Chapter 21:

Chapter 20. Midnight Ambush

Zero to Hero

“Why are we heading into the forest?” Candace questioned as we rode into the woods after barely a few hours of sleep.

“If a liar tells us to avoid the forest, it probably means we should head there,” I retorted as we continued our journey.

“We should have stayed and confronted her instead of running away!” Tina interjected, discontent with my choice to avoid conflict.

“He probably just doesn’t want to hurt or maybe kill that cute girl,” Candace speculated.

Kill. The thought hadn’t crossed my mind until now. Was I even capable of such an act? Would I be able to take a life as easily as I did those goblins? The notion was unsettling.

Unsure of how I would respond if faced with such a decision, I was relieved we left before things escalated.

“I’ve never killed anyone, never wanted to, and don’t think I could. We should steer clear of trouble.”

“How foolish! Who mentioned killing? Just cut their arms off so they can’t harm others,” Tina said casually, despite the morbid implications.

“I can’t see how someone as cute as Abigail could be evil!” Candace remarked, conveniently forgetting one of my lovers, someone outwardly beautiful but turned out to be a genocidal maniac.

While the pair discussed their speculations, I was relieved that our journey through the forest remained uneventful and swift. After a long day of riding from before dawn, with only a brief lunch break, I decided it was far enough from the town to stop for the night and get some much-needed rest.

“Let’s grab a meal and rest up,” I suggested to the group.

Without needing direction, Candace began to build a campfire while Tina worked on preparing our dinner. Despite almost three months together, their bickering and childish behaviors persisted, yet they efficiently fulfilled their roles, making our travels much smoother compared to our initial days.

While the girls worked, I patrolled the perimeter of our camp with Yami, casting protection spells to detect any intruders. With preparations complete, we settled by the warm fire as Tina served our portions of food.

"Your cooking has really improved from good to very good," I praised Tina, offering rare commendation.

"Don’t try to sweet-talk me for a bigger portion!" she retorted.

"Ken, you can have some of mine!" Candace generously offered, though I hadn’t asked for more. I accepted gratefully, sparking their usual bickering.

"Are you sure you don’t want to bathe together?" Candace offered provocatively, as was her norm. Despite her tempting invitations, my self-restraint had not failed me so far.

Since we camped frequently, and the girls insisted on daily baths, except for nights like the previous night when they were too drunk. It meant I had to constantly create a fresh wooden bathtub, draining my stamina regularly.

After conjuring a brand new bathtub and filling it with steaming water, the girls took turns bathing for an extended period, ignoring my reminders to hurry and rest.

By the time I finished my own bath, the pair was already fast asleep from the day's long travel when I returned to our sleeping area.

"Good night, Yami. Let’s hope for a decent night’s rest," I whispered, nestling closer to my pet. Exhaustion hit me all at once, and I fell into a deep slumber.

Startled awake by my triggered protection spell, I called out for Yami and the girls.

Surveying the area, I quickly recognized several familiar faces from the bar among those who had approached us.

"Hey, Abigail. Surprise to see you here. How did you even find us?" I inquired.

"Didn’t I warn you not to come through the forest? Not even a goodbye. That’s rather rude of you, isn't it?" Abigail remarked, sidestepping my question.

"We’re in a hurry. Thought we'd take the risk by going through here. Besides, you heard Tina's thoughts, right? If we run into bandits, it’d do some good to get rid of them," I explained.

"Still in a joking mood, huh? You know, I like you. Why not join us? We'll sell the two girls and the wolf. That’ll be your initiation fee. Won’t even take your gold. How’s that sound?" Abigail proposed.

"You can have the girls, not my pet wolf," I insisted.

"When we meet up with my sister, she'll leave your sorry ass!" Tina shouted angrily.

"Where would you sell me? And how much would a beauty like me fetch?" Candace asked coyly, displaying either unwavering faith in my composure or possessing some unspoken power.

"Cute ones like you two are the easiest to sell. Wealthy buyers adore owning pets like you. Ken here would fetch a good price too; young, able-bodied men are sought after," Abigail explained casually.

As Abigail conversed, I counted 30 accomplices, mostly townsfolk we'd shared drinks with at the restaurant.

"Enough! I don’t need another mouth to feed. You three can come quietly, or I can break a few bones," the rugged leader threatened.

"Dad! I want to recruit him!" Abigail interjected, referring to the bandit leader who appeared to be a hyena beastman.

"Save your breath. He’s not even budging with my stunning beauty," Candace asserted confidently, despite my uncertainty about the bandits' true strength.

"I don’t know your circumstances, but kidnapping and slave trading are definitely things I’m vehemently against. While it’d be a shame to harm someone like you, I can’t just let your group run wild now that we're caught up in this mess," I asserted, feigning confidence despite my lack of desire to tangle with a group of bandits whose strength was uncertain.

Without a word, the hyena beastman charged at me with remarkable speed, clearly a skilled combatant. His strikes were relentless, showing no concern for injuring a valuable commodity like myself.

Thanks to sparring with the chieftain, Fernard, and Ryo, while also picking up useful tips from the headmaster, I'd regained my former strength rather quickly, steadily regaining my stamina during our montone travels.

At this point, I was fairly confident I had returned to my pre-hiatus level. Though nowhere near the top-tier fighters of today's world, compared to the average, I was still considerably more powerful.

The charging hyena beastman was undoubtedly a seasoned fighter, stronger than Tina for sure, but it didn’t take much for me to gauge the difference in our skill levels. Seeing the rest of the bandits cheer for their leader, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Realizing my greater strength presented a different dilemma. What was the right course of action now? Should I follow Tina's suggestion and incapacitate the bandits or show them mercy and let them go?

While I grappled with this quandary, Candace’s hair blazed brightly, ready to ignite the place, while Tina brandished her sword, eager for a fight. Yami, however, was nowhere to be seen, vanished into the darkness, awaiting my orders.


The hyena beastman's cry echoed as his sword arm flew into the darkness of the forest.

“Please don’t kill my dad!” Abigail pleaded, her voice filled with desperation.

Realizing I was no longer sheltered from the world's harsh realities, where mercy might lead to unforeseen dangers, I grappled with the weight of the decision before me.

“Cut off the other arm!” Tina's demand dripped with anger, devoid of the compassion I was wrestling with.

"I could take you all down at once, but let’s end this. Let us go on our way,” I calmly proposed, confident in our safety.

“We can’t just let them go! What if they keep trailing us, wearing us down over time?” Candace interjected with a reasonable concern.

“Abigail, tell your dad and the group to return to that town. We'll keep you as a hostage until we're out of the forest. If my protection spell is triggered, your life is forfeit,” I bluffed, having no intention whatsoever of carrying out such a threat.

With their leader wounded and bleeding, the band reluctantly followed Abigail’s command, retreating from our campsite.

“Please, let this be the end. I’ve had under 5 hours of sleep in the past 72 hours,” I yawned, the first light of dawn piercing through the darkness.

“Cut her arms off so she can’t try anything while we sleep.”

“Tina… She could have ten arms and still pose no threat. Stay within the circle while we sleep and you'll be unharmed,” I assured Abigail, casting a protective barrier around her.

“What if I need to use the bathroom?”

“I don’t know. Do it inside the circle. Don’t test me right now; I’m too tired for that. Step outside the circle, and face the consequences,” I warned her firmly.

Still trying to make sense of what had just happened but too exhausted to dwell on it, I settled into my sleeping bag. Within moments, I drifted into a deep, dreamless slumber.