Since a few days ago the bloodshed has further increased. Instead of a single searcher against a team of defenders, both sides now sent out parties. They still weren’t often full parties of 6, but it meant that the fights started to become more brutal, less one sided and with far more deaths in both factions. Though neither side was actually shrinking. More often than not the teams could now disengage after a few kills and bring their wounded or dead teammates to a healer to fix them up. Nevertheless it cost both factions resources, as those also didn’t work for free. However it was better to spend a bit of money than to lose a fighter.
And it was logical that neither side cared much about completely eradicating their opponents for the time being. Both were still getting fresh blood and while they could press for the kill, they would just decrease the size of their competing faction and therefore Eas would increase the incentives for others to join the opposition.

… at least those were John’s observations and thoughts.

Activities he had more than enough time for over the past days. He did strike against a few members of the enemy faction, but more often than not he simply hid when he found other beings. There was no reason to make anyone suspicious. Maybe he could create a diversion by defending an otherwise empty area, but then he would risk his life, even though he was fine regardless who won the war. So he didn’t.

Free of any true obligations, the man was strolling through the realm. Keeping to the shadows to hide his own presence. The remnants of his former darkness affinity helped, but he had to rely on his memories instead of the assistance of Eas which increased the difficulty of the spell by a few folds.

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Soon John found another hostile party, a group of 4 with levels around 80. Maybe a good target… If he remembered correctly he hadn’t killed anyone around this area. A quick check of the environment later, his current affinity helped with that, he was also sure that there weren’t any sudden reinforcements nearby.

Getting a bit closer to his targets to improve the success rate of his attack also proved easy in their current mountainous region. Various rocks, boulders, cliffs and crevices offered a lot of cover, though it was still important to treat carefully and be silent, as his targets were likely also looking for potential assailants. One wrong move could easily cause rocks to shift or roll and everyone in the vicinity to become aware of him or at least the existence of someone in hiding.

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Conjuring his weapons of choice took a few seconds, but he had already expected the delay.
Then the eight ethereal needles were ready. Some might even call it a stake with its thickness and size, but it sounded too barbarian for the mage and they were only ethereal to him, while other people wouldn’t see or sense anything at all.
Letting the weapons float next to him required a bit of concentration, but that was nothing new. A necessary evil to allow him rapid fire, as conjuring them on the fly or during combat took too long and they tended to ignore physical objects, so other storage options were impossible.

Now with everything ready he took aim. Targeting the head as usual, the first projectile was shot out of his spell circle.
And the first victim fell.

[You have annihilated a Human Lv 84.]

There wasn’t a wound or any blood, but he had just removed what he assumed was the party leader.
Not allowing his opponents to process what had happened, the assassin quickly took another needle and prepared the second shot.

[You have annihilated a Human Lv 81.]

Two down and two to go. Unfortunately the remaining ones seemed to have noticed what was going on, as they started to run. John could only click this tongue as he continued to shoot them, yet the next two projectiles missed.
It wasn’t the first time this happened, nonetheless it still annoyed the mage. He didn’t like it, however there was nothing he could do but give chase. At least they were confused enough to not split up.

The next minutes then turned out to be grueling, for him as well as for his targets. His low physical attributes made it hard to keep up, the level difference was his only saving grace, but he had to also run after them silently to give them the false hope of actually escaping. His stamina had no way of keeping up with better balanced builds, so he had to rely on them either pausing or reaching a spot, where he could attempt to snipe them even from some distance away.

And luck seemed to be on his side. Soon the path his two future victims traveled on gave way to a cliff. The for this realm not uncommon obsidian forest could be seen below, but regardless whether they stopped, jumped or returned, the assassin would have openings to exploit.

A moment of indecisiveness was the death of the third party member. The last one jumped. Not necessarily a bad choice, as a high level body could take some punishment before issues arose, but in the air the target was still helpless against the predator. So with another aimed shot the party was officially wiped out.

Two more messages appeared for the kills, however John’s attention was already focused on something else.
A few moments ago he had still thought that he had finally good luck, yet near the edge of his perception he could now sense two presences surrounded by souls!

He couldn’t make out many details with the distance and the cover of the trees block visual information, but whoever the two were, they had likely a similar affinity to his own.

Now, the odds of running into someone with the same affinity weren’t zero, even in later stages, but his company membership was a bit exclusive. Even he had to sign contracts before he got his current affinity. And a look at his membership ring also confirmed that he was the only member in this realm. In conclusion, they were rogue mages with soul-related affinities.
Normally other departments of his company would take care of those cases before they became issues, yet his supervisors liked to make sure nothing unexpected would happen. Therefore they had included a clause into his contract which forced him to act, if he should ever stumble upon rogues.

Unfortunately “act” didn’t mean he could just report the incident.
It might have worked, if the other soul mages had also detected him and were acting, but apparently his own elemental sense skill had a higher level, his perception was better or simply his affinity provided him with a wider ranger. So he could still get the first strike in, before the rogues would notice him.
Preparing more needles, he also kept an eye on his new targets. One had a weirdly shaped and big soul with many others floating around it, while the soul of the other beings seemed more or less normal and had fewer souls flying around. Both weren’t moving much, so he could try to attack them from his current position.

Having readied the tools of his work he started the assault. Another quick scan of his environment made sure no unexpected surprises could happen, after which he discarded the darkness still veiling him and focused completely on the attack. The element was useless against soul-affinity senses anyway, so no need to occupy his brain with it.
Next he prepared his spells. This time he loaded three needles and with a much higher acceleration, as they had to cover a greater distance and he couldn’t be sure which defenses his opponents might have. Well, each of the projectiles should be able to penetrate a few souls so even when they would hit the floating ones, they wouldn’t lose much of their deadly potential. The size of his target was more of a problem, as he wasn’t quite sure where to aim for the best results, however, even if it survived, the pain from a needle should give him enough time for a second and third attack. Not to mention two or three, though he added a slight spread to the projectiles to make evasive maneuvers harder.

Then, with another thought, they were on their way. He still kept watch and waited for messages, but had mentally already shifted to the second strike.

And messages appeared!

[You have committed treason! Non-skill levels are reduced by 10 for 32 days!]
[You have committed high treason! Non-skill levels are reduced by 20 for 1 days!]
[You gained the title Traitor.]
[You are banned from events for 10 cycles.]
[For the remaining time of the event you have been moved to the traitor faction.]
[The penalties of both factions will be given once they have been finalized after the conclusion of the event.]

He had expected the first one to some extent, only the defenders had the luxury of time and could sit around in the middle of nowhere, but that he actually attacked the initiator of the war…
Regrettably neither did the war care for his contract nor did the contract have exceptions for the war.

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