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AC 3000, 8th month, 10th day, inside the Tainted Forest.

A tall, dark haired, blue eyed, handsome man, stood tall in the centre of eight people, smiling at the ringleader who was staring at him with a firm will.

“So, two disciples of the Flowing Water Sect, two Iron Fist Sect disciples, one from the Fischer clan and three independent cultivators. I wonder, what could you all possibly want with me?” asked the handsome man casually.

“Cut the crap Duncan, we know what you’ve been doing. It’s over” said the ringleader, an inner disciple of the Flowing Water Sect.

“Oh, and what would that be?” asked Duncan, completely unperturbed by the people surrounding him.

“You know full well what you’ve been doing!” shouted one of the independent cultivators emotionally, sword clenched in his hand, ready and waiting, “and you’ll pay dearly for it”.

“Is that so” said Duncan, a smirk emerging on his face.

“Yes, it is” said the ringleader.

“And rightly deserved as well” said the stronger of the two Iron Fist Sect disciples.

“We all come out into this forest to train ourselves and make a living by hunting beasts; but instead, you’ve been hunting people, killing them and stealing their gains for yourself. These actions of yours, they’re despicable”

“Dishonourable to the extreme” added the other Iron Fist disciple.

“A criminal well deserving of death” commented the Fischer clansman.

“Oh” said Duncan with a raised eyebrow.

“These are some rather serious accusations you’re making against me. I wonder where you got them from?” he said, a cockiness and confidence showing on his face.

“I thought I told you to cut the crap Duncan” said the ringleader, unimpressed.

“Its common knowledge that parties of cultivators have been going missing and getting killed out in the woods these past few months and not by the hands of qi beasts. None of us knew who was responsible up till now because you never left anyone alive, but this time, you made a mistake” he said, casting a quick glance over to the emotional independent cultivator who spoke out before.

“You left a survivor who was able to tell us of your crimes and when we followed him back to his dead friends it wasn’t hard to follow your trail. So I ask you, do you dare to deny it?”

Hah” chuckled Duncan, raising a hand to comb through his hair.

“Fine, I admit it. I’m the one whose been killing all those people. But you should know one thing”

“And what would that be? You’re not about to claim you did it all in self-defence are you?”

Hahaha, no, nothing of the sort” laughed Duncan.

“I just wanted you to know, I don’t make mistakes”

“And yet here we are” said the ringleader.

“And here you are, surrounded by us”

“Yes, and being the proud and just men that you are, you rushed over here without telling anyone else, am I right?” said Duncan, smiling a smile that unnerved Finley, the ringleader of those gathered against him whose face twitched at Duncan’s nonchalance to the situation, as well as the stronger Iron Fist Sect disciple who sharpened his gaze upon hearing Duncan’s words and the Fischer clansman, the eldest of the group, who with his years of experience caught something in Duncan’s relaxed body language that caused him to become wary.

“There are 8 of us” said Finley matter of factly, partly to reassure himself and cast aside the doubt that had just risen up in his mind and partly to insinuate to Duncan  that he was mad to be as unconcerned as he was.

Nevertheless, despite what he said, Finley’s mind was working overdrive thinking about what Duncan might have up his sleeve for him to be as untroubled as he was, as well as considering the strength of himself and his hastily formed party and whether or not they could truly kill Duncan so easily, regardless of whether he had a trick up his sleeve or not.

After all, Duncan was rather famous in the North-West, especially in the border town of Acorn and in the lost city of Forestview, where he had a reputation as a young genius and was given the moniker Howling Sword for the unique sound his sword arts gave off, though Finley had heard it was more akin to a screech, one which people in other worlds would compare to the sound of certain fireworks.

Still, when Finley had first heard from the independent cultivator that his group had been attacked and killed after slaying a qi beast by Howling Sword Duncan and sought someone’s help to bring him to justice and stop him from looting the bodies of his comrades before he got away, despite his fame, Finley had held no doubts that he and his training partner were up to the task. After all, he was a 9th level qi expansionist and inner disciple of the Flowing Water Sect and although he only begrudgingly admit it but his training partner who was only at the 6th level was just as strong as him.

Furthermore, even while the situation was being explained to them, a late level qi expansionist from the Fischer clan had happened upon them with his two hired hands and agreed to join in the pursuit, with another two reinforcements added in the form of two Iron Fist Sect disciples who had happened upon the group of dead independent cultivators the survivor had been leading them towards.

Now however, Finley found himself quickly assessing the actual strength of their party. Looking at the Fischer clansman, a 7th level qi expansionist, he wasn’t too concerned. He knew they weren’t a 1st rate clan by any means and nor could their arts match up to the arts of his Sect but he had met them before and knew they weren’t weak either. His two hired hands on the other hand would be a different story. Whether independent cultivators or actual clan guardsmen they were only at the 4th and 5th levels of qi expansion respectively and neither were likely to profess as great a skill as a clansman or a Sect disciple.

Then there were the two Iron Fist Sect disciples. As one of the Kingdom’s four great Sects, Finley of course knew about the nature of their qi arts and where their strengths lay, boasting some of the greatest close combat fighters to grace the kingdom as well as arguably some of, if not the best, defensive arts. This was why even though the two were only at the mid-levels of qi expansion, with the professed durability of Iron Fist Sect disciples, they could easily participate in duels with people stronger than them without suffering life threatening injuries.

However, when thinking about it, he remembered that the Iron Fist Sect also had a reputation of accepting just about anyone into the inner sect as long as they reached qi expansion and proved loyal and of acceptable personality, regardless of how talented they were and that because of this, they were meant to have a great many disciples who practised weaker but easier to learn qi arts. Realising this, Finley began to wonder which type of disciples they were, the talented or untalented, and how helpful they would be in the fight.

All of this ran through his mind at an astronomical pace, with barely a moment passing between his words and now before he finished his assessment and calmed his mind. This was a distraction and nothing more, a way for his opponent to gain any advantage he possibly could in a hopeless situation and one that Finley had to give silent praise to for. Whether his fame was deserved or not, that Duncan could keep so calm in a situation like this and still try and undermine his opponents before he had even drawn his sword was something that was worthy of respect. But, there were 8 of them, while there was only one of him and Finley was a noble practitioner of the Flowing Water Sect.

At this moment, calm had been completely restored to Finley’s mind. He was going to win and Duncan was going to lose. That was the truth. It was fact and even if he managed take one of their group down with him, Duncan was going to die. And then, Duncan spoke.

“No, there are 7” replied Duncan.

Puzzlement. Utter puzzlement. That was what he first felt. In that single moment when the words landed, Finley locked his gaze and tensed ready for battle, but at the same time felt completely baffled. These were not the words he expected to hear and at first took them for a vainglorious boast from a Duncan about to make his first move, however, still relaxed as ever, Duncan continued with his speech.

“and they weren’t his friends”

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jmj1011995

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