This series has been dropped.

    “A fire spirit?”

    Shin Yoo-sung was startled by Do-joon’s words.

    Once the spirit’s attitude had mellowed a bit, he had called him to the tent and explained everything.

    Looking at the spirit bound by shadows on the table, Shin Yoo-sung reached out his hand in wonder.

    “Don’t touch me as you please!”

    Then the spirit spoke snappily and scurried over to Do-joon’s side. Shin Yoo-sung scratched his cheek with an embarrassed hand.

    Do-joon shrugged and said,

    “He has a somewhat prickly personality.”

    “For being like that, he sure is sticking close to you, Father.”

    “Th-This fellow is just a liiiittle better than other humans, so I’m only doing this! Got it? Just a liiittle!”

    The spirit made excuses with a reddened face.

    Do-joon stayed silent. He couldn’t exactly say he had raised his affinity using his copying ability, and this was the result.

    ‘When it was level 2 or 3, I couldn’t feel it at all.’

    Unlike stats such as destruction or agility, spirit affinity was something he couldn’t sense at all.

    When he had reached spirit affinity level 2 after defeating Eldora and through his sword, even then, he hadn’t paid it any mind because he felt no difference.

    But to think that option possessed this much efficacy…

    ‘Those weapons were clearly said to be made from steel mined from a place called the Spirit Lake.’

    Spirit Lake. Just hearing the name, doesn’t it sound like a place spirits would really adore?

    Yet the equipment made there merely had spirit affinity levels of 1-2 attached to them at most.

    In contrast, his affinity was level 14.

    Thinking like that, the current attitude of the fire spirit, Sallion, made sense. It meant level 14 affinity was a value higher than Do-joon had imagined.

    “This fellow was with the shaman. That’s why its fire was so powerful.”

    “Originally, the Baku Tribe’s shaman can’t cast fires that large. At most, it’s about the level of a campfire.”

    Elayna, who was next to them, provided supplementary explanations. They were the same as the ones she gave on the battlefield earlier.

    “I see.”

    Shin Yoo-sung responded glumly.

    The shaman’s fire had been the main culprit in tormenting the expedition several times. Even without that fire, they wouldn’t have had such a hard time.

    But to think the true identity of that was not the shaman’s fire, but the spirit’s…

    Then, he suddenly stared intently at Elayna.

    “Why are you looking at me like that?”

    Elayna tilted her head.

    Shin Yoo-sung asked her,

    “I let it slide earlier because things were hectic, but you seem to know a lot about those orcs. You called them the Baku Tribe, right?”

    The name Baku Tribe.

    Information about them being a community centered around a shaman possessing the ability to light fires because their intelligence was too low to light fires themselves.

    And the typical power of that shaman’s fire.

    This much was what Elayna had mentioned so far. This wasn’t information that could be obtained ordinarily. The Baku Tribe was a monster they had encountered for the first time here in the stem, after all.

    Yet how did she know such information?

    Under his gaze, Elayna looked at Do-joon.

    When Do-joon nodded, she touched her ear. Liars’ disguise was lifted, revealing long ears.

    “What!”

    Thud!

    Shin Yoo-sung kicked the table and stood up.

    At some point, a sphere of white light had formed in his hand, aimed at Elayna.

    “Elayna is an elf. She’s in a hostile relationship with the white elves that attacked us, so there’s no need to be too wary.”

    “I-Is that so?”

    At Do-joon’s composed attitude, Shin Yoo-sung slowly sat back down. However, the halo of light in his hand had yet to disappear.

    Do-joon had no intention of completely dispelling his wariness. Rather, it was proper to be somewhat vigilant.

    He himself hadn’t fully let his guard down around Elayna either.

    Shin Yoo-sung asked with a frown,

    “Who else knows about this?”

    “Just me and the Association President.”

    And now Shin Yoo-sung made three.

    In fact, Sivellin and Cheonseong also knew, but Do-joon didn’t mention that.

    “Ugh.”

    Shin Yoo-sung groaned. He had thought reinforcements had simply arrived and was about to welcome them with open arms, but to think such a headache had come along.

    He was still confused about how to accept this fact.

    “Ah, right. I’ll tell you in advance, but I plan to act separately from the expedition.”

    “Pardon?”

    Do-joon’s words seemed intended to further complicate his mind.

    “I originally came here with a different destination in mind. Joining the expedition was because Elayna’s information could be helpful for the expedition, so it was a brief stop.”

    “But if we separate, it’s dangerous…”

    As he was about to say it was dangerous, Shin Yoo-sung closed his mouth.

    The scene Do-joon had shown earlier popped into his head. The scene where he had effortlessly broken through the wall of orcs they had struggled so much against, killed the shaman, and returned.

    “If you ask Elayna, it will be easier to plan the future schedule and route. You’ll also be able to hear precautions. Once that’s done, my party and I will leave.”

    “…I understand what you’re saying.”

    Shin Yoo-sung spoke while heaving a deep sigh. Do-joon was also relieved that he didn’t seem like he would bother trying to stop them.

    However, his words weren’t finished yet.

    “But there’s something I wanted to tell you as well.”

    “What is it?”

    When Do-joon asked, Shin Yoo-sung answered with a gloomy face,

    “Actually…”

    ***

    The next day.

    “Will it be all right?”

    Do-joon asked Shin Yoo-sung.

    Outside where they stood, preparations for withdrawal were in full swing. Hunters were busy taking down tents and packing equipment.

    Shin Yoo-sung answered with a bitter smile,

    “Thanks to Miss Si-ah, everyone received treatment, but with this battle, they must all be mentally exhausted. There will be a lot of complaints too. For now, pulling back once is the right choice.”

    This was what he had said yesterday.

    The route for the next expedition might not be a new place, but perhaps Earth.

    And after an overnight meeting, a conclusion had been reached.

    “Elayna’s information…”

    “It will certainly be a huge help, but we can’t explain that to the hunters, can we?”

    The fact that Elayna was an elf was a secret for now. The only one who knew in the expedition was Shin Yoo-sung. Even Oh Tae-jin was unaware.

    In such a situation, forcibly suppressing complaints and continuing the expedition was not favorable.

    “Talk of retreating had been ongoing from before anyway.”

    It was just that a few executives had been dissatisfied due to the lack of significant results, so they had stayed.

    But even that had reached its limit now. No matter how much they urged, the dissatisfaction of the low-ranking guild members had already peaked.

    In fact, around them…

    “We’re finally going back, damn it.”

    “What will you do when you return?”

    “What is there to do? First, I need to sleep like a log.”

    There were many hunters who couldn’t hide their joy at the fact that they were returning. The compensation for this expedition was coming from the government and the Association anyway.

    It was regrettable that there would be little additional compensation due to the lack of results, but right now, the desire to go home quickly outweighed a few extra coins.

    A few individuals, especially those centered around Oh Tae-jin, clicked their tongues, but even they could no longer object.

    “I will properly convey your achievements to the Association President. With my testimony, there will be no great difficulty in passing the special exam.”

    “Ah… Thank you.”

    Do-joon answered with wide eyes as if being reminded of something he had almost forgotten.

    In fact, he had nearly forgotten about the promotion. His mind was fully occupied with the thought of finding the Fire Elixir.

    ‘The testimony of an S-rank hunter is definite.’

    Perhaps he was a figure with far more influence than the Association President. If he had the President’s guarantee and the testimony of an S-rank hunter, the promotion was as good as certain.

    As they were talking like that, the preparations for departure were completed at some point.

    The large tents that had been pitched were gone, leaving only traces of the campsite.

    “Then we’ll get going.”

    “Yes. Be careful on your way back.”

    “I wish for your safety as well, Father.”

    With a handshake, Shin Yoo-sung and the expedition departed.

    The only ones left after seeing them off were Do-joon’s party.

    Do-joon himself, Sivellin, Elayna, and Hwang Hyun-woo.

    However, what was puzzling was…

    “I’ll be in your care!”

    Seok Dae-gyeong had voluntarily stayed behind.

    The other B-rank hunters who had come with him had left without hesitation upon hearing that the main force was retreating. But Seok Dae-gyeong alone had agonized over it all day before telling Do-joon that he would stay by his side.

    “It might be dangerous for you.”

    “Hahaha, it’s fine. I have the confidence to protect my own life.”

    Seok Dae-gyeong said with a laugh at Do-joon’s concerned words.

    In fact, it wasn’t fine at all. Hadn’t he nearly died with an arrow through his head in the ruins a few days ago if not for Do-joon?

    Even Seok Dae-gyeong himself was puzzled. Why had he said he would stay?

    Originally, he always thought only of his own and his party’s safe return inside dungeons.

    That tenacity for life had inversely been the driving force that made him grow to A-rank.

    So he was questioning why he had said he would stay for this task, where the risks were high and the benefits unknown.

    ‘It will definitely be dangerous. If things go even slightly wrong, whether A-rank or whatever, I might end up in the afterlife. But…’

    But strangely, he didn’t really think he would die. As long as he stuck close to Do-joon’s side.

    It was as if he felt Do-joon would protect him like a guardian angel.

    Of course, for an angel, he had a somewhat scary face, but…

    “If it’s dangerous, there will be that many more scraps to pick up, right?”

    Seok Dae-gyeong spoke with a carefree attitude.

    Do-joon smirked.

    “Understood. I’ll be counting on you.”

    Do-joon extended his hand.

    Regardless of the reason, an A-rank hunter was more than enough as a fighting force. In fact, the skills he had seen on the way here weren’t bad either.

    “I’ll be the one counting on you, Leader.”

    Seok Dae-gyeong grasped Do-joon’s hand.

    “Now then,”

    Do-joon changed the atmosphere. Now it was the real beginning.

    There was no worry of getting lost. They had two guides, after all.

    He looked at Elayna.

    “I’ll say this in advance, but we’ll have to rough it quite a bit. If it were just me alone, I’m confident in hiding, so it would be fine, and if it were just you who defeated the knight, no matter who attacks, it wouldn’t be a problem, but we have other companions.”

    That was true.

    Seok Dae-gyeong aside, Sivellin, who had no combat ability, and Hwang Hyun-woo, an E-rank, were problematic.

    They each had their own roles, which was why he had brought them along, but the danger was certain.

    “The neutral zone is crawling with monsters. Moreover, we don’t know when and where those white bastards will show up. It’ll be fine for now, but if we wander around for long, we’re bound to get caught. Elves use spirits as informants, after all.”

    Elayna calmly listed the dangerous factors to be wary of.

    The party members listened to her intently. Seok Dae-gyeong and Hwang Hyun-woo had also heard earlier that she was a dark elf, so they were engraving every word in their minds without missing a single one.

    Because she was the guide of this place.

    “Why are you thinking so hard about it?”

    Just then, Sallion, who was sitting on Do-joon’s shoulder, spoke with a tap.

    “You said you’re going to see the king, right? Then there’s an easy and safe way.”

    “Huh? What do you mean by that?”

    Elayna asked, puzzled. Then Sallion patted Do-joon’s shoulder and said,

    “Have you forgotten what I was doing here?”

    The party members were dumbfounded.

    They looked at Elayna as if asking what he meant, but she was equally clueless.

    She frowned and asked Sallion,

    “Come to think of it, I’m curious. Why was a fire spirit together with the Baku Tribe’s shaman?”

    “There was an order from the king.”

    “An order?”

    “Well, just follow me and see.”

    Sallion spoke confidently.

    A short while later,

    “Uh… Is this really okay, Hyung-nim?”

    “You tell me…”

    Hwang Hyun-woo and Seok Dae-gyeong gulped.

    Right now, the two of them, no, the entire party including them, were…

    “Grrr…”

    Riding in a palanquin carried by the Baku Tribe.

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