Chapter 75 — Cooperative Hunting
Adventurers and the army acted separately, since the two groups' battle styles greatly differed: the army focused on powerful attacks and a sturdy defense, while adventurers were generally more agile and moved around a lot in combat. The army also fought in large groups, while typical adventurer squads had only five members. Even larger squads had no more than ten members. Each adventurer had his or her own role, be it tanking, damage dealing, support, or healing. The army, however, mainly consisted of heavily armored infantry, with some additionally equipping shields to act as tanks. As the fighting styles had major differences, it was easy to tell if a person was an adventurer or a soldier just from watching him fight.
The adventurers were separated into three teams: a scout team, a combat team, and a ranged combat team. Soran was assigned to the scout team, which consisted of thirteen rogues and five rangers, all Grade 2 or above. The combat team comprised warriors, barbarians, priests, and a few rangers. They were responsible for both clearing out the remaining enemies after the army destroyed the monsters' main force and providing support and cover on the flanks. The ranged combat team was made up of long-range combatants such as wizards, sorcerers, and druids, and their main role was to dish out damage from the back. As they were vulnerable to attacks, the ranged team was to travel along with the army.
Wizards rarely joined the army. There were many jobs available to them, and almost every other option had higher pay and lower risks. Having a squad of wizards as full-time soldiers was something even a prosperous city like Whiterun could not afford. This was why wizards were only employed as mercenaries in case of emergencies.
Similarly, the city officials hired the adventurers on an as-needed basis. Before they departed, everyone would get their first installment. Soran received 30 Gold Derahls, which was 10 more than those on other teams received. It was an unspoken rule that adventurers who acted as scouts or had to infiltrate enemy lines would receive fifty percent of their total reward upfront, and they would be given more loot than others. This was because their role was much more dangerous as compared to the others’. Scouting was not simply a matter of checking out different places, then reporting the findings to the main force; they had to kill enemies they came across and were often the first ones to engage in combat.
Loot distribution would have to wait for a while after the battle was over. There was a saying: 'Once the battle commences, up go the expenses.' Sending out the army was a complicated matter. The cost of maintaining the army doubled the moment they decided to mobilize it. Purchasing supplies and preparing compensation for the injured and deceased all cost a considerable sum. Although the city did not have to pay the army’s fees upfront like they did with adventurers, it would still add up in the end.
The day the army departed, the city was visibly hyped. Plenty of merchants donated their supplies to show their support, with some even sending their guards to battle. The two-thousand-man force marched out of the city, giving off a fierce atmosphere. Half of the force was composed of the city guards, all donned in metal chest plates and equipped with helmets, shields, swords, and small crossbows. Out of the remaining thousand soldiers, half of them were heavy infantry. Some of them wore half-plate armor, while others wore chainmail armor. All of them were equipped with steel shields, metal helmets, well-made weapons, and heavy crossbows which could fire two bolts simultaneously.
The remaining were the elites, comprising soldiers donned in full plate armor, honorary citizens, and knights. The elite soldiers were completely covered in metal, showing only their eyes through the slits on their helmets. They held weapons of their own choosing, some opting for double-handed swords, while others chose to go with the typical sword and shield combination. The honorary citizens and knights were wearing knight armor and rode armored horses. They held lances and shields in their hands, and some of them carried miniature crossbows on their backs. Attendants who had similar equipment as the elite soldiers waited at their sides. Their main role was to support the knights and kill the monsters which survived the first charge.
In fact, the standard infantry of this world was comparable to the heavy infantry of the Middle Ages. Their armor was sturdy, and each of them was equipped with decent melee weapons and crossbows. They were all trained to use both ranged and melee weapons, and their combat prowess was over the roof. Even a small squad of well-trained soldiers could have an extraordinary impact on the battlefield.
The southern regions lacked fine warhorses, which was why the army mainly consisted of infantry. Each foot soldier had to carry around twenty kilograms of equipment, so the main force traveled relatively slowly. However, they were all well-trained soldiers, and marching while carrying such weight was a simple task for them.
Some people thought that being able to carry such heavy weight while marching lengthy distances meant the soldiers could last a long time in combat, but that was not the case. In traditional martial arts, there were two ways of exerting strength: one which focused on preserving strength, and another that focused on exerting as much strength as possible. Marching while carrying weights belonged to the former, while fighting in a battle belonged to the latter. By exerting a lot of strength over a short duration, one's stamina would decrease rapidly. The fatigue and toll on the body would stack up quickly, making stamina recovery slower than usual. Fighting a battle meant life and death, meaning soldiers would fight with all their might from the start. By doing so, they would expend their stamina quickly while burdening their bodies. It was akin to mustering all the strength and power within their bodies and bringing them out for just a short instant, making one feel as though he had fought for hours instead of minutes.
The scout team camped ahead of the main forces. As part of the scout team, Soran naturally had to depart ahead of the main force. The first two days were uneventful; Soran and the other scouts spread out like a net as they pushed forward, while the main forces continued to march on down the main road.
Soran dashed through the forest with a half-elf ranger following behind him. The person was a veteran of surviving in the wilderness and believed in the Forest Queen. Due to the limitations of his profession, the ranger could not conceal his presence with skills such as Sneak, but his agility, scouting, and hiding techniques were by no means inferior to rogues’. It was hard to tell his age because half-elves could live for a century or two, but he looked young. Similar to Soran, the ranger's preferred weapon was a curved sword—more specifically, an eviscerate sword, a combat weapon similar to boning knives, but larger and longer. He also wore leather armor, and on his back hung a longbow.
"Gnolls!" Yarse, the half-elf ranger, said while crouching to look at the footprints on the ground. He then brushed the nearby bushes aside to search for more traces. "There should be some goblins and kobolds also. It's not a big deal, so there's no need to let the main force know. We'll just handle them ourselves."
In fact, the army had also sent out scouts of their own, but they were mainly rangers and warriors instead of rogues. They also acted separately from the adventurers.
Anyway, as they were going to kill the monsters themselves, they had to clear out the entire area.
"Can you track them down?" Soran lightly nodded and asked.
"Piece of cake," Yarse chuckled and replied. "Follow me. They're not far away."
Tracking down enemies by searching for their traces was the forte of rangers, especially in the wilderness. Just from detecting their scent and footprints, rangers could easily tell where their targets had gone.
Yarse unsheathed his sword, then started walking in a half-crouch. After a few hundred meters, the traces became harder and harder to spot, but the ranger still managed to continue tracking down the monsters. Perhaps he had high Wisdom, which could help rangers instinctively determine the direction their targets had gone even when traces were scarce.
Soon, they came across their first enemies. It was a small gnoll tribe of around a dozen, along with three tamed wolves and ten or so enslaved goblins and kobolds. Given that Yarse was a veteran, this fight was just to help the two improve their chemistry in combat.
Yarse signaled Soran with his hands, telling him to go in from the flanks. Soran nodded, then concealed himself in the shadows as he approached the monsters from the side. He slowly pulled out his curved sword. As he got closer, he noticed something different about this tribe—there were no gnoll pups, and all of the gnolls were adults. They had most likely only barely managed to survive and escape after a tough battle.
The ranger waited till Soran got closer before leaping into a tree. He lightly kicked the tree trunk and launched himself upward, then settled on a thick branch after jumping a few more times. The leaves fluttered slightly as Yarse put away his melee weapon and readied the longbow from his back. Rangers had to use special quivers to prevent their arrows from falling out while moving around, hence their quivers could only hold around twelve arrows. The arrows were also held firmly in their slots, allowing the user to quickly snatch one without having to scramble for an arrow from a massive bundle of feathers.
Soran appeared from the shadows and leapt, covering five meters with the leap. He plunged his weapon into the back of a gnoll, piercing its heart. The sword exited the gnoll through its chest, killing it in one blow.
The alerted gnolls began to gather and launched themselves at Soran. The frontmost gnoll only just managed to lift its skull crusher though before an arrow embedded itself into its chest.
Soran twisted his body and slashed a gnoll, opening a gash on its arm and forcing it back. The second arrow came flying, and soon another gnoll had a bloody gaping hole on its thigh.
The ranger placed his longbow onto his back quickly. All his equipment seemed to be tailor-made, making it faster and easier for him to switch weapons. He nimbly jumped from the five-meter-tall tree and landed on the ground, kneeling on one knee to cushion his landing. Immediately after, he took a deep breath and unsheathed his sword.
Rangers were also close-quarters combatants. Yarse's pupils widened slightly, and he charged toward the gnolls in a low stance. His speed was comparable to that of sprinters in the Olympic Games.
Using the momentum of his charge, Yarse hurdled over the low wooden fence surrounding the gnoll settlement and slashed at a gnoll in front. With just one strike, the ranger severed his target’s waist, and the gnoll dropped dead to the ground in two chunks. Yarse stopped to take another breath, then rushed at the other gnolls.
“This garbage is not worth my arrows! Each arrow costs 5 Gold Derahls you know!”
Yarse had the leisure to laugh and chat with Soran as he cut open the chest of a nearby gnoll and kicked it in the throat. The arrows he used were special arrows designed for precision. They were unaffected by wind and air currents to a certain extent and were much more accurate than normal arrows.
The duo danced their way through the gnolls. In just a minute or two, they killed six gnolls and the three tamed wolves.
The remaining monsters felt frightened and began to flee. Soran took out his enhanced crossbow and began firing away, while Yarse picked up a sharpened wooden spear left behind by the gnolls and tossed it like a javelin.
A fleeing gnoll shrieked as it got pinned to the ground. By the time Yarse arrived to pull out the spear, Soran had already eliminated all the other monsters.
The ranger swung the wooden spear, smashing the pinned gnoll’s skull. Its skull cracked, and the gnoll’s brain sprayed everywhere. Yarse tossed the bloody spear away and turned to look at Soran.
“Let’s just clean this place up a bit. This is just an appetizer. The main dish is the ogres attacking the merchant squads.”
It was a not-so-difficult fight, but the battle made the two half-elves closer to one another. At the very least, they knew more about each other’s strengths. Soran knew clearly from the fight that Yarse was a Grade 3 ranger.
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