Maplemond. An ordinary little village situated in the south of the Kingdom of Ocida, and just east of the famous Whitemark Summit - the tallest mountain in the kingdom.
As the sun slowly rose over the horizon and gently caressed the land with its golden rays of light, the pure morning dew glistened and the birds chirped a soothing melody - signalling the dawn of a new day for the residents of Maplemond.
Despite the sun only having just risen, some of the residents had already left their homes to begin their daily routine and work. Splashing water could be heard as clothes were washed in the nearby river; loud thuds echoed as axes struck tree logs; and joy could be heard throughout the village as the children who were already awake played with each other.
Meanwhile, in an area slightly north of the village there resided a large forest - known to the villagers as the Shadow Woods. This area was off-limits to the villagers due to its danger; however, faint grunting sounds could be heard nearby its entrance.
A group of children could be seen there - numbering nearly 20 - standing quietly in front of five stocky and well-built men clad in green, ragged clothing. The leader of the men clasped his hands behind his back as he fiercely gazed at the children in front of him, giving them a cold look. As his eyes swept over them, he stopped on one of the children who looked to be about 14 years old.
"Tolgar! Show me what you've learned," he shouted.
"Yes, sir!" Tolgar replied, his right hand shaking as he picked up his sword. With sword in hand, he adopted an offensive stance and was about to demonstrate his attack when the man interrupted him.
"Tolgar! Are you looking to kill beasts or make friends with them?! You're supposed to attack them with the sharp end, so stop pointing your sword hilt in the wrong direction and grasp it in your hands!" the man bellowed.
Tolgar's face flushed red and the surrounding children burst out laughing as he scrambled to hold his sword correctly.
"Did I say something funny? It's not like any of you would do much better; the demonic beasts could kill any of you five times over already," the man sneered.
The children were immediately silenced. Just as the man was about to continue, a faint whispering sound could be heard from the back of the group. He looked over and saw a young child, perhaps 15 years old, looking down at the ground and mumbling to himself.
All of the children turned to look at the child as he nonchalantly raised his head.
"Do you have a problem?"
"Yes, Instructor Dylin! We're not as weak as you think we are," Anselm replied in a calm voice.
Instructor Dylin stared at Anselm, an interested look surfacing in his eyes.
"Oh, is that so? Then why don't you prove it by sparring with Hunter Blake," Dylin replied, turning to Blake who responded with a nod.
The rest of the children looked on in shock; Blake was one of the village's elite hunters. Despite the fact that he was ranked last in terms of strength, he was still an experienced hunter bathed in the blood of numerous demonic beasts. Tolgar stood there with his sword still shaking in his hands. This time he wasn't shaking out of embarrassment, but rather out of anger and shame that he was too weak. He looked up at Anselm who gently smiled at him and walked toward Blake. Tolgar gripped his sword tightly before he put it away and returned to the crowd.
As he walked past Anselm, he whispered, "Good luck."
Anselm kept walking until he was a few metres in front of Blake and slowly unsheathed his sword. Similarly, Blake unsheathed his sword; however, his was black in colour.
A sharp glint appeared in Anselm's eyes, "Hunter's sword…"
Dylin glanced over both of them, backed off and said, "The rules of this bout are quite simple: the first person to knock the opponent's sword out of their hand wins. Begin."
Anselm stood there with his fingers flexed around the hilt of his sword, feet light on the ground - ready to move at any moment.
Blake was the first to make a move, dashing forward and striking down at Anselm. Prepared for this, he raised his sword to defend against the incoming strike and successfully parried the attack. Wasting no time, Anselm immediately launched a counterattack and dashed towards Blake, lifting his sword to strike down. However, with Blake's experience, he predicted such an attack as he hastily dodged back before the sword landed on him.
"As expected of a hunter. This is going to be a tough fight," Anselm thought to himself.
He continued to push forward and repeatedly attacked. Knowing that his opponent was an experienced hunter, there was no way he could win if he fought passively - he'd definitely lose a contest of stamina. As a result, he decided that the only way to win was to rigorously pressure his opponent and launch a surprise attack when Blake was least expecting it.
Before Anselm could strike again, Blake disappeared as he leapt into the air and landed behind Anselm. Wasting no time between attacks, Blake pounced forward like a predator having finally caught his prey.
Observing the battle, Instructor Dylin shook his head knowing that it would turn out like this. Although he may have thought highly of Anselm, there was no chance that he could defeat one the of village's hunters; he was still a fledgling who had yet to leave the nest. The surrounding children stared at the battle intently, hoping to gain some sort of insight. It wasn't every day that they could witness a hunter fight, even if it was a very one-sided match. Tolgar still focused on the battle with his hands tightly curled up into fists.
Despite everyone's thoughts, Anselm still remained calm and composed. Swiftly turning his body, he stepped forward and met Blake's sword head on with his own.
Both swords collided, yet it seemed that Anselm was on the losing side as he was pushed back. Blake looked at him with a hint of praise and uttered,
"Not bad, young one. You managed to fight me for this long, but now it's over. Train harder and one day you might be able to last longer against me."
Blake pushed harder with his sword, forcing Anselm back a few more steps. With the pressure on his sword increasing, Anselm's grip slowly weakened. It would be over soon.
"The real battle starts now," he thought, grinning slightly.
Releasing one hand from his sword's hilt, he used it to grab Blake's sword whilst pulling his own away - he substituted his sword for his hand in this clash.
Surprisingly, Anselm didn't lose out and instead managed to gain some ground, pushing Blake's sword up as he reduced the distance between them. Blake saw this and was momentarily shocked before he regained his bearing.
Instructor Dylin stared at the battle and shook his head, thinking to himself,
"The boy has some guts, but this is a suicidal move. In a real battle against a demonic beast, his arm would have been completely shredded by now. Looks like I'll have to speak to the Captain about this."
Before he could stop the battle, he saw something that he never expected.
Anselm gritted his teeth and pushed with even more power, forcing Blake back into a more defensive position. With his sword still in his right hand, he raised it up and slashed at Blake's hand.
"I managed to win against him…"
Blake saw the incoming slash and with a sudden burst of strength, completely knocked Anselm away, sending him tumbling. Anselm's sword lay on the ground.
Tolgar rushed over to Anselm. Hurriedly, he asked,
"Are you alright?"
He raised his head to look at the now calm Blake and replied,
"I'm fine. Don't worry about me."
Slowly standing up, he muttered under his breath,
"What was that last attack of his…?"
Instructor Dylin swept his gaze past both of them and announced,
"The winner of this bout is Hunter Blake! Anselm, you fought well but lost in the end. Reflect on this battle later and learn where you went wrong. Everyone else, that's enough training for today. Dismissed!"
A voice appeared from behind the hunters as a burly man slowly walked over. He was dressed in neat clothing with a bronze badge embroidered on his chest. A scar covered his left eye, exuding an intimidating presence on those who looked at him.
"Anselm should be the victor here."
The five hunters clasped their fists and simultaneously shouted,
"Greetings, Captain Alder!"
This man was none other than Maplemond's Hunter Captain - a powerful Bronze Hunter as indicated by his badge. Instructor Dylin raised his head, respect evident in his eyes, and said,
"May I ask why? Anselm clearly lost."
Captain Alder turned to look at Blake.
"He used his power of Vitalisation against a Fledgling Hunter. According to the customary rules of hunter duelling, that means he loses. You should know this. Maybe he shouldn't underestimate his opponent next time. Such amateur behaviour will cause your death in a hunt."
Captain Alder coldly spoke.
Looking over to Anselm, Captain Alder's gaze turned warmer as he gently smiled.
"Young Anselm, you fought well. Come and see me after you're finished here."
With that, Captain Alder turned around and headed back towards the village. The five hunters respectfully followed behind him.
When they left, the children burst out talking,
"Wow, Anselm. That was so cool."
"Yeah, you managed to beat Hunter Blake! He was a real hunter."
"Then Captain Alder praised you. We don't see that often."
"How strong is Captain Alder?"
"Who knows? Some say he wrestled a demonic beast half-naked with nothing but his fists and killed it."
"What?! That can't be true. Even a Silver ranked Hunter would find that difficult."
"It's true, it's true."
Away from the crowd, Anselm and Tolgar were stood together. Tolgar buzzed around and peered at Anselm, an excited look in his eyes.
"You were so cool, Anselm. Especially when you used your hand to stop his sword. Badass!"
Anselm looked up.
"I was just lucky. If Blake didn't underestimate me, then there's no way I could have defeated him. Next time, I'll win without any petty tricks."
'I need to become stronger to find you. Later, I'll ask Captain Alder how to become an official Hunter. Wait for me...'