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Seeing so many of their brethren had already fallen, the remaining wolves became more cautious and no longer charged blindly forward.

There were two at the back making quick darting movements towards Lance and the other guard, two were circling around at the front and the alpha wolf was further away, growling, barking and baring its fangs.

Rowan sprinted forward under the full force she could bring to bear, kicking up a fair amount of dirt behind her in the process. The wolf in front of her either realised it was unable to turn around and escape from the charge of someone whose body had reached the peak of body strengthening or it was too bloodthirsty to consider such an option in the first place. In a last desperate bid, the wolf jumped forward, claws extended, aiming to rake them down on Rowan's head. Rowan however, was faster. She moved forward under its paws, stabbed her sword through its belly and then slammed it to the ground in front of her.

The second person to get a kill was Lance, at the back. The wolf had tried to run through the gap between him and the other guard, aiming for the horses. He had thrust out with his spear and caught the beast on the front of its torso. Between the force of the wolf running forward and Lance's spear thrust, the spearhead easily penetrated into the beast and broke through some of it bones, reaching its internals and killing it.

The third kill went to the other guard at the back, who shortly after Lance, was able to swing across with his own polearm, which was like a spear but had a side spike too, and impale a wolf himself, earning his first kill.

This left only two wolves remaining.

The wolf eyeing Avery decided to turn around and run off. As bloodthirsty as it was, there was only itself and the alpha left, with the rest of its pack lying dead all around.

Now there was only one.

The alpha wolf, after seeing its pack decimated, had no intention of leaving.

Pike started galloping towards it, aiming for the last kill, and the alpha started charging towards him in turn.

"Co'mere you bastard" Pike yelled while riding forward.

They quickly closed the distance between the two of them and were nearly within striking distance. Pike was anticipating the kill but his horse finally balked and veered to the side, not wanting to continue riding further towards the wolf that was almost as tall as itself and far stronger. This put Pike into an unfavourable position where his side had started to be exposed and he had to reposition his weapon. Nevertheless, he was confident that he could still pull off the kill.

However, just as the alpha jumped at Pike and Pike was waiting to catch it on his glaive, a shadow flew over from the side and imbedded itself into the side of the wolf, knocking it over onto the ground. This caused to Pike to miss with his weapon but it also prevented the attack of the wolf from reaching him and his horse.

Pike rode on safely by and then turned around to see the wolf struggling on the ground with Lance's spear stuck in it.

"I had that!" shouted Pike, annoyed at Lance for stealing his kill.

"Had it my arse. Even if you killed it, there'd be a chunk missing from your horse" said Lance in reply.

Even though his words made it seem as though he was motivated by concern, both for Pike and the horse, his thoughts lay elsewhere.

[Like hell I'm going to let you get all the glory. Calling me a greenhorn all the time. Well fuck you Pike, that greenhorn just killed the strongest beast here]

He hadn't actually killed the alpha wolf though because it still struggling on the ground. It would probably die from the wound but since it still looked like it had some fight in it, Avery went forward and finished it off. It tried to bite him as he approached but he easily avoided it and cut off its head in one clean downward slash.

"Whoo" whistled one of the guards.

"What are we going to do with all of these then?"

"We'll just stick them in the wagon, won't we" said Pike.

"No, there are too many for that. Besides, we have to leave room for a blue devil beetle" said Avery, giving his opinion on the matter.

"I don't know,,, maybe if we stack them right" added Harrison, who was thinking about the best way to stick them on the cart.

"No, I still don't think we can get them all on. It's best if we just put half of them on and then skin the rest for their pelts. They're not that valuable anyway so even if we leave some it won't make that much difference. Besides, collecting qi beasts is only secondary for us. Our main purpose is to help Tom gain experience"

"Oh, and on that note, you've killed your first qi beast. What d'ya think?" Avery said, turning towards Tom.

"I think this thing works" said Tom while tapping his shield with his sword.

"Hah, fair enough"

"And what about you Lance. How did you feel, killing your first qi beast?" said Avery.

"I told you already. I've already killed a qi beast before" Lance said, annoyed. He expected this kind of thing from Pike but didn't think he'd be getting it from Avery right now as well.

Nevertheless, the other guards all found it funny and started laughing, with Pike being the loudest of course. Even Rowan was laughing, but, she was doing it to the side and when Lance looked over at her, she at least she had the decency to look away and cover her mouth.

Actually, Tom couldn't help but chuckle at it a bit too. After all, no matter what Lance said, it was true that the qi beast he had killed was a type of cow that could be found on farms within the kingdom.

All this laughing had greatly diminished the pride that Lance had felt at the kills he had made. He had even killed the alpha wolf, but, all of that had been overshadowed by the joke they had made. The only thing he could do was suck it up and give off an even bigger display later on. The only respite he felt was that now at least, they wouldn't be able to keep making him the butt of their jokes by calling him a greenhorn. He smiled a bit at this thought before quickly realising that they would probably find another way to make fun of him soon enough.

[Damn it. Why am I always the one they fun off? I'll have to get them back somehow. Especially Pike, you lumbering giant. Huh, wait... lumbering... giant. Is there something there maybe? Lumberjack? Never mind, I'll think about it later]

"Okay, I think it's about time we stop tormenting Lance and get on with it" said Harrison, the voice of reason.

With that, their chit chat died down and they starting moving the bodies of the dead red eyed wolves into the back of the wagon, starting with the alpha, which was the most valuable one. Since they were fairly large, they only put ten bodies on the wagon, like Avery suggested, and began skinning the rest.

Some of them weren't particularly experienced at skinning animals, such as Tom for example, but since there were only eight of them and ten wolves to skin, it was faster to have everyone participate.

As for Tom, he was meant to be gaining experience and learning new skills anyway. Besides, he knew that he would be involved in many qi beast hunts in the years to come and this was good practice for him if he wanted to quickly and cleanly get at the valuable materials that could be found within them. He sheathed his sword and took off his shield, then took out the curved hunting knife he had at the back of his waist and started on the wolf at his feet.

While Rowan was skinning the wolf in front of her, she turned her head to look over at her cousin. She knew he had never skinned an animal before and wanted to see how he was doing. However, what she saw shocked her beyond imagination.

"What the hell are you doing!" she shouted while hurriedly standing up and staring at Tom.

Her sudden outburst caused all the others to look over as well and a strange mix of facial expressions developed on their faces as they frowned and looked on incredulously.

"What?" Tom asked in confusion. He didn't know what had caused Rowan to be so startled.

"Why... Why are you doing that?" she said loudly, while pointing vigorously at Tom, at his bloodstained mouth and hands.

Tom looked down at himself but still didn't recognise the problem. He had started skinning the wolf and then he had started eating it. He couldn't understand what he was doing within all that that would cause Rowan to have such a reaction.

"What?" he asked again.

"Why are you eating the wolf!?"

"What, that? Well of course I am. Why wouldn't I eat what I kill?" said Tom questioningly.

"Be... because... because you shouldn't. You're eating it raw for God's sake!"

"That's when it's best" said Tom vibrantly.

Hearing Tom's words, Rowan was gobsmacked. She didn't know what to think and she didn't know what to say.

Looking at the reactions of everyone present, Tom realised something was wrong. He thought about it a bit, about human culture and his own.

[It seems they don't always eat the things they kill. It also seems that they don't eat meat raw. I have to admit, while in the body, the cooked meat did taste better. Maybe they just weren't built for that]

"By that logic Tom, you should have eaten the guy that attacked you in the back alley" said Avery jokingly, trying to diffuse the tension.

"Well there was a lot going at the time. It wasn't really the time or place" said Tom seriously.

Hearing his words, everyone had a blank look on their faces.

Rowan, whose face had gone a bit pale, was the first one to speak up.

"You're joking... right?" she said weakly.

".........Yes" said Tom, sounding unsure.

[Note to self. Don't eat humans]

"Ha ha ha, fucking hell Tom, you nearly had us. Damn you've got one dark sense of humour" laughed Avery in relief after coming to his own conclusion. He ran his hand through his hair and heaved a sigh of relief.

He thought that Tom was just putting on an act and that he hadn't realised that he had a bit of a morbid sense of humour.

The moment that Avery said that, the rest of the people present also felt relieved.

[Holy shit, I thought he was being genuine for a moment]

[Oh thank god for that]

[Shit, I nearly had a heart attack]

"Goddammit Tom, that wasn't funny" said Rowan angrily, but it was clear that colour had returned to her face and she was feeling better.

Tom wiped the blood from his mouth on the back of his sleeve and then said "Ok, let's finish this up"

They had all been distracted by Rowan and Tom and had stopped skinning the wolves. Now that everything had been cleared up, they could return to what they were doing. They still had a long day ahead of them and if they wanted to get to insect gorge and back before nightfall, they ought to pick up the pace.

[Hmm, I learn new things about humanity every day]

With that thought in mind, Tom took his knife and continued making cuts on the wolf carcass in front of him.

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jmj1011995

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