An hour of silence passed.
Alex couldn't enter meditation.
His body was tense and shaking in anger from time to time.
'I've done what I needed to do,' Alex kept repeating to himself in his mind.
He had already gotten used to the smell of blood, but Alex subconsciously breathed through his mouth to avoid smelling it.
A painful headache formed over the course of the hour.
Alex felt like his stomach was churning.
'I've done what I needed to do.'
Alex slowly opened his eyes and gazed at the body pieces surrounding his sled wagon.
He had done this a couple of times in the last hour.
It was like he was trying to confirm if all of this had really happened.
'This could have been me,' Alex thought as he looked at one of the corpses.
However, no matter how often Alex told himself these things, it was like something inside of him wasn't accepting his thoughts.
'I did the right thing.'
'If I had let them escape, they would have called stronger bandits.'
However, as Alex had that thought, he realized something.
'But then, why did I only kill the ones that carried Ice Wood?'
Alex's insides shuddered.
'I let the others escape.'
'Stronger bandits will come either way.'
'But then, why did I kill the others?'
'They were already all retreating.'
'Would some pieces of Ice Wood ruin my plan?'
Alex looked at the pieces of Ice Wood that some corpses still held in their hands.
Alex knew the answer.
'Without killing at least one or two of them, the others wouldn't have retreated.'
'Killing no one would have ended in my entire sled wagon being stolen.'
Alex looked at the corpses.
'Except for the first two, the other deaths were unnecessary.'
'Their deaths don't change the outcome.'
'I should have killed all of them,' Alex thought after a while.
'If I had killed all of them, these deaths wouldn't have been worthless.'
'I've forgotten the very lesson I have learned in the wilds.'
'Either go all the way or retreat.'
'I tried to have both things. I wanted to keep my belongings and remain safe, but I also didn't want to kill anyone.'
'My indecisiveness has ended up with me getting neither of these two things. I've killed several people, and my safety isn't guaranteed.'
'I should have killed all of them.'
As Alex arrived at that train of thought, his tense body slowly relaxed.
However, his headache worsened.
'I can't make that mistake again.'
Suddenly, Alex's eyes shot open with a cold glint as he heard a very silent sound in the distance.
The sled wagon shook as Alex shot into the distance with all of his speed.
Two halves of a body fell to the ground.
Alex looked at the corpse with narrowed eyes.
'Black clothing made of leather, daggers, a crossbow, a hood.'
'It's a bandit, but a stronger one. I felt a tinge of resistance from my sword.'
Alex looked at his surroundings warily, but he didn't hear, see, or feel anyone else.
Alex narrowed his eyes.
'I can't commit the same mistake!'
Alex slowly pulled his sword back and hid it and his arm behind his cloak. After that, he silently but swiftly moved along the surroundings of his clearing.
Alex had stayed in the wild for a long time, and he had become excellent at moving silently.
Alex moved around his clearing in a wide circle, never leaving his sled wagon for too long. He had to keep an eye on it.
However, Alex didn't find a second bandit, even after searching for over five minutes.
Eventually, Alex returned to his sled wagon and sat down again.
He hoped that the night would be over soon.
The time passed in silence for Alex.
The only things keeping Alex company were his thoughts.
Meanwhile, at a camp a couple of kilometers away, a middle-aged man with an eyepatch was glaring at a young man with unkempt, brown hair.
"He's most likely dead. So what?" the man asked with an uncompromising tone.
"Ryan is our best scout!" the young man shouted as he glared at the man. "He went through worse things! I'm certain that he's still alive!"
"Then why hasn't he returned yet?" the man with the eyepatch asked with a solemn voice.
"I don't know!" the young man shouted. "However, I'm sure that he's still alive! That's why we have to check up on him!"
"Don't be stupid," the older man snorted. "You've been in my camp long enough. You should know how these things go. If he hasn't returned, he either left our group, or he's dead. Bandits don't get captured, and there are no powerful beasts around. Additionally, Ryan had no reason to leave us."
"He's dead. Get it through your head," the man with the eyepatch said with a serious tone.
The young man's fist shook violently in rage. "Then, we have to take revenge!"
The man with the eyepatch sneered at the young man. "Revenge? Are you sure you're a real bandit? Since when do we take revenge?"
"We're hoodlums!" the man with the eyepatch said with a huff. "We're criminals! We're traitors! All of us are only here to earn money for one reason or another. We're not a group of friends. We're not a family."
"We all have our own families, and we all need money. Some of us want it for our starving families, and some of us want it for ourselves. The reasons don't matter."
"We're only here for the money. That's it," the man with the eyepatch finished.
The young man gritted his teeth in anger. "Then, let's do it for the money! That guy is carrying over a ton of Ice Wood! Isn't that worth taking a risk?"
"Have your emotions blinded you to rationality?" the man with the eyepatch asked with a narrowed eye.
"The beggars tried to rat him, and he killed nearly half of them."
"That shows that he's not a stranger to killing humans."
"Then, he killed our best scout, while he only had the job to scout. I know Ryan, and I know that he would have only scouted. He wouldn't have tried anything on his own. He's smarter than that."
"Yet, Ryan is dead. That means that the perception of our supposed victim is beyond impressive. Additionally, he managed to kill Ryan. Ryan's orders were to retreat at the first sign of danger, and he has plenty of tricks when it comes to running away."
"Ryan could only have been killed by someone that's far more powerful than him."
"Such a person can only be in the Late Soldier Stage or the Peak Soldier Stage. Even if we all attack at once, several of us will still die in the fight."
"And then what? We will have lost a significant chunk of our most experienced members for some Ice Wood."
"It's not worth it," the man with the eyepatch finished.
However, the young man only grew angrier and more frustrated.
"Fine!" he shouted. "Then, I'll just do it myself!"
The man turned around to leave the camp.
However, his feet stopped as a sword came out of his neck.
"I can't risk you exposing our location," the man with the eyepatch said with determination.
The bandit cut the head off and put his sword away.
An older person to the man's side only looked at the corpse with eyes filled with pity.
"Give Martha and Holly one gold each," the man said to the older man.
The older man nodded.
Martha was the wife of Ryan, the dead scout, and Holly was the wife of the dead man on the ground.
"Give the families of the dead beggars ten silver each," the man added.
The older man nodded again and slowly left the camp.
Now, the man with the eyepatch was left alone, and he released a deep breath.
"I can't risk the lives of our comrades," he silently said to himself.
"If we all die, all our families will starve."
"We can't take any risks."