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Chapter 17 Part 3
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!!”
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?”
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!!”
“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?!”
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.”
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?”
|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 100 Bandits (0/100)
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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.
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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