Alex looked towards the area where he had seen the shadow. He had been certain that the shadow had had the shape of a human.
'I really didn't want to do this,' Alex thought with narrowed eyes.
Nervousness crept into his heart as the thought of killing a couple of kids reared its ugly head.
Alex took out his sword and held it beside himself.
The light of the moon slightly reflected off the black sword, making it just barely visible in the dark.
The forest returned to silence as Alex stood silently on top of the sled wagon, his head turned to the place where the bandits had just been.
The wind made Alex's coat wave in a rhythmic fashion, giving him the appearance of a creature ready to strike at any time.
Alex's appearance was essentially warning everything and everyone in the surroundings that they shouldn't attack him.
Alex knew how effective intimidation could be if someone didn't want to fight. He didn't need to appear aggressive like a bloodthirsty beast. He only had to look like something that wouldn't give up without a fight.
He hoped that the bandits would find an easier target.
Alex wasn't afraid for his life, but for their lives.
For nearly a full minute, only silence reigned in Alex's surroundings.
Then, two minutes passed.
After seven minutes, Alex put his sword away and sat down again to meditate.
The bandits were gone.
Alex took a deep breath and entered meditation again.
However, just 40 minutes after entering meditation, Alex heard several tiny noises.
'They returned, and there are more of them,' Alex thought with narrowed eyes.
Alex slowly stood up again and drew his sword.
Ten seconds of silence passed again.
A loud shout echoed through Alex's small clearing, and Alex narrowed his eyes.
SHING! SHING! SHING!
In an instant, over 15 people darted out of the trees as they ran towards Alex's sled wagon.
Yet, Alex gritted his teeth as he saw their appearances.
The bandits came from all walks of life. Alex could see some teenagers, but he could also see young adults, middle-aged men, and one older man.
They were all dirty, and they didn't wear any noteworthy armor. At most, some of them wore vests made of coarse leather and riddled with holes. The others wore raggy and old clothing.
However, the worst part was that none of them carried weapons.
They all charged out of the trees without weapons, and even more, they didn't even look at Alex.
They fully focused on the Ice Wood on the sled wagon.
They never intended to attack or injure Alex, and he knew that.
They only wanted the Ice Wood, and they wouldn't attack or hurt Alex while stealing from Alex's sled wagon.
Alex knew why they were doing this.
'They realized that I'm not comfortable with killing people. So, they came out without any weapons or armor and without any intention of attacking me.'
'They're banking on the fact that I'm unwilling to kill them.'
Alex made a split-second decision and jumped towards the closest bandit.
Alex punched the chest of the bandit, throwing him at a tree behind him.
The bandit hit the tree with a loud impact, and the sound of bones being broken reverberated throughout the small clearing.
The bandits stopped moving as they looked at their colleague.
Alex looked at the other bandits with narrowed eyes, but his heart shook when he saw their eyes.
They weren't shocked, terrified, or angry.
No, their gazes were evaluating.
It was like they wanted to see what happened to their colleague.
The bandit that Alex had punched away coughed and took a deep breath.
He was still alive.
That was everything the bandits needed, and they immediately continued charging towards the sled wagon.
So what if they got injured? The others would share their loot with them, which would make all of this worth it.
As long as they didn't die, it would be worth it!
The first ones reached the sled wagon and began to tear at the cage holding the Ice Wood.
Alex's nervousness increased as he gritted his teeth even harder.
A bloody arm flew through the air.
Alex had cut off the arm of one of the bandits, who had just clawed on the cage.
The other bandits paused for a second to look at what had happened.
And then, they continued tearing with even more force.
A part of the cage was torn off as the bandits greedily gathered the Ice Wood.
Meanwhile, the bandit with one arm grabbed his arm, put it under his other arm, and also continued clawing at the Ice Wood with his free hand.
Alex's eyes became bloodshot due to the stress and his inner conflict.
'I can't let them get away with the Ice Wood! I need that!'
'My goal is to become powerful! I want to reach heights that would have been impossible on Earth!'
The words of the guard captain shot through Alex's mind.
"It's your life or theirs."
The bandits looked over in shock as they paused.
A headless body fell to the ground.
Alex gripped his sword tightly.
'It was so easy.'
'My sword went through his body like butter.'
'I just ended a human life.'
Alex's arm shook as his nervousness and fear turned to rage.
These bandits had forced him to take a path of no return, and he hated them for it.
He had already killed one, and it didn't feel as bad as he had thought.
There was no immediate feeling of regret or terror.
No, it only felt like Alex had just lost something.
Killing didn't feel that hard right now, and his anger was all the reason Alex needed.
Alex diagonally bisected the torso of another bandit.
His sword was so sharp that the torso might as well not have existed.
The eyes of the bandits reflected deep fear. They quickly grabbed any Ice Wood they could carry and ran away.
Alex killed another bandit.
"Drop the Ice Wood, and you can remain alive," he said coldly.
None of them listened.
It was like the Ice Wood was more important than their lives.
Alex gritted his teeth.
Alex killed two bandits before they could even move two meters away.
These bandits were in the Early Stages of the Soldier Realm, at most. Some of them even had bodies on the same level as the humans on Earth.
"Drop it!" Alex shouted.
Some of the bandits looked back, and when they saw the additional corpses, they dropped the Ice Wood and continued running.
However, the three most distant bandits didn't drop the Ice Wood. They had the best chance of getting away.
The ground below Alex nearly exploded as he charged forward with his full speed.
In less than a second, Alex arrived near the first bandit and killed him.
Alex changed his trajectory to charge at the next bandit. They weren't all fleeing in the same direction.
Some of the bandits felt a powerful wind pass them as a black shadow darted in and out of their vision.
In just two seconds, the second bandit died.
Then, in another four seconds, the last bandit carrying Ice Wood died.
Only the sounds of hurried footsteps could be heard echoing throughout the forest.
Alex didn't move as he simply looked at the newest corpse in front of him.
The image of a headless body and a solitary head made Alex feel like this thing wasn't a human.
It was hard for Alex to accept that the head and the body had been a human once.
It was like these two things weren't related at all.
Alex looked into the terrified eyes of the head.
The head had belonged to a teenager.
After some seconds, Alex wordlessly bowed down and pushed the body to the side. Alex's hand moved forward, and he took the solitary piece of Ice Wood from the corpse.
Alex looked at the piece of Ice Wood for a while.
'Was it worth it to die for one piece of Ice Wood?' Alex thought, gazing at the piece of Ice Wood.
Then, Alex's gaze wandered to the head.
'Was he deserving of death for only stealing a single piece of Ice Wood?'
Alex couldn't find an answer for a long time.
Yet, eventually, he received his answer.
Alex destroyed the piece of Ice Wood in his hand.
'It's not important what he stole.'
'Actions aren't important. Intentions are.'
Alex slowly stood up again and walked back to the sled wagon.
Alex jumped onto the sled wagon and closed his eyes.
The entire time, he ignored the pieces of former humans.
'It's my life or theirs.'
'Actions aren't important. Intentions are.'
Alex repeated these phrases several times in his head.
'I have done what I had to do.'
And thus, silence returned to the clearing.
Alex repeated these phrases in his head throughout the night.
Alex was the only living thing, and the area around his sled wagon was surrounded by the corpses of mortal men.
There were no weapons.