around this stinking pond before that. Not a good look. So please don't waste time."

ForWire sighed slightly, then proceeded to crouch down and use a low [Slash] across the wave of otters emerging from the pool. As the otters piled towards his face, he saw his HP lurch dramatically downwards by 10% as the otters piled into his cheeks with their claws. Franciscus quickly killed off the nearby otters, but ForWire felt slightly nervous as he heard arrows whizzing quickly right next to him.

As ForWire reluctantly crouched down again to meet another wave of otters, he was startled by a loud, rustling noise from the trees to his right.

"What was that?" he asked.

"Oi, no distractions!" Franciscus replied.

"Nah, there's something there. I hear some footsteps."

Franciscus also picked up on a noise from the clump of trees to the East, and looked over in alarm. As he stared nervously, a group of players emerged from behind the bushes and leaves. Three Assassins, a warrior with a large shield, and a Mage. Two more players crept in from the South, blocking any attempt to escape in that direction.

Franciscus knew that fighting here would not be profitable, because as an archer he could easily be cornered and forced into melee combat where he would be easily overwhelmed.

"Run! Follow me!" he cried to ForWire, while bolting Eastwards on a faint, light-green path.

ForWire was worried, and followed quickly. Some of the players approaching had red names, and since their weapons were drawn he assumed that they were likely to attack.

"Who the hell are these guys?" he shouted to Franciscus, as they hurtled down the straight Eastwards path.

"You don't see anything? They're DeathGang, killers!" Franciscus shoted back impatiently.

ForWire swore. He had heard about DeathGang from the recent war. They had a fearsome reputation, and videos of the carnage North-East of Kruxol had spread liberally in Kaxil. These players also seemed to be high-level.

As the path began to fade into tall grass, Franciscus was excited to see a turn leftwards into the trees. This would lead South, in the direction of the village. However, two Assassins from the group behind were gaining on him, and he knew that they would likely catch him as he tried to turn left and round a few large trees next to the path. Desperately, he shoved ForWire backwards with an elbow, sending the armoured warrior hurtling into the Assassins as a distraction.

ForWire was surprised by this move, and took a painful [Slash] to the back of his neck. As he groaned out, he writhed violently away from the Assassins and leapt forwards to get away from them. However, he found that his feet did not meet solid ground at the end of the jump, but instead crashed through a fragile gathering of leaves and began to fall into a pit below. His feet still suspended, he tried at the last moment to cushion the fall, but still landed with a loud, metallic clang at the bottom of a pit a few feet deep. His foot had twisted as he hit the ground, and he tripped up to fall face-first onto the ground. This was enough to knock him out.

Meanwhile, Franciscus made use of the temporary distraction to veer off towards the left of the path, but found his path blocked as a level 43 DeathGang Assassin emerged from behind the trees. Frowning, Franciscus shot at this player with an arrow. This caused the approaching Assassin to flinch back, and Franciscus followed up with another two arrows in quick succession. The Assassin was by now down to 40% HP and was off-balance, but still steadfastly stood in the way of Franciscus' escape.

Frustrated, Franciscus began to nock another arrow at the Assassin, only for another Assassin from behind to barge into him with a firm elbow and send him sprawling in the same pit as ForWire.

However, Franciscus did not relent. Using a skill named [Archer's Recovery], which allowed an archer to quickly re-enter a shooting stance after a fall, he crawled to his feet and let loose an angry [Arrowstorm] into the wounded Assassin whom he had fought earlier. A stream of arrows rushed out of the pit. The Assassin fell to the ground weakly, as if drowning, and died.

"Gastlem's gone!" shouted one of the DeathGang players in pursuit.

As Franciscus looked out of the pit to the West, he saw that a DeathGang Mage was standing in one corner. He charged in this direction, hoping to quickly overwhelm the Mage and escape. Since Mages weren't typically effective at melee combat, if Franciscus could get a couple of shots in and wrestle the Mage out of the way or down into the pit, he would have a clear path to escape.

However, as Franciscus prepared to an arrow, he felt his hand weaken slightly, as if tired. With some effort, he drew the bowstring carefully back, but the Mage did not look flustered. Instead, the Mage drew on the water from the nearby pool and cast [Breath of Ice], which slowed Franciscus' already-sluggish movements. As the arrow dangled tamely from a slightly limp bowstring, the Mage casually cast [Mana Push] to shove it to the side. It dropped harmlessly to the ground.

Franciscus tried to reach for another arrow, but his vision was slightly hazy and his hands fumbled around aimlessly as he tried to grip an arrow from his quiver. His legs were starting to wilt slightly.

After ten seconds, he finally managed to get a grip on an arrow, but as he looked up he saw a shadow looming over him. An Assassin from behind him had leapt agilely off the steep edge of the pit, keeping both hands spread slightly forwards and to the side as if gliding. As the Assassin reached Franciscus, he felt his throat being grabbed roughly and ripped with a dagger, and he was thrown inexorably to the ground by the leaper's momentum.

As he collided loudly with the ground, the Assassin reared up from behind him and slammed Franciscus' bloodied face to the ground. As the Assassin walked away, Franciscus found that he was too faint and dizzy to get up.

"Well done, Crucis, quite a leap of faith," said a level 59 Assassin standing at the edge of the pit, as players began to form a ring around the pit.

"Nah, it's easy, you just need to find someone to break the fall," Crucis replied, dusting himself off from the dive into the pit.

"A social safety net?"another Assassin asked.

Crucis laughed. "Yep, Akshel. Anyway, come over and lock this guy down, we can tie 'em both up."

"Let him sleep!"

Notwithstanding this protest, Akshel shrugged and eased himself into the pit, accompanied by DicingDevil. As Akshel held the tired Franciscus' limbs in place, DicingDevil wound a thick rope around the archer. Soon, Franciscus found himself unable to move his arms, and his legs could barely walk. Crucis, meanwhile, had cut the archer's bowstring in order to prevent any further episodes like the fight with Gastlem. He then quickly left the pit, to avoid the effects of the herb.

After this, they moved onto ForWire. Although he regained consciousness as the ropes were being tied around him, he was still barely awake and couldn't do much to resist. Akshel held him down when necessary, but generally just relaxed and helped with the rope instead.

As the group prepared to escort the players away from the pit, DicingDevil and Akshel walked away to douse their face in cold water. Starfighter and Dionarcy carefully checked the rope around each captive player, occasionally tightening it where it seemed too loose.

ForWire was dimly watching this unfold. He was still tired out, and occasionally drifted in and out of sleep. He had been expecting a quick death, but was now concerned about the possibility of further pain as a captive.

As the group prepared to move on, a loud roar crashed through the area from the North. A large, white shape appeared from behind the dense foliage, and effortlessly shoved the leaves out of the way. Its sharp teeth bared momentarily, as it stopped and began to scan the area. Crucis saw that it was a level 70 [Injured Albatross Panther (boss)].

As the creature stiffly paced nearby, the party quieted down to avoid drawing attention. Crucis glanced at the party chat, which was being used to communicate silently.

Akshel: why no orange stripes?
Grisier: Good catch, I'm not sure.
Starfighter: maybe a female
Akshel: strange. man in village described it as a male with stripes
Starfighter: might be more than one
Starfighter: tho idk why he wouldn't say so
DicingDevil: he said there was a panther group living far up north, but an injured male had turned maneater
DicingDevil: he didn't mention this one, but i checked its info and it's also a maneater
Grisier: Has it seen us?
Starfighter: i think it knows someone is nearby, but doesn't know how many of us
Starfighter: and it's limping slightly
Starfighter: it will probably circle the area and attack if it sees any of us
Starfighter: no sudden movements
Crucis: if we trap it in the pit, it might have difficulty escaping with the limp?
Starfighter: yea, if we're careful
Crucis: reckon we could use one of these players as bait?
DicingDevil: good call, if it was in the pit then we might be able to kill it or escape more easily
Starfighter: yea, go ahead
Starfighter: this one might be easier to kill, it's lower level + has an injured leg and eye. might as well try

"Let's use the warrior, he'd be stronger and harder to keep captive. He's the lucky one. We can keep the other guy as a punching bag," Crucis whispered to the party, just loud enough for the captives to hear. Franciscus squirmed uncomfortably.

Crucis grabbed ForWire, and drew out a dagger. Slashing across ForWire's face and chest, he drew blood from a myriad of deep cuts. After widening these cuts with [The Ripper] and loosening a muzzle, Crucis flung ForWire down into the pit, where the warrior rolled painfully to a stop against the edge of the pit and lay still due to the ropes. The fall had exacerbated the wounds.

The bleeding ForWire, whose screams were muffled but loud, soon attracted the attention of the panther. It leapt near him in a blur of motion, and as it landed he was shoved harshly towards the ground. As he lay flat, the creature began to pin him down by the scruff of his neck, then tear his neck and lower face painfully apart. In about half a minute, he was dead.

Crucis had used this time to take up a position at the edge of the pit, along with the rest of the party. The pit was soon surrounded by spears and swords, while two Mages prepared to help keep the panther from escaping.

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MOROSE

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