Chapter 17

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Chapter 17: Wu XingFu
 
 
“Hey! Are you alright?”

Ace glanced back over his shoulders and easily noticed that the NPC, Wu XingFu, was running slower and slower. With his weak scholarly body, it wasn’t hard to see why he was beginning to tire.

“I’m… I’m… Alright… Keep… Going…”

However, contrary to his words, Ace could see that Wu XingFu was far from alright. He was too familiar with that deep-reddish face and that shortness of breath. From personal experience, he knew the NPC wouldn’t be able to continue for much longer.

With that conclusion in mind, Ace quickly looked around for a suitable resting spot.

Although the two of them had entered the forest much earlier than the bandits, they both knew that the distance between them was shortening at a rapid pace. Due to XingFu’s constitution, the pair ran at a considerably slower speed than the bandit group. At this point, they were clear that running away wasn’t a viable option.

“Let’s rest for now. Maybe we won’t even have to continue running. A friend of mine once escaped from these bandits by hiding up a tree, we might be able to do the same.”

“Alright… sounds… good…”

However, Ace soon discovered that the scholarly NPC was completely inept at climbing. Without outside help, it was impossible for him to climb up the tree. Sadly, Ace didn’t possess the strength or skills necessary to hoist him up.

“This isn’t going to work.”

“Sorry, I’ve never climbed a tree before.”

Ace couldn’t blame him. After all, before playing Fantasy Edge, he wasn’t able to climb a tree in real life either.

“Don’t worry about it. Just rest up a bit. I’ll climb up alone to check on the bandits.”

“Alright…”

“Oh wait, do you need another potion?”

When he saw XingFu’s pained face, Ace was reminded that the NPC’s body was currently tortured with wounds. Since he didn’t have any medicine that could stop the bleeding, he could only give him a health potion to recover his health. Sadly, unless his wounds were treated, the potion would only serve to slow down the injuries rather than heal them.

“Maybe… just one more. Some of the cuts opened up again while running, but I should be fine.”

Ace quickly handed XingFu three more potions and proceeded to climb up a nearby tree. He didn’t have a particular good grasp of tree climbing techniques, but he had developed a good arm strength from conducting Vulcan’s exercises on a near daily basis. It was this increase in strength that allowed Ace to climb up a tree with a minimal difficulty.

Once he reached a good vantage point, he quickly looked towards the direction of Tenya Mountain.

‘So fast! They’re already inside the forest!’

Due to the amount of bandits, Ace was quick to spot their positions. He easily noticed that they were splitting up into smaller groups of three to five bandits and branching out into the forest. Compared to the other enemies he had previously faced, this was the first time he was experiencing such an organized pursuit.

‘They’re moving so quick…’

‘Shit! They’re checking the bushes and the trees. It looks like the trees weren’t a good hiding spot after all! Actually… there’s no place to hide at all!!’

For mountain bandits, these Blood-Axe Bandits were too meticulous for their image. This type of organized searching and tracking was a system that wouldn’t be surprising for a kingdom’s military force, but for a bandit group? It was unbelievable!

‘At this rate… the first group will reach us in just a few minutes!’

At the conclusion of his analysis, Ace quickly slid down the tree and informed Wu XingFu about the current situation.

“Sounds about right.”

“What?”

“Back when I was studying in the capital city, I remember the entire city talking about a huge scandal. Xue FengYun was originally one of the most promising captains in the Leydin Army. However, rumor has it that one day, he and five other men from his squadron decided to slaughter every one of their comrades. No one knows the reason why, but some time afterwards… it’s been said that Xue FengYun led his five subordinates to the borders and formed a bandit group. He also changed his name from Xue FengYun to Xue FengLang.”

“That’s… so strange. I feel like there’s a deeper story behind this.”

“Possibly. But in this world, who doesn’t have their own deep story? It’s possible that there’s a different side to this story, but is it important? Right now, with our own lives being at risk, do we really have the luxury to think about others?”

“That’s true…”

“Well, it’s probably different for you. You warriors make a name for yourselves by helping others.”

“Let’s save this talk for later. For now, save your breath for running faster.”

Even though the two of them were entirely capable of speaking and running at the same time, it was undeniable that their short conversation came at the expense of a reduced running pace. Sadly, neither of them were capable of moving both their legs and mouth at high speeds.

“Okay.”

The two continued to run deeper and deeper into the lush forest. At this point, Ace didn’t care that they were running farther away from Senda Town. His goal was simply to run further away from his pursuers.

Although he was confident in being able to handle the smaller bandit groups, he wasn’t a fool attempting to do so. Killing one group would waste time and give other bandit groups the opportunity to catch up to him. He might not have a problem with fighting one or two bandit groups. But what about three? Four?

He could still recall his earlier troubles in fighting large mobs of monsters a few weeks ago. This time, the situation was much worse, after all, it couldn’t be forgotten that human enemies were much smarter than any monster found within the borders.

As he ran, he kept his ears opened for any noises behind him. He simply couldn’t afford wasting time in turning his head.

‘Why does this feeling… feel so familiar?’

Ace was suddenly reminded of a distant memory. Months ago, wasn’t he also being chased by two members of the Immortals Guild? It was the same day he met Lycan.

‘How did I get away from them…?’

He couldn’t remember it. To be fair, there was too many important and shocking events that happened since that day. His training under his masters. His first dungeon exploration with friends. His trek through the Sword Tomb.

There were too many things that happened since he last ran from the Immortals.

As such, his memory of that day was extremely vague and hazy. However, he couldn’t help but feel that he was forgetting a minor detail. A minor detail that helped him get through the incident and could possibly help him get through this one.

‘What was it? What was it!?’

Ace furrowed his brow in frustration. He hated the feeling of trying to recall a memory that frequently escaped him. Truth to be told,it often made his head hurt.

“He’s here! Found him!”

Suddenly, Ace heard a loud voice from behind him. It was a loud gruff voice.

He quickly looked behind him and saw five bandits that stood approximately ten meters away from him. However, they were currently doing something that easily confused him.

‘Why did they stop running?’

‘What are they doing?’

One of the bandits took out a small rounded tube and undid it’s cap. Afterwards, the tube’s opening was pointed towards the empty blue sky. Less than a second later, multiple bright sparks shot out of the tube with an ear-piercing screech. The sparks were accompanied by a dark dense smoke cloud.

‘Oh shit!’

At the sight of the sparks and smoke, Ace instantly understood. It was a signal meant for the rest of the bandits! With the aerial indication, it wouldn’t take long for a parade of bandits to stampede their way towards him.

“Keep running!”

“We… need a… new… plan…!”

“I know!”

‘But what can we do? If I sacrifice you, I can escape through my invisibility… But… Damn! Is there no other choice?’

Suddenly, a whirring sound could be heard. Ace didn’t need to turn his head to realize it was the sound of a thrown object spinning in the air.

Sadly, although he knew what the object was, he was unable to predict the weapon’s trajectory through its sound alone. He silently grimaced when he was eventually struck from behind.

“Ahh! That’s right! I finally remember!”

“Summon Keki!”

With a quick flash, Keki appeared and greeted his boss. However, before Keki could say another word, he was scooped up by Ace and placed on top of his head.

This was what he had forgotten.

Months ago, on that fateful day, he had only escaped due to Keki warning him about the ranged back attacks.

“Ahh Boss! You’re being chased again? What happened since the last time you called me out? Should I watch out for the guy next to you too?”

“Yes! Especially him! Make sure nothing hits him!”

Wu XingFu quickly looked towards his companion and raised his eyebrows in question. He couldn’t help but wonder who the man was talking to. After all, besides him, there was no one else next to him. Suddenly, his eyes widened in shock when he heard ribbiting sounds in response. The sounds originated from a greenish object on top of his companion’s head.

“Heavens… this…”

He was too stunned for words. Although he had seen a great deal of strange things during his time in Leydin Kingdom’s capital, he had never seen a man conversing with a frog. Was it even possible? Even Beast Tamers weren’t able to chat like this.

“Boss! Want to see something amazing?”

“Hmm?”

Suddenly, another whirring sound could be heard from behind. However, Keki didn’t give them any dodging instructions. Instead, the sound simply disappeared by itself.

Afterwards, he heard the same sound a few more times, but like before, the sound also disappeared without a trace.

“Holy hell! That heaven-accursed brat!! Did his frog just eat our axes?!”

“What kind of creature is that!?”

‘Huh?’

“Keki, what did you do?”

“Since they were giving things to you, I helped you collect them.”

At those words, Ace didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. However, he knew the bandits definitely wanted to do the latter.

‘Right, right. Bandits aren’t players, so their equipment aren’t naturally protected by a binding system. It’s possible to take their thrown weapons!’

“Keki! I fucking love you!! You’re the best!”

Keki’s face beamed in delight, however, Ace was unable to see it. However, he knew that Keki was a summon that responded nicely to compliments.

With the protection of Keki’s swift and accurate tongue, the two pursued runners were safe for a duration of time. Sadly, they knew their safety wouldn’t last long. After all, the bandits were currently running faster to engage them in close-quarters combat.

“Boss, there’s two guys that’s really really close behind!”

“God damn!”

Ace quickly unsheathed his sword and spun backwards to face the incoming bandits. As Keki had proclaimed, there were two bandits that ran much faster than the others.

Without waiting for them to react, Ace lifted his sword and dashed deep into their immediate proximity. As he moved forward, his sword swung towards the bandit on the left.

Naturally, with the bandit’s skill, they wouldn’t be surprised by such an obvious move. The attacked bandit immediately swung his axe to meet the attacking sword. In a clash between a heavier and thicker axe and a thinner and lighter sword, the former would obviously be victorious. As such, the bandit’s face didn’t show a trace of fear.

At the same time, the bandit on the right didn’t stay idle. He also swung his weapon with his axe aimed towards Ace’s exposed ribs.

The two bandits were experienced fighters who weren’t new to combat. As such, their combat abilities were naturally high. However, Ace was the sole disciple of two skillful masters that possessed capabilities that far outclassed the bandits. This, it came as no surprise that his seemingly disappointing attack wasn’t as simple as the bandits originally assumed.

This was especially true because his simple attack was actually a move from the Sword Fiend’s Sword Arts!

Ace’s blade suddenly stalled in the air for a split second before it suddenly changed its trajectory. Instead of a sideways swing that would eventually slash at the bandit’s throat, it suddenly became a diagonal strike that would slash the bandit’s chest. But, at the same time, Ace’s feet had propelled him leftwards with a slight thirty degree turn.

This movement easily moved him out of the right bandit’s attack range and allowed Ace’s sword to cut it’s true target: the left bandit’s attacking arm!

Since Ace’s initial attack appeared to be a sideways slash from the right side, the attacked bandit responded by attempting to intercept the sword with his axe using an opposing swing in the opposite direction. Ideally, both attacks would meet in the middle with the axe overpowering the sword.

However, Ace’s movements moved him and his weapon out of the axe’s path. Due to the heavier weight of the axe, it was impossible for the weapon to change its course as easily as the sword. As such, the bandit was helpless to the attack and could only scream in pain as his right hand was severed from his right arm.

The bandit’s free hand tightly gripped the bloody stump and he immediately dropped to his knees in agony. Unfortunately, before he had the chance to wallow in misery, he was silenced by a quick strike to the neck. The sword pierced through the major artery of his neck and continued its charge towards the remaining bandit. The attack left the bandit confused about whether to hold onto his bleeding arm or his bleeding neck. Without much of a choice, he finally chose to cover the latter wound.

The quick attack on the injured bandit caught the remaining bandit by surprise. However, since he never expected the attack to immediately head towards him, he was unable to defend himself from the unexpected blow. His stomach was cut open before he could react.

“You!!”

However, since this wasn’t a fatal blow, Ace spared no time in continuing his assault and stabbed the bandit in the chest.

At the sight of the two men bleeding endlessly on the ground, Ace finally released a sigh of relief. He raised his head and noticed the three slower bandits in the distance closing in at a rapid pace. Sure enough, killing bandits would slow him down.

‘These two are still alive… should I go give them a killing blow? Nah, they’ll end up dying anyway. I’ll get the experience points no matter what.’

“Keep running.”

“Wait. It’s not enough.”

Wu XingFu quickly picked up one of the dropped axes and lifted it high above his head. With a grunt of effort, he swung it down with all his might.

His attack was meant to behead the bandit. However, because he lacked the control necessary to accurately aim on his downward swing, XingFu’s attack only managed to strike the bandit’s shoulder bone. Although it wasn’t a killing blow, from the bandit’s excruciating scream, it was definitely a crippling one. Unfortunately, since this bandit was bleeding heavily out of his neck and right arm, he wasn’t able to withstand the pain of the shoulder chop. At the apex of his scream, the bandit suddenly fainted.

‘Dead.’

“Still one left.”

Wu XingFu quickly attempted to pull the axe out, but he soon discovered that the weapon was lodged too deeply in the bandit’s shoulder. With his current strength, it was impossible for him to remove it.

As an alternative, Wu XingFu picked up the weapon of the remaining bandit. This bandit had his hands covering his deep chest and stomach wounds.

“What the fuck are you doing!? Get away from me! I’ll kill you!!”

The bandit’s eyes flashed with panic and he kicked his legs along the ground to slide his body further away from the scholar. However, this only served to excite him instead. With a crazed battle cry, Wu XingFu raised the axe and swung it as he ran towards the bandit. It wasn’t clear was it due to luck or a hidden effect from his battle cry, but this time, his attack landed perfectly. The bandit’s life immediately ended when the axe crashed into his skull.

‘This NPC…’

Ace felt a shiver of fear suddenly run down his spine at the bloody sight of Wu XingFu murdering the two helpless men. He had previously left them for dead since they were fatally injured. As their health was dropping rapidly, it wouldn’t be long for them to die. For him, there was no need to deal a final blow, after all, neither of them were in any condition to retaliate.

However, Wu XingFu’s actions shocked him. Unlike Ace, there was no traces of hesitation at dealing one last blow. His eyes revealed a savageness that heavily contrasted with his gentle appearance.

The shiver that swept through his body told Ace that he and XingFu were two different people. He only fought the bandits to stop them from catching him. Of course, an additional benefit was the bits of experience points that would float his way, but that was only a secondary profit. On the other hand, Wu XingFu didn’t choose to fight for the same reason.

The bandits were already down. They were already dying.

However, XingFu wasn’t content with them slowly dying. For him, from his actions and his expression, Ace could easily see that he simply wanted to vent out his anger. It was as if the final blow had to be personally dealt before he could appease himself.

This was the reason for the uncontrollable shiver. He instinctively detected a terrifying existence that showed itself to him for an extremely brief amount of time.

“Warrior. With your strength, we should be able to kill them all! We don’t need to run.”

“No! You’re overestimating me. Two or three of them isn’t a problem, but if we’re surrounded by all of them…”

Sadly, the choice wasn’t his to make. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a sudden movement that caused him to realize that XingFu’s actions had given the three bandits enough time to reach them. Due to the sight of the gruesome deaths of their comrades, the three bandits were more cautious in dealing with Ace and XingFu.

They immediately stopped closing in once they were within range. Instead, they held out their axes as they readied their bodies. Although they appeared threatening, they didn’t display any indications of attacking. Moreover, when Ace attempted to attack, they quickly stepped backwards to maintain distance. It didn’t take a genius to realize that they were simply buying time for more bandits to arrive.

“Damn!”

With this tactic, both player and NPC knew they were in an extremely bleak situation. Ace wouldn’t be able to kill the bandits due to them focusing all their energy on retreating from his attacks. They were also unable to run away because the bandits were now in a close enough proximity to attack.

‘They’re out of Backstep’s range. I could still use Body Swap, but that’ll just open up the path for them to attack XingFu.’

‘Shit! Think. Think! There’s has to be something I can do in this situation!’

Ace quickly placed his hand into his item bag and withdrew a small throwing dagger.

“Shadow Blade.”

Immediately after he casted his ultimate skill, he quickly threw the dagger at one of the bandits.

“What!?”

The attacked bandit quickly gasped in shock when he felt the small sharp blade embed itself into his chest.

Although Ace wasn’t able to throw his miniature weapons with pinpoint accuracy, his past few days of practice wasn’t for naught. At this distance, he could still hit targets without fail. This was especially true if the target was as large as a bandit’s burly chest.

Luckily, the throwing dagger was blessed with Shadow Blade’s increased damage and ignore defense ability. Otherwise, there was no guarantee that the dagger would be able to penetrate the enemy’s chest as deeply as it currently did, after all, Ace didn’t throw the blade with a proper throwing technique. As such, the throwing attack was lacking a bit in force, but this was easily offsetted by his ultimate skill.

“The kid still had a hidden move! Everyone! Beware of his hidden weapons!!”

The injured bandit quickly pulled the dagger out of chest and tossed the blade onto the ground. Although he didn’t appear to be too injured, Ace could still see a sizeable chunk of health had disappeared.

At the sight of his success, Ace quickly planted his sword into the ground and withdrew more throwing daggers. Since he was ambidextrous, he was able to use both hands to launch the ranged attacks.

Although this wasn’t the quickest way to kill off his foes, at the moment, it was the best option he had. His only wish was that he could defeat the three bandits before more showed up.

“Faster. Faster! God damn! I need to throw faster!”

Ace’s arms appeared as a blur to the spectating Wu XingFu. Each move of his hand would throw a single dagger that flew straight towards an enemy. Occasionally, one of Ace’s hands would switch from throwing daggers to retrieving a mana potion to recover his dwindling mana.

Sadly, when throwing at this speed, it was obvious that he would sacrifice a bit in accuracy. Unlike the first few attacks, his subsequent attempts weren’t always on the mark. Some daggers would miss the enemy completely, while others might be thrown too short. Luckily, he didn’t run out of daggers because his trusty summon was quick to swallow every dagger that didn’t land on the bandits.

After some time, one of the bandits finally collapsed.

But before Ace could release a victorious cheer, he noticed four groups of bandits had bursted out of the trees in the distance.

They finally caught up.

“Fuck!!”

Time was up.

Ace’s throwing weapons were helpful, but they weren’t enough to save him. If he had more experience in utilizing these hidden weapons, then he would have been successful in quickly defeating the three bandits, but sadly, this was the first time he had used the daggers in real combat.

“Heh. Finally!! Damn brats, this time, let’s see how you two are going to run!”

At the sound of those words, even though he knew it was a fruitless task, Ace continued his ranged barrage. At the very least, he’ll have two less bandits to worry about.

“Warrior, they’re almost here.”

Ace really had to hand it to him. Even now, Wu XingFu wasn’t panicking. He was still calm during such a hopeless situation. Was the NPC naturally fearless? Or did he experience certain events that caused him to not be afraid of the current situation?

But what type of experiences could strip a weak scholar of his ability to panic in the face of death?

“Don’t worry. I’ll think of something…”

With one final throw, a dagger shot past a bandit’s guard and stabbed into his throat. The bandit inevitably dropped to his knees and collapsed onto the ground.

“Arghhhh!!!”

At the sight of his defeated companion, the final bandit suddenly rushed forwards to attack. With him being the last one alive and his reinforcements being too far away, the bandit decided to risk everything in attacking. After all, guarding against the throwing weapons wasn’t an effective defensive tactic. Since he would eventually die if he kept defending, he chose to go for an all-out attack instead.

Ironically, this was the conclusion that Ace had hoped for. Even though his throwing weapons were effective, it was still too slow. He was much more confident in his ability for killing in close combat.

Ace quickly pulled out the sword that was stabbed into the earth and positioned himself to meet his attacker. Since the bandit was currently in a state of disarray, Ace was quick to notice the obvious flaws in the running attack.

He quickly dodged the bandit’s axe and immediately knocked the weapon to the side before the bandit could pull back for a second attack. With this one move, the bandit’s front was completely exposed.

“Assassin’s Eye!”

Without wasting the opportunity, Ace quickly let loose a barrage of swift attacks that targeted every critical spot he could see.

Slash after slash would hit a vital organ. Each slash would cut deeper and deeper into the bandit’s body.

Ace chose this method of attacking because he didn’t want to lose out to Wu XingFu’s ferociousness. If even a weak scholar could be so resolute, then he should be able to do it too.

He wanted to show the same type of conviction in his attacks. As such, he released slash after slash on the defenseless bandit. With so many attacks, he believed that there should be at least one strike that could rival the blow executed by the NPC.

Unfortunately, Ace didn’t realize that this was useless. He had already lost from the beginning, after all, there was a huge difference between what he had done and what Wu XingFu had done.

The NPC had shown a scary level of conviction through a single strike that demonstrated how resolute his will was. It was a firm attack made without any hints of indecisiveness. On the other hand, Ace’s attack paled in comparison. His many strikes were only done with the hope that at least one attempt would be powerful enough to exhibit the full force of his resolve.

This difference was only a minor difference, but it was already enough to separate the two of them. Although Ace had a higher skill and combat ability, in terms of the mind, he was far inferior to the scholar.

But although Ace didn’t deal a single satisfying strike, it didn’t mean his attacks were weak. Multiple critical hits that dealt considerable damage was enough to completely deplete his victim’s health and end his life.

‘I failed…’

Ace looked at the dead body and quickly sighed at the sight. None of his blows were filled with the determination to instantly kill his target. Instead, they were still attacks that were meant to injure only. Even when he wanted to inflict fatal blows, he was still unable to do them. His sword moves still showed too much hesitation and it was this hesitation that softened his strikes.

‘This! This… this should be the next level to my training.’

With a shake of his head, Ace quickly pulled his thoughts back to the situation at hand. He hastily readied his sword to face the bandits that were nearly upon them.

“I’ll think of something…”

“Don’t worry… I’ll think of something.”

However, though his words were meant for reassurance, Wu XingFu still heard the worries hidden within.

With a soft sigh, XingFu closed his eyes and briefly searched deep inside of his mind. Although he had no experience with fighting, he could still provide help, after all, he had over a decade of book knowledge stored inside of his brain.

“For times like this, what we need is a distraction. We need something that can take away all of their attention from us as we escape.”

“Goddamn!! I already know that!!!”

The sudden outburst easily startled the NPC and caused him to immediately close his mouth. A hurt expression briefly appeared on his face as he refused to utter another word. When he gave his advice, he meant well, but he never expected for his advice to be met with such a sharp retort.

On the other hand, Ace was filled with regret. He felt horrible for lashing out at XingFu because he knew XingFu had good intentions. However, he simply couldn’t stop himself from yelling. While he was concentrating, what he needed most was peace and quiet. He didn’t need any outside voice to state obvious pieces of knowledge.

‘What we need is a distraction? Does that even need to be said? It’s common sense! Anyone with a shred of intelligence would be able to think of that.’

Ace’s distraught feelings came from the fact that he thought the advice was useless. After all, he had already considered the possibilities of a distraction, but had to eventually abandon it as a possible solution. Yet, due to XingFu’s suggestion, his mind couldn’t help wandering back to re-explore the option.

‘A distraction… a distraction… It’s obviously a good idea, but what kind of distraction could we even get?’

‘If I was a protagonist, then in moments like these, there would be cliched plot points where a strong monster or powerful stranger randomly appears to fight the enemies.’

Suddenly, a quick fleeting image flashed through his mind. Even though it disappeared before he could get a clear look, he still felt a heart gripping sensation in his chest.

‘Hmm? Damn! What was that? It felt… really important…’

‘Argh! What was it?!’

‘I was thinking about being a protagonist… A strong monster appearing… A powerful stranger appearing…’

‘Lycan? No… a strong monster…?’

After a short session of intense concentration, Ace’s eyes finally lit up as he pieced together the scattered details to recall the image.

‘Ahh! Damn!! How could I forget?! The perfect distraction… I had it with me all along!’

He stuck his hand into his item bag and gently palmed a small round object. It was the FireRock Golem’s housing sphere.

This was it. The FireRock Golem was the distraction he needed!

With its high levels of defense and health, it was near impossible for it to be defeated by the low-leveled bandits.

‘How could I forget?’

Atlas specifically chose this pet to have it take hits for him, yet he had forgotten about it till now. Sadly, the golem’s Achilles heel was still there. Even though it had leveled twice, it still possessed a ridiculously meager amount of agility. But he didn’t need it to fight. Its huge size and terrifying appearance was enough to serve well as a distraction.

But to use this type of pet for that purpose, the most important condition was timing. Due to the golem’s slow movements and attack speed, he knew the pet couldn’t be released too early nor too late. The timing had to catch them by surprise. Yet, even with such a limitation, it was still the best option available for them.

“I have a plan!!”

“I have a way to distract them… Try to move further back. When I give the signal, quickly run.”

XingFu nodded his head in silence and slowly stepped backwards until he was separated from Ace by a good three meters. At the sight of this, Ace cracked a nervous smile and shifted his eyes back towards the approaching bandits.

“Okay, come. I’m waiting for you.”

Sure enough, the bandits didn’t disappoint him. Within three minutes, they were within fighting distance.

“Die!”

The bandits wasted no time before attacking in unison. It was clear that they intended to overwhelm him with numbers and had no intentions to take risks. Truth to be told, having seventeen large men charging towards him with weapons ready to strike was a very fearsome sight. A typical warrior would find it difficult to escape unharmed.

Luckily, Ace wasn’t a normal player.

He was someone with the Sealed Ninja class.

“Backstab!”

He quickly vanished before any of the attacks could hit him and reappeared behind the tightly-packed group. As soon as he reappeared, he made a quick slash along the backs of every bandit within range. As his blade swept across the enemies, his body was shifted into a lower posture. This move required a half turn that placed him at a lower elevation than his targets. Upon reaching the lowest point and before the bandits could react, Ace quickly pushed out with his left foot and reversed the turn to deal another half-circle slash.

Since the Sword Manual did not specify the specific conditions to use its individual stances, it was up to the practitioner to interpret and make the final decisions. Naturally, this information was purposely excluded because the creator of the style didn’t want the user to be tied down by specific use-cases. After all, that type of info would slow down the practitioner and cause the sword art to lose part of its efficiency.

As such, Ace had experimented with the individual stances on multiple monsters and gained a small insight on when to use which stance. Coincidentally, he had gained his first level into the Sword Art’s mastery skill from comprehending at least one situational usage for all nine stances of the first level.

From his experiments, he discovered that there were a few stances that were highly efficient in attacking multiple targets. The stance he just used was one such stance. It made him able to slash multiple targets while moving his body lower to avoid upper counterattacks. Of course, the key to this stance and all related stances within the Sword Art was its usage speed. The practitioner had to dive low fast and immediately switch to to a new stance. Stalling in the middle would give the multiple enemies the opportunity to launch a successful counterattack.

In this case, Ace’s attack was executed perfectly and gave him the opportunity to attack once more before the bandits were able to turn around.

Of course, it had to be known that his success was largely attributed to the surprise factor of his Backstab skill. With his current skill level, he wasn’t fast enough to execute the stance at full power while being fast enough to dodge counters. Luckily, Ace had discovered that the attack stance worked extremely well when used in conjunction with the Backstab skill. After all, Backstab offered an element of surprise that would cause the attacked targets to waste time in turning. This gave Ace a few seconds to make up for his slower speed. Plus, the added damage from the skill was an undeniable bonus.

Originally, Ace was a bit skeptical about the Backstab skill. Due to the combat systems in other games, he was used to Backstab-equivalent skills to help him deal damage to his target.

However, in Fantasy Edge, the system wouldn’t automatically control a player’s body to attack. Due to this, in the beginning, he had frequently forgotten to launch an attack after teleporting. As such, he would waste the additional damage bonus granted by the skill.

Even after he developed the habit to deal a follow-up attack, he still wished for the system to automatically damage the monster. After all, his attack pattern after reappearing was always the same. He would always attack a critical spot with either a stab or a slash. There weren’t any deviations that would cause much of a difference in damage.

Of course, these were all thoughts he had during the early days of playing the game. Now, he knew how lucky he was to have the current system. Since the skill didn’t dictate a specific follow-up attack, Ace was free to use a different move and still be granted with the increased damage bonus.

In this case, it opened up a new world of possibilities in incorporating the Sword Fiend’s Sword Arts into his combat routine.

With the success of his two multi-target strikes, Ace continued his attack with a heavy diagonal cut that cleaved deeply into a bandit’s back. This time, he chose to use a single-target move because his previous attacks had caused the convoluted group of bandits to separate in surprise. As such, Ace could only attack the closest enemy.

“This kid is highly skilled! Quick, get more of our men here!!”

Orders were dished out and three smoke signals quickly shot into the air.

Was there a reason to use three separate signals? Of course. Naturally, it was the code to gather all nearby groups to deal with a difficult opponent.

The heavily injured bandit managed to survive Ace’s attacks and quickly ran forwards without bothering to turn around. He no longer cared about counterattacking. Instead,  he simply wanted to preserve his life.

“Curse you!! Arghh!!! It hurts!!”

The bandit’s loud painful cries were enough to force the other bandits to reconsider their options.

‘Should I kill him? Or should I injure more bandits?’

Normally, Ace wouldn’t need to decide. After all, the best decision was to reduce the number of foes. However, right now, his goal wasn’t to kill all the bandits, but to find the right time to release his golem. As such, reducing an enemy by one might not be more efficient than increasing the amount of injured opponents.

‘No. They just sent out another signal. Should I run now or should I wait for more to arrive before I run?’

Decisions. Decisions. Too many decisions.

Ace was a lazy guy who hated making decisions. Sadly, combat was full of decisions that had to be made. They couldn’t be avoided. At least, it couldn’t be avoided as long as he chose to continue fighting.

‘I’ll run now.’

He quickly placed his hand into his item bag, but before he could pull out the housing sphere, he heard faint stampeding sounds from multiple directions behind him. Naturally, the sounds were the bandits reinforcements.

He quickly retracted his empty hand from his item bag and held his sword tightly. He knew it was too late to summon the golem. Due to his hesitation, he had missed the opportune timing to do so.

At the sight of incoming reinforcements, the bandit group instantly grew more ferocious.

With a combined roar, six bandits quickly separated themselves from the group and began to spin their bodies in a clockwise rotation while whirling their axes around them. As they spun, they moved closer towards Ace at an increasingly faster rate.

“Holy… Shit!”

Truthfully, Ace had expected a move like this. After all, in most games that had axe-wielding characters, a spinning attack skill was almost considered a standard move. Thus, he wasn’t too surprised to see the bandits use a skill like this. However, mentally preparing himself was one thing, but seeing it in action was another. The sight of six large bandits spinning axes of varying sizes wasn’t a very comfortable sight.

Luckily, Ace’s training under Lycan had held fruit. The old him would have panicked on the spot and wouldn’t be able to move a single step. But the new him was different. Although he felt a rush of panic, it wasn’t enough to cause him to freeze in place. Instead, it accelerated certain parts of his brain to make him think quicker.

A quick assessment of the situation revealed the genius of such an attack choice. The spinning attacks completely rendered his Backstab skill useless. Although he could still teleport farther behind them using the Body Swap skill, he would then become open to attacks from the bandits that stayed behind.

Why did a portion of the bandits stay behind? The reason for that wasn’t hard to figure out. Since spinning bandits took up a large amount of space, it wasn’t viable to add in too many of them. After all, Fantasy Edge was a game where objects couldn’t overlap inside of each other.

Collision Detection. This was a game development term that described the ability for an object to detect the physical bounds of another object. This was done to avoid having two objects existing within the same space.

Some games didn’t have such a feature implemented for players and enemies. Thus, in those games, it was completely possible to have thousands of players or monsters standing on the same spot. However, since that wasn’t considered realistic, naturally, it wasn’t possible in Fantasy Edge. Instead, collision detection was heavily used throughout the game to make sure it replicated real world situations perfectly.

Due to this, it wasn’t possible to have all seventeen bandits spinning towards Ace. They would simply get in each other’s way and possibly injure their spinning comrades.

Ace couldn’t spare too much time to continue his assessment and quickly jumped backwards a few steps. As the bandits moved, two of them started twirling towards his left and two more twirled towards his right. As they moved, the remaining bandits in the rear followed along.

It wasn’t hard to understand their plan. After all, their plan was as clear as day. They were reducing the amount of escape paths. With the only escape route to his rear, this would bring him closer and closer to the incoming reinforcements.

Normally, this would be a dire situation for a player. A quick count of all incoming bandits revealed a grand total of thirty-two. Thirty-two bandits was a terrifying number for a player without many multi-target attack skills. However, this situation didn’t bother Ace too much.

‘You might think I’m falling into your trap, but you’re actually falling into mine!’

With a feigned look of fear, Ace quickly turned around to run for his life. At the sight of this, the bandits couldn’t help but grin in satisfaction.

“After him!”

“Don’t let him escape!”

Escape? Was that even possible?

Ace wasn’t a fool for thinking he had a chance to escape from the bandits. Due to years of being a victim of bullying, he could instantly tell that their words weren’t spoken for themselves but were spoken for him to hear. They wanted him to think he had a chance run away. This way, he would continue to run rather than attempt to fight back on the spot.

‘Such fake acting… But don’t worry, there’s no reason for me to stop running anyway. The sooner I reach the other bandits, the better!’

‘But then again… Can I even counter this type of attack?’

‘I’m considered a close combat physical attacker, but there’s no way for me to go close without getting hit… I could throw the miniature weapons, but the winds caused by that spinning would definitely sway them from their path.’

‘Attack their legs? It’s an obvious weak point, but it’ll put me at too much of a risk.’

‘Hmm, in the movies… Swordsmen would either overpower them through brute strength or they would use an extremely fast strike to land a killing blow in the space of a single opening.’

‘According to Master Lycan, I’m walking down the sword path of exceptional speed… So I should counter the spinning skill with a quick vertical slash immediately after the axe passes by?’

‘Sounds simple… except… there’s no way for me to have that type of speed!!!’

Ace was forced to admit that he had discovered a vital weakness in his arsenal of skills. He didn’t possess a single way to handle an attack like this spinning move.

‘When I reach the next city, I’m going to find a way to deal with this flaw.’

Suddenly, Ace noticed the absence of the fierce whooshing sound caused by the bandits constantly cutting the air. He quickly turned to look and noticed that the six attacking bandits had ceased attacking. Instead, he watched as they took a small round object out of their pockets and placed it into their mouth. After consuming it, they instantly sat down on the ground and entered a meditative position.

‘What is that? What are they doing?’

‘Is that… one of those cultivation techniques? But why?’

Due to the unwillingness to use slow cultivation techniques, most players were only aware of the techniques being one of the non-combat approaches to gaining higher stats and levels. For players, cultivation techniques were pointless, after all, there were much faster ways to increase levels and gain more stats. As such, amongst players, only a minor few knew that there were additional benefits hidden within the techniques.

It was unknown how many different cultivation techniques existed in the world, but it was widely known that each individual technique had its own unique effects. Some were extremely common to acquire and would only serve to slowly increase a few stat points. Whereas other techniques were capable of increasing stats by a large amount in addition to granting special skills. Due to this, cultivation techniques were categorized into different levels from their potential gain. However, no matter the level, it was widely known that every cultivation technique possessed the ability to provide a certain degree of increased recovery.

Simply practicing the cultivation technique was enough to increase the body’s health and mana recovery speeds!

Sadly, this obvious feature remained a secret amongst players. Most players would only practice a cultivation technique when they were safe and in an optimal condition. After all, why would they consider practicing a stat increasing technique while they were in combat? Besides, even if this feature was made known, who would use it to heal? It was much quicker and convenient to simply drink a health or mana potion.

However, this was a different story for NPCs. Due to the price of Dimension Bags, very few NPCs could afford them. Without the magical properties of a Dimension Bag, it became cumbersome to carry loads of items. This was especially true for large fragile items such as potions. Instead, NPCs preferred to use tiny healing pills.

Of course, the healing effects from these medical pills were far inferior to potions, but they were still preferred due to their weight and size. Rather than being able to carry only one potion, it was more preferable to carry hundreds of pills!

Sadly, since pills heal a smaller amount of health, most cultivators, which was a term used to describe practitioners of a cultivation technique, would practice their training technique as they consume the pill. This practice would aid the pill’s recovery speeds and would grant an increase to the recovery amount.

Thus, NPCs heavily favored this type of recovery method. After all, practicing the technique under the recovery condition was still practicing the technique. It was completely possible for cultivators to suddenly gain additional stats or levels while they heal!

As Ace watched on with a puzzled expression, he soon noticed that he couldn’t take advantage of the bandits temporary lack of attack. Six bandits ran past the healing group and began to use their spinning skills.

At the sight of this, Ace sighed deeply before continuing his run.

Before long, he finally reached the enemy’s reinforcements. Due to the speed he ran at, the bandits that followed him were close behind. At the moment, he was surrounded on all sides by the thirty-two men.

“Hahaha! Did you really think you could escape? Fool!”

At those words, Ace quickly revealed a smirk and looked around him. Sure enough, every bandit in the immediate surrounding area was now crowded around him. Although this wasn’t every bandit that had entered the forest, it wouldn’t be too far from the truth to claim that this was most of them.

Like typical villains, the bandits crowded around him without any intentions to immediately attack. Like a tiger staring down at its meal, the bandits looked on with vicious and wicked faces.

‘So… they’re the types who enjoy watching their victims panic before they kill them. Typical!’

“So, now that you have me surrounded, what do you want?”

A few of the bandits instantly frowned when they heard his remark. It was clearly not the fearful life-begging words that they expected to hear.

“What? Did you want to say that I fell into your trap?”

“Well, what are you waiting for? Attack.”

Unsurprisingly, the bandits were quickly annoyed and raised their weapons in anger.

“Hmph! Pretending to be tough?”

“Hehe, kid, you’re not fooling us!”

“Well, if you’re not going to attack… Then don’t blame me!”

Ace quickly and softly activated his Shadow Cloak skill. As he turned invisible, he quickly stuck his hand into his item bag and pulled out his pet’s housing item. Without a trace of hesitation, he quickly unleashed the golem into the middle of the bandit group.

“Body Swap.”

Aided by the silent veil of his Shadow Cloak skill, Ace quietly teleported out of the encirclement. Luckily, Body Swap was merely a teleportation skill without any means of inflicting damage, therefore, Ace was able to keep his invisibility status.

He began to slowly move back as he observed the bandits reaction to his pet.

Originally, his plan only involved him releasing his golem when the timing was perfect. He hoped to surprise them with its appearance and use the golem as a distraction as he ran. However, while running, he soon discovered a flaw to this plan.

Would the golem really be able to distract them?

Why would they bother attacking the golem if their target was him?

There were simply too many unfavorable probabilities calculated into his plan. Thus, while running, he decided to refine the plan further. Finally, he chose to combine it with his Shadow Cloak skill.

The invisibility of him and the sudden appearance of the monster should cause a certain level of confusion amongst them. Then, with the teleport skill, he can escape undiscovered and erase the possibilities of him hiding while invisible.

‘I hope this works as planned…’

The crucial part of his plan relied on the bandits becoming confused and choosing to focus on the golem rather than him. This was the reason why he was walking backwards in an extremely slow pace. He didn’t want any onlooking bandits to notice any unnecessary movements. He needed them to think he disappeared into thin air.

“Wh-wh-what just happened!?!? Where’s that brat?”

“What’s this monster doing here!”

“Is he a Summoner?”

“He knows teleport! Check!”

As some of the bandits began to frantically look around them, Ace couldn’t help but smile. The plan was working.

“He’s not here! How can he just disappear?”

“Invisibility? Is it possible?”

“No! I once killed someone who practiced both the Assassin’s Cloak skill and the Magician’s Teleport skill. It didn’t look like this!”

Suddenly, a loud grumble from the golem interrupted their conversation. The golem raised its arms and quickly smashed them towards an unprepared bandit.

The heavy downward strike was equivalent to a boulder rapidly descending off a mountain cliff and it easily pulverized the bandit’s body. At the sight of this, the rest of the bandits quickly remembered that the monster wasn’t simply for show. It was a threat they couldn’t risk ignoring!

“This strength! This defensive power! I can’t even hurt it!”

“What kind of monster is this!? Does anyone know!?”

Sadly, his question was met with negative replies. None of them had ever seen or heard of such a creature.

“No… no… It can’t be!”

“What!? You know it? What’s it’s weakness?”

“No… Can it be…?”

“Damn you! Spit it out!”

“I think… I know what it is… That monster… It… It’s the kid from before!”

“What!? What kind of rubbish are you speaking about?”

“Back when I was a kid, my mother used to tell me a story about the demons of the Southern Continent. The Southern Continent… the land of demons…”

With those words, the surrounding men instantly turned pale. They all knew about the Southern Continent. The land that contained the fearsome demon race!

“My mother… She told me that the demons from there… they’re able to take a human form after they reached a high enough level!”

“I’ve heard that too!”

An unanimous sound of agreement erupted amongst the group. They had all heard of this story.

“Holy heavens! Shut up! What are you saying? It’s impossible! This is the Central Continent! It… it… it’s impossible!”

“No. That kid… The way he disappeared…”

“He didn’t disappear. He… he… he  transformed… He transformed back into his true form!!”

With the outburst of this assumption, the bandits were instantly filled with fear. They quickly glanced at each other, then at the monstrous golem, and finally took one last look at their dead buddy. The preposterous claim appeared reasonable.

“Run!!!”

Immediately, all thirty-two bandits gave up and swiftly ran back towards Tenya Mountains.

‘This… it worked even better than I thought!!! The demons of the Southern Continent? What are they? Wow. Now I’m really curious! When, I’m done with everything… I’ll go find out about the world outside of the Central Continent.’

He picked up his pet’s housing item and quickly told the golem inside to chase after the bandits. Since the materialized golem was simply a physical representation of the golem’s spirit, it was possible for the pet owner to give long distance commands to his pet by directly talking to the housing item. After all, the pet’s real body was still encased by the sphere.

After taking one more satisfying look towards the fleeing bandits and slowly pursuing golem, Ace decided to pick up his pace and hurry back to Wu XingFu. The NPC was still obediently standing far behind in his original spot.

After casting off his invisibility, he quickly told the NPC that they were safe for now. At the very least, thirty-two of the original batch of bandits would no longer be hunting them.

“This area should be safe for some time, but I’m not sure when or if the other bandits will arrive.”

“What we need is a more definite way to get the bandits to retreat.”

“Yes. I agree.”

With the amount of bandits remaining, Ace was confident in his ability to take out the individual groups, but he was hesitant to do so. He felt that aggressively going after the bandits would only needlessly incite their rage. Rather than having them leave, they might come attack him with a stronger force. After all, he knew they had methods to notify each other. If one of those signals was to go back to recruit more help, then he would only be asking for more trouble. Additionally, if the bandits fleeing from his golem saw the signal, they might realize the truth. Then his carefully thought-out plan would have been done for naught.

No. He definitely can’t kill them.

What he needed was a better way to have the bandits retreat.

“Sadly, your build isn’t bulky enough. Otherwise, you could wear the clothes of one of the bandits and lead them away from us.”

‘What else can I do? Wait. What?”

“What did you just say? You said something about leading them away?”

“No. It’s nothing. It was just a passing thought about a war tactic I once read about.”

“No… No! It’s possible! Goddamn! You’re a genius!”

Ace was suddenly struck by a bolt of brilliance. Masking himself as a bandit to lead the rest of the bandits away? This wasn’t a bad plan at all! Of course, the plan would fail if the bandits could recognize that he wasn’t one of them, but in a large organization, how many would actually know the faces of everyone?

However, as XingFu said, the diversion tactic was doomed to fail due to them having a more skinnier and shorter body structure. None of them had the large muscular bodies of the pursuing bandits. But was that a problem? Ace possessed the Transformation Technique and had a deception value of 173!

‘Ahh right!!! I’m such a fool! I’ve watched so many ninja movies and I still forgot the most popular use for this skill.’

Ace couldn’t help but smack his forehead in disbelief. All this time, he had been using the skill as a way to disguise himself to avoid enemies. But was this what he received the skill for? No!

The skill was used for infiltration.

It was all too common to see ninjas disguising themselves as another person and infiltrating an organization to acquire intel or to carry out assassinations.

Ace was momentarily stunned as his brain started generating wave after wave of new ideas.

All this time, he had carried an extremely mighty tool in his skillset and he had only used it for running from enemies. It was as if he held the power of the sun in the palm of his hand and only used it for a hand warmer.

Of course, he did had to admit that using the skill for escaping was definitely a legitimate use-case, but it was meant for so much more!

Inside his mind, a whole new realm of possibilities was opening for him. It was as if the unused parts of his brain was finally flexing its muscles.

“It’s genius…”

Ace broke out of his stupor and quickly grasped XingFu’s shoulders in excitement.

“I can do it! Watch!”

Ace looked towards one of the bandit corpses that littered over the ground and quickly activated his Transformation Technique. With a quick command, the skill easily copied the targeted appearance and his original disguise of SkyBlade was replaced by the repulsive bandit.

“What? How?! That… That’s not possible!”

Wu XingFu was instantly placed into shock. But this wasn’t surprising, after all, in his understanding, there was no skill or class that could replicate someone’s appearance in such a quick and easy manner.

No. That wasn’t right. There was one class that could. Only the Illusionists from the Core were capable of this feat. However, the Illusionists weren’t people who would come to the Borders! They were people who lived in the city at the core of the continent!

The very center of the continent. This was an area that was even deeper than the inner circle!

“You… you… you can’t be from the Core right? No. It can’t be. Although the core only has one city and no monsters, it’s been said that everyone from there are monsters among men. They’re all qualified to leave the Central Continent. You… aren’t at that level yet.”

Ace looked upon XingFu with an unsightly face full of confusion.

‘What is he talking about? I seriously know too little about the game lore. I’ve never even heard about the Core… Wasn’t the Inner Circle the strongest area on this continent? Wait. Did he say the core only had a city and didn’t possess any monsters? That’s… strange!’

At the sound of this news, Ace was suddenly filled with a need for info. He had never felt a need to know game lore before, but it was also true that he had never been as immersed into a game as this one.

The Demons of the Southern Continent. The other three continents. The inner circle and the center core. The relationship between the five continents. Ace suddenly discovered a newfound fascination to understand more of the game.

Also, the ninja clans. Why has nobody heard of them? Why was it that everyone, including the NPCs, were surprised and unfamiliar with their skills. What was the ninja’s history?

But first things first. He had to get the current task out of the way before he could think more about this topic.

“I have a skill that let’s me take another appearance… It’s hard to explain and we don’t have much time. But, yes. This plan should work. I’ll go lead them away, while you wait for me here.”

“No.”

Ace looked once more in confusion at the NPC’s unexpected refusal.

“What’s wrong?”

“This place. It’s actually really close to my home. I want to go back to take a look. You can find me there.”

‘That… That sounds good!’

“Sure! I’ll meet you there. Where is it?”

Ace quickly pulled out his map and watched in silence as XingFu searched for the location. After a few short minutes, the NPC finally gestured towards an unrevealed area.

“Alright. Then I’ll meet you there later.”

Ace quickly marked down the location and turned to leave, but before he could move, he heard XingFu’s voice once more.

“Your voice. It’s still the same?”

“My voice? Shit! You’re right! The skill doesn’t mask my voice!”

He quickly activated the Transformation Skill and looked through its configuration window, but he couldn’t find a single option related to voices.

Did he have to change his plan? Ace didn’t want to. He placed too much expectations into this plan to abandon it right now.

“How’s this?”

Ace chose to feign his best impression of a rough and gruff voice. Sadly, his best attempt was quickly rejected.

“Doesn’t seem to fit. Hmm. That one. Transform into that body.”

Ace quickly complied and this time, he was met with the NPC’s approval.

“Not the best, but at least it’s better.”

“Okay. I’m going to go now. Be careful.”

“You too.”

Without any further farewells, the two quickly split paths with one walking deeper into the forest and the other walking towards its exit.

 

•●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●•

 

Surprisingly, Ace didn’t have to search for long before he found another group. As he carefully crept closer, he could hear that their loud voices were full of discontent and impatience.

“Where is that stinking brat?!”

Although this group of bandits wasn’t located far from where the three smoke signals were sent out, they weren’t lucky enough to notice the message. However, this wasn’t too surprising, after all, certain trees had grown tall enough to obscure the sky. The bandits needed to be in the right place at the right time in order to see the rapidly dispersing smoke cloud.

“When I catch him… I’ll make sure he dies a very slow and painful death!!”

‘Now!’

With a painful grunt, Ace staggered out from behind a bush and fell to the ground. The sudden sound startled the four men and caused them to instantly turn backwards with their weapons ready, but to their surprise, they only discovered a badly injured comrade.

“Hey! What’s wrong? Damn… Those wounds! Did you run into monsters or did the kid do this?”

“The… kid…”

Originally, Ace didn’t plan to reveal himself as a heavily injured man, but he realized that injuries would be the best disguise for his unskilled portrayal of a rough man’s voice. Sure enough, although the bandits found his voice strange, they simply attributed it as a side effect of his heavy wounds. After all, which man would still be able to sound normal while holding back an excruciating amount of pain?

“Where did you see him? Where’s the rest of your group?”

“You… are you… Xie Nuo? Remember me? I’m Yang TieShou! I’m friends with Shen Cao! What happened to you?”

‘Shit… He knows me? It doesn’t look like he found anything wrong, but I should still be careful.’

“Dead! They’re all dead!!”

“What!?”

“We found the kid… seventeen of us! But now, they’re all dead!!”

“That’s not possible!”

“It was a trap. The kid lured us away and then…”

“And then? Why did you stop? What happened?!”

“D-d-demon!!”

Ace’s eyes opened as wide as possible and his stuttering became even more severe. The onlookers couldn’t help shivering as they felt a chill swept past them.

“He was a demon! A demon from the Southern Continent!”

“He’s not human…?”

“Those demons… they could take a human form.”

“That’s… impossible…”

The bandits were frozen in disbelief. They didn’t want to believe him, but they had no reason not to. Why would a comrade lie about this matter? Furthermore, his current appearance was the most convincing proof!

“We ran. I was able to escape, but the rest… I’m afraid… they’ve…”

Ace hung his head lower as his words remained unfinished. Inwardly, he couldn’t help but applaud himself for his convincing act.

“What should we do?”

‘Yes! Finally the question I was waiting for!’

“Let’s retreat. I need to go back to heal my wounds… Besides, we can’t beat that demon.”

Ace didn’t realize, but in his excitement to suggest his solution, he had accidentally forgotten to continue feigning his injured voice. Luckily, the bandits were too deep in thought to notice.

“You’re right. Lets leave. I don’t want to lose my life over this.”

“I’ll go notify the rest of the guys.”

One of the bandits took out a small thin tube from his pouch and quickly shot it into the air. This time, Ace noticed that the smoke cloud was a pale yellow color.

‘So green means found, red means help, and yellow means retreat?’

Afterwards, Ace noticed a succession of yellow cloud signals that appeared throughout various nearby areas of the forest.

The bandits were finally retreating.

“Alright, the message is being passed along. Let’s go. Xie Nuo, right? You need a hand?”

Upon hearing the sincereness in the bandit’s tone, Ace was momentarily stunned by the kind offer. However, he quickly recovered and shook his head.

“Then, I won’t insist. We’ll be moving quickly, so tell me if you can’t keep up.”

At this, Ace could only silently nod his head. Inside of his mind, he was frantically thinking of a way to escape. It was at this point that he realized that his brilliant plan didn’t possess an escape route. He had only thought of how to trick the bandits and never considered what to do in the case that he was successful.

How could he escape without being too obvious? With his injured appearance, it would be too abnormal if he suggested to travel alone. But if he traveled with the group, then he definitely wouldn’t be able to escape.

‘It can’t be… Will I really have to go back to the bandit base?’

Inexperience. Once again, an oversight in an originally good plan had happened due to his inexperience.

Suddenly, he felt his arm being draped across someone’s shoulders. It was the same man who offered to help him. He had noticed Ace’s lack of movements and believed it to be due to his wounds.

Without much of a choice, Ace traveled with the group as he desperately tried to think of a way out. However, no matter what he considered, he could only think of one solution.

Kill.

‘Sorry, you’re a nice guy… But I need to do this.’

With his mind made up, Ace quickly placed his free hand into his item bag and pulled out his sword.

Previously, he had discovered that although the Transformation Technique was able to disguise his weapons, it had its limitations. He was able to disguise his Blood-Stained Commander Sword to the same appearance as SkyBlade’s sword, but it didn’t work when he tried to disguise it as an axe. As such, he was forced to unequip his weapon and pick up a deceased bandit’s weapon instead.

With his sword in hand, he quickly yanked his arm away from the man who was supporting him and made a quick slash towards his throat.

The surprise attack was too quick to dodge and the bandit’s neck was immediately cut by the sharp blade. Although the bandit wasn’t dead yet, with the amount of blood he was losing, it wouldn’t take long for him to die.

“Sorry.”

Although he shouldn’t, when Ace saw the shocked and resentful face on his victim, he couldn’t help but mutter a quick apology. Sadly, it did little to erase the guilt in his heart.

“What are you doing!?”

The bandits quickly jumped away from Ace’s next attack, but due to both the shock of betrayal and from Ace’s higher level of agility, the bandits weren’t able to escape unharmed.

“Xie Nuo! Stop!! Are you possessed?! Put down that sword!!!”

The bandits pressed down on their wounds as they continued to shout. They simply didn’t understand why one of their fellow brothers would randomly begin to attack them. But, suddenly, one of the bandits opened his mouth in shock.

“Sw-sword?! Why is he using a sword?!”

Finally, from that bandit’s discovery, the rest of them soon realized that something was truly wrong. After all, none of them were sword users. At least, not anymore.

“You’re not Xie Nuo! Who are you!?”

The bandits didn’t wait for him to respond before they rushed in to attack. Although two of the three remaining bandits were injured, their injuries weren’t enough to hinder them. The three charged towards their attacker with a loud and furious roar that sent nearby animals running for their lives.

However, Ace was unfazed by their display of strength and also charged in with his sword ready for combat.

“Shadow Cloak!”

Rather than use his trusty Backstab skill, Ace decided to imitate Canine’s use of invisibility to bewilder his enemies.

Now that he’s been educated by two extraordinary masters and have fought in a decent amount of battles, Ace realized that he couldn’t be a dog who knew only one trick. Backstab was his signature starting move and its effectiveness was indisputable. However, it was still only one skill.

If he wanted to reach the realm of skilled players, then he would first need to familiarize himself with more skills.

Ace had been pleasantly surprised by Canine’s use of the invisibility status and had wanted to test out the strategy for himself. In the midst of battle, it occurred to him that these three lower-leveled bandits were the perfect practice dummies.

Sure enough, his invisibility had startled the three bandits, but it wasn’t enough to scare them. They were still veterans in the Borders and had seen their fair share of Assassins.

Ace stretched out his hand as he quickly moved around the three men, but his actions weren’t attacks. Instead they were simple grasping motions that snatched away the pouches of the unsuspecting victims.

Since he decided for these three to be his practice dummies, he didn’t intend for them to die quickly. After all, he had the strength to easily kill three bandits.

What he wanted was the satisfaction of testing out new strategies against living and reactive targets. Additionally, since all other bandit groups were retreating, it made it reassuring to know that no one would interrupt him. His only concern was the smoke signals that could ruin his plan, thus he felt the need to snatch away their item pouches.

Of course, the bandits wouldn’t allow him to steal their belongings without a fight. The bandits would quickly attack each time he became visible, but sadly, they weren’t able to touch a single hair on his body. Ace was simply too fast!

After a few rounds of receiving light injuries, the bandits quickly realized that they were being played with.

“Who are you?! Show yourself! Come ou-”

But before the bandit could finish speaking, he saw a blade quickly flashing towards his face! Ace, as requested, had willingly shown himself. But contrary to the bandit’s intentions, he had shown himself in order to attack.

Due to the unexpected attack, the bandit could do nothing but jolt backwards and raise his weapon to block. However, before his weapon was even fully raised, the attacker and his blade immediately disappeared once more. However, at the sight of this, the bandit didn’t stop. He still moved to block as if the blade was still heading for him.

But was it?

Normally, Shadow Cloak would only remove itself upon contact with another. So why did he reappear when he was moving to attack?

The answer was simple. Ace was testing out the efficiency of an interesting use of the invisibility status.

He revealed himself to both startle and cause the enemy to instinctively defend himself. Immediately afterwards, he would switch back into his invisible state and change the target for his attack.

Unsurprisingly, this tactic proved to be absolutely effective. After all, with the enemy involuntarily blocking a fake attack through reflexive instinct, how could he defend the areas that he unwillingly exposed?

This was a deviation of one of the moves used by Canine. Except that player had used the feint as a tactic to switch attack targets rather than attack locations. Since Ace wasn’t facing an onslaught of multiple enemies, there was no reason to perfectly copy him. Instead, he thought of this variation. Against a single target, it’s effectiveness was indisputable.

As expected, the bandit was unprepared for the change in trajectory and took a severe slash to his side. His eyes widened in shock when he noticed his attacker reappearing to his side. Sadly, before he could move, he was attacked once more with this cut slashing even deeper than before. This time, the bandit didn’t react. He was no longer able to. His health was depleted and his life was gone.

At the sight of this, the other two bandits grew even more crazed. They quickly swung their axes towards Ace in hopes of killing him before he disappeared.

With Ace’s visible reliance on his invisibility skill, the bandits had assumed that he was a fighter who resorted to sneaky tricks. Thus, they thought that with their two-pronged attack, their target wouldn’t have enough time to escape.

They weren’t wrong. Even with Ace’s speed, he wasn’t able to avoid the two quick blows. However, he didn’t need to.

His sword flashed quickly as he deflected the two attacks to the side. With the successful parry, he quickly attacked both bandits with a quick slash of his sword. The increased damage from the Counter skill was able to heavily injure one of the bandits.

At the sight of the sharp dip in health, Ace quickly followed up on his previous attack and landed a heavy strike that ended the bandit’s life.

Suddenly, he heard a loud roar from behind him. The remaining bandit had abandoned all attempts at careful attacks and switched to using the fearsome spinning skill. Now that he was the only one alive, he no longer had any reservations about using this move.

This time, Ace was truly caught by surprise. He took three attacks at full force before he could lift his weapon up to block the subsequent hits. However, this constant barrage of strikes wasn’t doing him any good. He could feel the impact of each hit and could see his health decrease bit by bit. Additionally, he could also feel the sword in his hand attempt to fly out with each passing strike. It took all of his strength and the tight grip of both hands to hold his weapon in place.

‘Damn! This really is a very scary attack! Luckily, I didn’t try to fight back before. If I got caught in this attack while I was surrounded…’

‘How can I get out from this?’

Now that he was forced to endure this attack, he quickly understood how helpless he was. He wasn’t able to move a single muscle.

Both arms were occupied because they were tightly gripping his sword. He couldn’t wield his weapon with only one hand because the strength required to block the spinning skill wasn’t sufficient. As for his other two limbs, they were needed for support. Both of his legs were fighting their own difficult battle in maintaining the necessary bodily balance needed to continue blocking. The slightest movement of his legs might throw his body astray and cause him to be knocked over by the next spin!

With all four limbs being used for defense, Ace was stuck without any options. As a physical fighter, all his moves required either his arms or legs to use. He didn’t have the luxury of using his mouth to attack like magic casters.

‘What can I do?!’

The only skill could cast was his Backstab skill, but in this situation, it wasn’t useful.

Sadly, the interval between each swing was too short for him to act. The skill with the shortest amount of handseals was his Body Swap skill, but he didn’t have the confidence of dropping his sword and successfully casting the teleport skill before the next attack hits.

He gave a depressed sigh as he realized that his only option was to wait for the bandit to run out of mana. Due to prior experience, he knew that this skill was very taxing on mana consumption. Also, since bandits were physical attackers, he didn’t expect them to have as high of a mana supply as magicians.

With that solution in mind, Ace continued to wait. Although this sounded like an easy solution, it wasn’t that easy to carry out. His hands were quickly growing numb and his muscles were becoming sore. It became an excruciating struggle to maintain the hold he held on the sword and the strength needed for his lower body.
 

Strength +1
Endurance +1

 
 
Ironically, this situation was an unrivaled training session. Sadly, the slight boost in stat points weren’t helpful. However, he did make a mental note about this option. Maybe in the future, it would prove to be useful.

But for now, Ace could only pray for the bandit to stop. When he first decided to kill this group of bandits, he never expected to be placed in such a situation. Due to his skill, he had expected to completely dominate the battle. However, due to him playing around with his prey too much, he was now in a situation where he couldn’t afford to be lax.

Finally, the bandit gave one last grunt before his spinning slowed to a stop. Before he could get a chance to rest, Ace’s sword immediately chopped forwards and decapitated the tired bandit.
 

You have gained a level.

 
 
Ace didn’t realize this, but this attack that was done out of pure desperation was the very resolute attack he had previously tried to do. It was a strike that was done without any hesitations and carried with it an unrivaled firmness that represented his will to behead the enemy.

Sadly, Ace wasn’t aware of this. He only knew he had made a quick attack. His only goal was to defeat the enemy before he had a chance to recover enough mana for a second spin. It didn’t occur to him that this was impossible. After all, how could the bandit heal his mana that fast? But Ace had spent the last few minutes bearing the full force of a relentless series of strikes. The current him was too tired to think logically. He had grown tired of this battle and simply wanted to take out the last enemy. Perhaps, this was the reason why he could carry out such a resolute strike. Perhaps it was the very fact that he didn’t bother thinking of other things that enabled him to do so.

With a series of heavy panting, Ace stared down at the four bodies and laughed in relief. The fight had taken more out of him than expected.

He took a quick look at the pouches he stole and released an unhappy frown.

They were poor.

Each pouch carried only a few silver and copper coins with a random assortment of health and mana pills. Sadly, each pill healed a fixed amount that was much lower than the potions he carried. He also discovered a stack of smoke signals, but he wasn’t sure they would still be necessary. However, he still chose to place all those items into his item bag.

“No!!”

Ace gasped loudly in horror when he took a quick look at his weapon and discovered it to be in terrible condition. Due to the constant cuts from the spinning axe, his weapon’s durability had dropped immensely. At the moment, his weapon didn’t look like it could survive more than a few more hits.

With a dejected face, Ace quickly switched his Blood-Stained Commander’s Sword for his FlameSplitter.

Everyone knew that it was much more difficult to repair a broken weapon as opposed to a tattered weapon. The amount of money required was also more extreme. Due to this, Ace decided to pack away his strongest weapon so he could repair it at the blacksmiths. For now, he could still use the other swords he kept in reserve.

“I guess, it’s time to go find that NPC now. Since he mentioned a village, there should be a blacksmith there.”

 

•●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●••●•

 

After a while of walking, Ace finally reached the area marked on his map. The village was found in a clearing deeply hidden by the surrounding forest.

Within this thick patch of forest, there was a large clearing of land that was void of trees. However, it wasn’t clear was this area naturally devoid of trees or was it removed by the early settlers of the village.

Unlike villages like Yale Village, this village was even smaller. The entrance didn’t possess a sign that told of the village’s name. Perhaps, this village was so small that it didn’t even have a name. It also didn’t possess a cemetery for players to revive in.

Upon entering the town, Ace was quick to discover that this village was an empty one. Similarly to Senda Town, the village was eerily quiet. However, contrary to Senda Town, the village wasn’t void of people. Instead, it was full of people! However, to be precise, it was more accurate to say that it was full of corpses. The dead bodies of many helpless villagers littered across the village grounds.

Amongst the dead were the bodies of the old and the young. But the majority of the bodies were young and middle-aged adults. There was no discrimination between genders as both men and women were included among the dead. It wouldn’t be wrong to claim that every villager in this poor little establishment could be found in this gruesome scene.

“Did the bandits do this?”

It was a rhetorical question. After all, who else could it be? To kill an entire village in such a savage way? Who else would do such a thing?

For a brief moment, Ace thought about doing a good deed to bury the dead. However, this kind thought quickly left him. He didn’t have any obligation to bury them and it wasn’t what he was here for. Furthermore, he didn’t know the people of the village and he was also not someone who would go out of his way to do pointless good deeds.

He carefully maneuvered his way down the roads and took special care to not step on any of the corpses. Although he didn’t plan to bury them, at the very least, he wouldn’t treat them as pavement. This was the least he could do out of respect for the dead.

As he moved, he searched for the NPC Wu XingFu. Truth to be told, he wanted to find him quickly so he could leave this area as fast as he could. The village possessed a fresh aroma of copper that wasn’t easy to bear.

Surprisingly, Wu XingFu wasn’t hard to find. Ace easily found a house that possessed an extremely high chance of being the NPC’s home. After all, the house had a very eye-catching detail. There was an absence of dead bodies.

The house had a small perimeter around it that was void of corpses. Instead, the bodies closest to the building had the dead piled up on top of each other. It was as if someone purposely pushed the bodies away from the house.

Sure enough, the NPC could be seen sitting at a small square table with his back facing the open door.

“Hey! There you are. Can I come in?”

However, his question was unanswered. The NPC made no signs of having heard his words.

“Hey!! There you are! Can I come in?!”

Thinking that he probably spoke to low, Ace raised his voice to ask his question once more, but surprisingly, this attempt was also ignored. With a slight shrug, he decided to step into the small four-roomed building.

It wasn’t wrong to call it a small house. It was a single floor building with a tiny kitchen to the left and two bedrooms to the right. The room from the entrance contained a small table that obviously doubled as a dinner table. A small cabinet and rectangular table against the far wall was the remainder of the room’s furniture.

The house didn’t have a bathroom, but this wasn’t strange. Buildings from ancient time periods would rarely have bathrooms inside of itself. After all, this was a time period before the age of running water. Which genius would build a room to hold excrement that would stink up the house? No, in times like this, toilets were commonly built in a small enclosed area located near the house.

“Hey, are you alright?”

However, the man still didn’t show any signs of response. But when he walked closer, Ace finally understood. Wu XingFu didn’t reply because he was too fixated on his thoughts. It wasn’t hard to know what he was thinking about because XingFu’s eyes were completely focused on the two separate pieces of wood that were placed before him.

The two items were crudely made and was just a simple rectangular board placed inside a thicker wooden piece as a stand. Thanks to the translation technology, Ace could read the words that were written on the two items. They were freshly made memorial tablets meant for XingFu’s parents.

‘So he lost his mom and dad…’

At the sight of this, Ace felt extremely awkward and didn’t know what to do. Should he wake the NPC up from his trip down memory lane or should he wait for him to wake up on his own? Should he sit down and wait or should he continue standing there? What should he do in this kind of situation?

To be honest, Ace didn’t save the NPC out of kindness. He did it out of the possibility of acquiring a hidden quest. After all, from what he knew of the game thus far, he knew certain heroic actions on a personal relationship level were more likely to spark a hidden quest. By successfully saving the NPC, Ace was nearly certain that he had done enough.

But what should he do now? It wasn’t the right situation to ask for rewards. If he spoke the wrong words, there was the danger that he would lose whatever fortune he had accumulated thus far.

Ace decided to sit and wait. It should be the choice that would grant him the most amount of appreciation, after all, if he was in XingFu’s shoes, he would want to remain uninterrupted until he was ready to talk.

An hour later, the NPC finally broke out of his daze. His face showed a hint of surprise at seeing Ace sitting next to him.

“The plan worked well?”

The question knocked Ace out of his own thoughts and he gave a quick nod as a reply.

“You came back for your parents?”

Unsurprisingly, the answer to this question was also a quick nod.

Afterwards, the two sat in an awkward silence as none of them knew what to say next. Finally, after a short while, Wu XingFu opened his mouth once more.

“It’s alright. If you have questions, you can ask them. I owe you that much for saving me earlier.”

‘Does that mean… my only reward is to ask questions?’

However, although XingFu had proclaimed his willingness to answer Ace’s questions, he didn’t give him the opportunity to ask them. Instead, he simply continued to speak without a moment of pause.

“Actually… I should have told you this earlier, but my name is XingFu. Hahaha, there’s no need to overthink things. XingFu is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the same words that make up the word happiness. Strange name, isn’t it? Hahaha, it’s fine to laugh, I’m used to it.”

The NPC released a slight snort when speaking his given name and his voice took on a bashful tone. From his voice, Ace could hear the same shyness associated with him giving out his own given name. He wasn’t sure why, but something in XingFu’s words and actions hinted to him that the NPC was also frequently teased for his uncommon name.

But since Ace grew up experiencing the same situation, he couldn’t bring himself to laugh. Even though the NPC’s name was more awkward than his own, he still didn’t find it funny. Coincidentally, this lack of response was a gentle comfort to XingFu and led him to resume his story.

“My parents… they’re simple farmers. Not much of an education and they didn’t possess the ability to read or write. You have to understand, in a village like this, names were very casually made. Some were named after the date they were born and others were named after numbers. For mine… mine was made out of my parents’ hopes for me to be eternally happy. Ironically, the whole village thought they were unbelievably clever for that. For a time, I was proud of my name.”

“But when I started attending school in Senda Town, I quickly discovered that my name was everything but clever. Yet, I didn’t mind. I was embarrassed, but I was happy at the same time. After all, how many of the ones who spoke ill of me had parents who thought so much for them?”

Suddenly, XingFu tightly clenched his fists and his tone lowered considerably from its original softness.

“I really didn’t mind if I was teased. But sadly, my parents… they’re only simple farmers. It never occurred to them that our surname also played a huge part in the meaning of our names.”

“My surname is Wu. You understand now right? Although XingFu meant happiness, ironically, Wu XingFu meant the opposite. As wise men have said, it’s better to be born with a bad fate than to be given a bad name.”

“My parents had the purest of intentions! They wished for me to lead an ever happy life!!”

“But Heaven is so cruel… so relentless… It completely ignored their wishes and gave me a fate filled with endless pain and suffering.”

His pain-filled eyes finally erupted out with a torrent of glistening tears. The two streams of tears relentlessly poured down his cheeks with no signs of stopping. XingFu’s story didn’t stop, but his words were already inaudible. Ace knew he was talking about the various unhappy events that happened throughout his life, but he couldn’t understand a single word. Perhaps, even XingFu himself wasn’t aware that his words were no longer clear.

But this didn’t last too long. After a few more minutes of crying, XingFu showed signs of recovery. His originally muffled and mumbled words were, once again, comprehensible.

“From a young age, my parents noticed that I had an aptitude for learning. Under the advice of the village elder, they were convinced that farming was a waste of my talent. Thus, my parents desperately saved and desperately sought for more money.”

“They sent me to school in Senda Town. Although it wasn’t the best institution for learning, it was the best that we could afford. At the very least, I was the only child in the village who attended school.”

“From then, I worked my way up and attracted the attention of my teachers. They considered me a genius and a rare talent. Eventually, the school recommended me to a school in the capital and told me that it was the best choice I had to further my education. Since every scholar’s goal was to pass their kingdom’s Imperial Exam and become a Government Official, there was no reason to refuse this attractive recommendation. Yet, I refused.”

“I didn’t want to attend a school that was so far away. Unlike my parents and other fellow scholars, I didn’t have any intentions of working for the government. I didn’t care about becoming a Government Official or about the money that would come with the position. With the amount of books I’ve studied and the amount of understanding I had in the confucianist way, how could I not understand what was important in life? A child’s duty was to serve and care for his parents! I didn’t mind if I attended the fields like them. I just didn’t want them to continue working so hard for my sake. You have to understand… the tuition for a school at the capital was far more expensive than in Senda Town.”

‘There’s confucianism in this game?’

“However, my parents didn’t agree. They were willing to work even harder to gather my tuition fees. Like how I wished for them to have an easier life, they also wished the same for me. But I truly didn’t want to leave them. The distance between Senda Town and this village was already so far… can you imagine the distance between here and the capital? I might not even be able to visit for more than two days each year! As such, I was reluctant to leave and was adamant with my decision.”

“Therefore… my parents came up with a silly plan to convince me to leave. For three days, they kept making up various reasons for why I’m not needed at home. They came up with many different reasons, but I refused to listen. Honestly, I didn’t care about the better life that they believed in. I also didn’t believe in it. Unlike them, I studied for a few years in Senda Town. I’ve seen my share of scholars who failed to achieve any accomplishments.”

“Did you know? People commonly refer to us as poor scholars. But that wasn’t an insult, instead, it was the truth. Most scholars spend all of their time studying for the hopeful exam and lack the time to earn money. Thus, all of their hopes and dreams are placed into that one exam. If you pass, you’ll work for the government and will live a life of luxury. But if you fail…”

“Hmm, how come it looks like you don’t know much about the exam? Well, I guess that isn’t surprising. You probably focused all your attention on improving your sword skills than on the government. I’ll explain.”

“The Imperial Exam occurs only once every three years and only the top ten exam-takers gets rewarded with an official position. Can you imagine it? A kingdom-wide exam with only ten possible winners! Failing once requires a three year wait before retrying.”

“To be honest, although I achieved good grades at home and in Senda Town, I didn’t have any confidence in placing my abilities within the top ten of the kingdom. You have to understand, the scholars I’m competing against aren’t just the ones from the same generation as me. There will also be many many others who are taking the exam for a second try, a third try, maybe even a twentieth try!”

“If I couldn’t pass the exam, I don’t want to be like the other scholars who waste the remainder of their life chasing after an impossible dream. I would rather return home and live the same type of life as my parents. At least, I’ll live an honest and happy life.”

“Since it was highly likely that I would end up being a farmer anyway, why waste a few more years vying for a hopeless dream? It’s better to just face reality and help ease the burden on my family. Three people working is always better than two. Furthermore, our life would be a lot better if my parents didn’t have to use the majority of their income to pay my school fees.”

“Rather than toil for an additional few years then aim to pass a near impossible exam, wasn’t it better to stay home? At least, that was my argument.”

“But in the end, I left. My parents didn’t agree with me and threatened to disown me if I didn’t leave. If that happened, then… that would definitely be the greatest sin I could commit as a child.”

“Therefore, I agreed. On the very next day, I left for the capital.”

XingFu’s eyes began to glisten as he spoke of his late parents. But at the same time, Ace was also momentarily affected. After all, he understood what it felt like to have parents who wished for a better life for their child.

Originally, when he was first kicked out of the house, Ace had been overly upset at his parents. He couldn’t understand how they could be so cruel. At that time, countless words had sprung up in his mind.

Heartless. Cold-blooded. Inhumane.

None of them were pleasant words, but they were all words he had used to describe his parents. He didn’t understand them. Their reason about having him live alone without their aid was a completely incomprehensible piece of nonsense. To him, he felt that they simply didn’t want him. They were sick of taking care of him and regretted raising him. Thus, he thought that the real reason why they kicked him out was to get rid of him.

Due to this, he had constantly ignored and rejected every phone call from both his mom and his dad.

But as time went on, his thoughts slowly changed. His initial anger had faded away. He came to understand that the earlier thoughts of his parents were completely wrong. If they didn’t want him and truly wanted to get rid of him, then why did they pay for his rent and give him such a large amount of money to spend? If they had truly abandoned him, then why would they still call him?

But although his views have changed, his reasoning still hadn’t. Ace still couldn’t agree with their decision. What was wrong with being a shut-in? It was true that his life appeared to be boring and it wasn’t a life that society would agree with, but it wasn’t uncommon! Many other people at this day and age were also shut-ins. He wasn’t the worst of them either.

Furthermore, the most important argument was that this was his future. He should have the right to decide how he should spend the rest of his life.

But to be honest, now that he had started changing himself, he finally understood their intentions. In truth, when he looked back at himself from those shut-in days, he couldn’t help but despise himself. He was quite pitiful.

Ace knew that if it was himself, he would never have put up with someone like his past self. But his parents had put up with him for years. Although they lectured him and tried to convince him, it was also true that they didn’t force him. At least, not until they chose to kick him out.

It was actually quite contradictory. How could a heartless action still be considered parental love? But now that he was listening to XingFu talk about slightly similar experiences and from the look on his face, Ace finally understood.

It was easy to pamper a child. After all, how hard would it be to pay for their expenses and feed them their meals? It was simply too easy to take care of a kid’s needs.

But parents wouldn’t be around forever. Those who truly cared for their kid would also care about their future without them. Would their child be able to survive the cruel world without them? Would they be able to stay happy?

It was easy to pamper a child, but it was inexplicably difficult to pave a bright road for them.

XingFu understood the pain that his parents went through to force him to leave his home. But all in all, they did it for his own good.

Was this any different from Ace’s situation? Would the parents who lectured and nagged him endlessly feel nothing from kicking him out? No. They must have also felt a great amount of pain in making that decision. But all in all, like XingFu, wasn’t this also done for his own good?

Although Ace didn’t initially agree with his parents, he couldn’t say it was the wrong choice. That decision to kick him out was the start of his changes. He had improved by leaps and bounds and knew more things than he had ever previously known.

Sometimes, he wondered what would have happened if things didn’t occur the way it did. Would he have changed if he never met his two masters? Would he even play Fantasy Edge if he never went to the class reunion?

To be honest, he also wondered about how much his parents truly loved him. If he remained a shut-in even after being kicked out, would his parents simply watch him starve to death? Ace didn’t think so. Thus, for the first few months, he refused to find a job because he had hopes that his parents wouldn’t be so heartless.  

With a mind equally as heavy as XingFu’s, Ace released a deep sigh and felt his eyes also growing watery.

Should he find back his parents? Truthfully, this was an overly sensitive topic for him. For the past few weeks, each time he thought back to his parents, he would be filled with a complex feeling of helplessness. He wanted to mend their relationship, but he didn’t know how to do so.

“But what if… what if… your parents kicked you out for being useless?”

For the first time since XingFu had started talking, Ace had spoken. This sudden question made the NPC pause and look at him with confusion written on his face.

“I wasn’t always like this. A short time ago, I was a very useless person. The type of guy you wouldn’t hesitate to look down on. One day, due to that, I was thrown out of the house and told to live alone…”

“Your parents… they did that?”

“Yes. Ah, but don’t misunderstand. It’s a bit like you… They simply wanted me to grow up.”

“I know. I didn’t have any doubts about that, after all, there’s no such thing as parents who don’t love their children. I was only surprised to hear you speak of what type of person you were.”

“Yes… I was able to change for the better. But, unlike you, we didn’t part on good terms. At least, I didn’t. I said some really harsh words to them. Words I wish I could take back.”

“You’re in the wrong. A child should never speak against or disobey his parents.”

“I wanted to make amends, but we parted in such a bad way. I wanted to find them and apologize, except… I don’t know what to say.”

“So that means you still haven’t apologized?”

Ace could only helplessly shake his head. Upon seeing this, XingFu released a slight chuckle and looked up as he spoke.

“Do it soon. As you’ve seen with mine, life is too full of unforgiving events. You might be waiting for the chance to apologize, but when would these occasions occur? Is Heaven really that kind as to offer you all these chances? If you really want my advice, just make amends now… while you still can. This world… it doesn’t have any medicine that can heal us of our regret.”

Ace soon realized why XingFu had turned his head high up into the air. But even with that action, he couldn’t stop the tears that flowed out once more. Ace didn’t need to be able to read minds to know that XingFu was filled with an endless amount of regret.

“Are you all right?”

XingFu stayed silent for some time before he nodded.

“I’m usually not like this. Actually, I’ve never cried like this before. A man’s blood should flow before their tears do. I honestly don’t know what’s happening with me…”

“But I’m all right. I’m fine.”

“Hahaha… Do you know how cruel Heaven is to me? Do you know why I returned home?”

“Actually, I returned to give my parents the good news. Against all odds, I took the Imperial Exam and came in first place.”

XingFu quickly laughed at the speechless look on Ace’s face and immediately explained.

“After I arrived at my new school, I placed my maximum effort in everything I did. I studied more than any other student and worked harder than the rest. I didn’t let my parents down. I didn’t betray their faith in me. Yet, truthfully, this wouldn’t be enough to pass.”

“For the exam, honestly, I was mainly lucky. The topic we had to write about was something I had accidentally prepared for. Apparently, the topic took everyone by surprise and very few actually studied for it. I was really lucky…”

“Because of that, I thought that my luck was changing. I thought Heaven was finally being forgiving. I truly thought… I would be able to live a happy life from now on.”

“That’s why, immediately after the ceremony was over, I traveled all the way back home to tell my parents the good news and to bring them back to the capital with me. We were going to live the life they always wanted!”

“Except when I returned, I saw this scene… the entire town was ransacked and destroyed. Everyone was dead. But before I could check my home… some bandits came out and saw me.”

“This!”

“This!!”

“This is how Heaven treats me!!!”

XingFu’s eyes were opened wide as his hands clenched tightly into a solid fist. His voice was no longer gentle or affectionate, instead, it shook with hate and scorn.

“Heaven gave me hope only to viciously claw it away. Although the bandits took a portion of our crops every year, they never resorted to killing everyone. But now that I’m returning home, they suddenly decide to raid the village! At first, I had hopes of my parents still being alive, that’s why I chose to return. But, you can see what happened…”

“Please. Can you help me?”
 

Slay Bandits Quest
Difficulty B+
As a caring child, Wu XingFu wanted nothing more than to give his parents the life they wanted, but before he could, the Blood-Axe Bandits cruelly ended his dream.

With a mind blinded by revenge, he wishes for the death of the bandit leaders and at least a hundred of the remaining bandits.

Help XingFu fulfill his wish and appease the spirits of his late parents and his devastated heart.

Kill Bandit Leader Xue FengLang (0/1)
Kill Bandit Captain Tie FeiLi (0/1)
Kill Bandit Captain Ye QiHai (0/1)
Kill Bandit Captain Pang Shi (0/1)
Kill Bandit Captain Lin Shan (0/1)

Kill 100 Bandits (0/100)

Reward:
6 +1 Strength Pills
3 +1 Agility Pills
6 +1 Intelligence Pills
6 +1 Wisdom Pills
6 +1 Constitution Pills
3 +1 Endurance Pills

 
 
“Please. I… I want revenge. For my dead parents. My heart hurts so much knowing that I was so close to giving them a happier life, only to have these bandits tear it away from them. I know I’m just using them as a scapegoat, but please… I can’t fight against Heaven. At the very least, the bandits were the ones who killed them. I don’t have the ability to fight them, but you do.”

XingFu opened up the cloth backpack he wore on his back and took out a fist-sized square box. The box was very elegantly designed and had engravings of multiple insignias.

“Since you now know that my parents were poor farmers who spent their entire fortune on paying for my tuition, I don’t have much I can give you as a reward. But you don’t have to worry. I won’t ask you to help me for nothing. When I came in first place, the kingdom rewarded me with a few stat increasing pills. Although they only increase stats by one, they are still highly sought after treasures. The kingdom gave me a total of thirty pills… I’m not sure which stats they increase, but I’m sure this reward won’t disappoint you.”

At this, XingFu opened the box and revealed the contents hidden within. Inside the box laid thirty pills separated by six different colors and brandings. The pills were of various sizes, but they all looked to be high quality. Their most striking feature was the herbal smell that surrounded each pill.

“For this… can you accept?”

It was unbelievably tempting. For an offer like that, Ace found it near impossible to resist. However, he didn’t immediately agree. He still couldn’t forget how powerful the bandits were from earlier in the day.

Without mentioning the bandit leader, any of the captains would be more than enough to kill him.

Of course, he did consider contacting one of his masters for help, however, a part of him was hesitant to do so because this was meant to be a solo journey. What was the point in making this decision if he was going to call for help when he ran into problems?

Finally, after a long internal debate, Ace made his choice.

“Sorry. I really wish I could help you, but I’m afraid it’s completely out of my capabilities.”

“I know they’re strong, but so are you! There has to be something you can do…”

“No. I’ve been to the bandit base, so I’ve seen their leader. You saw earlier right? I have trouble fighting just a large group of regular bandits. But that leader… I can bet anything that he could single-handedly massacre the entire base of bandits by himself! It’s not that I’m making excuses, the truth is… I’m completely outclassed here. I’m level 72, but the bandit leader… he’s level 132.”

It wasn’t easy for him to make this decision. After all, the rewards were well worth the trouble. Furthermore, he had noticed that there wasn’t a time limit tied to the quest.

It simply wasn’t a quest that should be refused.

However, Ace knew he didn’t have the luxury to gain a few dozen levels before returning to the base. It can’t be forgotten that earlier in the day, six players had died with their last words also being revenge.

With a quick math calculation, Ace knew he had around four or five game days before the players returned with a group strong enough to eradicate the bandit base. Since the kills made by other players wouldn’t have registered for his quest, this would essentially mean that the quest would remain unfinished. Forfeiting an unfinished quest was the same as failing it.

His only hope was to gain approximately 50 levels before the high leveled players reached the bandit base. But was that even possible? Clearly, it wasn’t.

With all odds stacked against him, Ace couldn’t come up with a solution that would work. Every possibility had at least one aspect that would guarantee failure. With such high risks, the smarter choice would be to reject the quest. After all, failing the quest would lead to a drop in fame and Ace was familiar with the effects of having negative fame.

“Sorry, I really want to help you, but this…”

“I understand. There’s a 50 level difference. I’ll see if I can find some people who can accept my request at Tayden City.”

“Actually, I don’t think you need to.”

“Why?”

“There’s a group of people who will take care of the bandit base in a few days.”

“How do you know this?”

“Actually… I was there. When the group died, they swore to return with a force big enough to trample the entire base.”

“But if they’re dead…? Ahh, I see.”

“Yep. Judging by their level, you don’t have to worry.”

“Right.”

“Well, then, what do you plan to do now? Do you plan to stay here or will you return to the capital?”

“I’ll probably stay for a few days… but not for too long. I… have someone waiting for me back at the capital.”

Although the desolate look was still visible on his face, XingFu revealed a rare happy smile as he spoke his last words.

“A girl?”

“Yes. She’s the youngest daughter of General Su… one of the most brilliant generals in the kingdom. Are you surprised? How could a poor farmer’s son like me could be with a girl like her? Truthfully, I was also surprised when I found out her identity.”

With those words, the forlorn look finally left his face and it broke into a genuinely sweet smile.

“We met at the lantern festival two years ago. Unlike other classmates who attended to meet their fateful lovers or to spend time with their other half, I always attended for a different reason. I went to solve the lantern riddles.”

“Each year, there would be at least one stall with a particularly confusing riddle. I saw these riddles as a test for my intelligence. If I couldn’t even solve a lantern riddle, how could I have any hopes for the Imperial Exam?”

“But that year, like always, I was searching around the stalls to look for a particularly hard riddle. However, after nearly an entire night of fruitless searching, I was ready to give up.”

“As I was about to leave, I suddenly saw an extremely beautiful girl a short distance away from me. Even now, I still remember that first sight as clear as if it had just happened yesterday. Her long flowing black hair was partially braided and cascaded down to her lower back. Those captivating eyes were full of confusion as they gazed towards a bright red lantern. Her small red mouth kept repeating the riddle’s words. Her lithe body was elegantly clothed in a snow white dress.”

“When I saw her, my heart stopped. In that moment, I forgot everything that happened and wasn’t aware of anything. I didn’t see the bystanders that were between us nor did I see her maid that stood near her. Yet, although this feeling was unfamiliar… I knew what it was. I was in love… in love with the beautiful girl in white… in love with my Yue’er.”

“I never thought about girls before. In my entire life, the only thing on my mind was studying and passing the Imperial Exam. But at that moment, even that had vanished from my mind. I didn’t know where I found the courage, but I walked up to her and looked at the riddle. I wanted to impress her, yet, I discovered that the riddle was unbelievably difficult.”

“How ironic. The complicated riddle I searched for all night turned up in the hands of the girl I wanted to impress. But with my mind full of her… how could I even concentrate on solving the riddle?”

“But it was precisely because of this that I was able to get to know her. The two of us began to talk about the riddle. We each spoke our thoughts and worked out the solution together. As we spoke, I discovered that this girl wasn’t just beautiful. She was gifted with an astounding literary talent!”

“In the end, due to our combined efforts, we solved the riddle. I took this chance to ask for her name and made plans to meet again the next day. In the following days, we met often and conversed about everything. I soon learned that she was the daughter of General Su and was surprised to discover that she didn’t look down on me when she learned about my own status. Instead, she greatly encouraged me and we studied together on multiple occasions. Before I knew it, our love was established and we were… together.”

Seeing the smitten look on XingFu’s face, Ace could only laugh and offer his best wishes.

“I’m happy for you. Well, it’s getting late. Since I still have business in Senda Town, I’ll have to leave now.”

“All right. Thanks for protecting me and for listening to my story. I’ll see you out.”

As the two made their way towards the door, both of their eyes suddenly noticed a small green and white object on the floor. Due to its position near the door, it had evaded the eyes of both men until now.

“That!”

With a sharp gasp, XingFu quickly crouched down and picked up the object by its long red string. It was a butterfly-shaped jade ornament commonly found as a waist adornment for lady dresses.

“This… this is Yue’er’s pendant! How could it be here?!”

The frantic NPC held the jade butterfly with shaky hands as his voice quivered in terror.

“No… this… this shouldn’t be here! It can’t be here!! Yue’er… Yue’er!!!”

XingFu screamed loudly as he dashed out of the house to search the dead bodies.
 
 


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12 thoughts on “Chapter 17

  1. Really don’t know what to say…. Even if we have to wait for a while it it obvious that you put a lot of work into this. Especialy personalities, inner thoughts.
    Third part really shows the difference against other works of this type. I hope you keep doing things like that even after Ace becomes totaly OP.

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  2. “At those words, Ace didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. However, he knew the bandits definitely wanted to do the latter. ”

    Anybody who reads xianxia can see what you did there.

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  3. Oh, really this guy is the bad luck itself, hope his girl is still safe and sound if not then Ace will have to save a crazed scholar… Maybe Meng Hao 2.0 will appear?

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    • Hahaha, yep very bad luck.
      It’s why there’s this Chinese superstition related to picking a good name.
      If you’re unlucky and receive a bad one… well, you wouldn’t want to be this scholar 😛

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  4. This is better than before, when u make describe about how fall in love MC (Era) for his goddess Liya, actually it quite boring, cuz u make it 5 more paragraph just to tell us( this chap when Liya n Era fight together). I think u can shorten it with 2 or 3 paragraph, cuz in general u mean he deeply fall in love n can’t think like normal.

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  5. If the bandits are stupid enough to do something to a general’s daughter, then they must be tired of living. Its not like its hard to find their base. I assume the only reason they haven’t been eradicated already is because they aren’t enough of a nuisance to bother sending a serious army or because they’re bribing the right officials. Neither of these possibilities will be enough to protect them if they do anything to her.

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    • Yep, if they mess with a general’s daughter (especially a general from the inner circle), they’ll definitely get wiped off the map.
      But in their defense, I can’t see them easily believing that an extremely pretty girl they found in a poor village in the borders would turn out to be the daughter of a high-ranking general in the inner circle.
      If I was them and I heard that, I would have thought it was a horrible lie.

      Also, yep, they haven’t been eradicated yet because the amount of damage they’ve done isn’t really something the stronger armies care about. The Bandit Chief is someone who used to work in the army inside the kingdom, so he knows how far he could go before the Kingdom will be forced to take action. The amount of danger they’ve caused is only enough to invite the local military from nearby cities… which is definitely opponents that they can handle.

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