Chapter 18

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Chapter 18: Returning to Base
 
 
“Yue’er! Yue’er!!”

“Where are you!? Please… please…”

XingFu’s distraught screams tore through the silence of the village and echoed bitterly inside Ace’s onlooking heart. As he watched the frantic man carefully comb through each body, Ace felt pang after pang of discomfort bursting out from his chest.

“It can’t be… the Heavens wouldn’t be so cruel… it can’t!”

It was surprising to imagine that just mere moments ago, Wu XingFu was happily sharing the sweet memories he had of his beloved. Yet now, barely ten minutes later, the same man was desperately crawling on the ground in search of his potentially dead lover.

As he searched, Ace silently followed behind the frightened scholar and purposely stayed an arm’s length away. As of now, this was the only thing he could do for him.

Truthfully, Ace felt apologetic for only doing this much. Although this incident had nothing to do with him, he was still heavily affected by the scholar’s love story and his agonizing wails. In a sense, he felt a certain responsibility to help XingFu find his lost lover. However, he didn’t voice out his intentions. What was the point? He wouldn’t know who to search for.

‘Well, at least it’s not raining. Otherwise, this scene would be even more depressing.’

But before he could finish this thought, he felt slight trickles of water dripping across his face. A sparse layer of rainclouds had somehow snuck upon the solemn duo and sent them a gentle and refreshing greeting. However, before long, denser and darker rainclouds gathered above them and the gentle greeting immediately turned violent. In a matter of seconds, the scarce drops of rain rapidly changed into a heavy downpour that relentlessly thrashed against the bodies of both the living and the dead.

‘Hahaha… of course it’ll be raining. What kind of tragic scene is without heavy rain?’

Yet, contrary to his unamused companion, Wu XingFu showed no reaction to the sudden torrential drops of rain. Although his hands would continuously wipe his eyes and his body would uncontrollably shiver from the penetrating cold, it was clear that his mind wasn’t aware of the change in weather. His body reacted normally, but his heart was blind to all outside events.

“She… she’s not here.”

In just a short hour, XingFu had searched through every dead body in the village. Honestly, he didn’t know why he chose to look through the bodies. Since he wished for Yue’er to be safe and well, it simply didn’t make sense for him to search for her corpse. But what else could he do?

He had to find her. As a man and as her beloved, whether for duty or for love, he had to find her.

But what if, in the end, all he could find was her cold lifeless body?

The desire to find her, yet the need to not find her. This completely contradictory feeling of conflict was causing turmoil in his mind and laid waste to his heart. He didn’t know what he would do if he lost her too.

But luckily, Yue’er wasn’t among the dead. However, although this realization should have been reassuring, it instead caused XingFu’s mind to suddenly crash with fear.

“If she’s not here… then where is she?”

XingFu’s originally brilliant mind was thrown into panic and he was quickly reduced to a mumbling idiot. His words were senseless and his brain was fuddled.

Yue’er was the last bond he had in life.

What happened to her?

The tears that continued to flow out of his eyes easily mixed with the rain that swept down his face. His hands shook in frustration as he repeatedly pounded his head. He wanted to rid himself of all these thoughts. He wanted his mind clear enough to think.

However, his actions were useless. His mind refused to listen. Instead, of suppressing the cloud of worries, it merely caused his memories of her to surface up.

“Ahhhhhh!!! Stop!!! Stop!! Please stop!”

XingFu’s hands wrapped around his skull as he roared at the encroaching darkness of the dusk sky. His body shook harder than ever as his dominant hand clenched tightly to pound his head once more.

“XingFu! Calm down!!”

However, before he could hit himself, a strong hand quickly caught hold of his arm. At the sudden obstruction, XingFu stopped in his movements and slowly traced his head up the arm of the man who caught him. When his pitiful eyes caught sight of Ace, XingFu’s body suddenly collapsed as every clenched muscle in his body was simultaneously loosened.

At the sight of this, Ace gently dropped XingFu’s arm and knelt down to place his hand upon his shoulder.

“Calm down first. Let’s think carefully.”

These were the magic words that dispersed the turmoil in XingFu’s brain and caused him to regain back his spirit. For a while, he had lost control of himself and was a victim of regret and worries. He knew what he had to do, but he was unable to do them.

He felt helpless.

Fortunately, he wasn’t alone. At this moment, there was still someone who could think clearly, after all, that someone was simply a bystander who chanced upon the woeful scene.

“First, are you sure she’s here? That jade butterfly might not be hers. Even if it is…. maybe she secretly gave it to you and you dropped it in your house without noticing?”

At those words, XingFu quickly looked at the butterfly ornament and carefully inspected every part of it. But he didn’t examine it for long before he held it firmly in his hands and clutched it tightly against his chest.

“No, it’s hers. There are no special markings on it, but I’ve seen it enough times to know… It’s hers.”

“Then, perhaps, she secretly gave it to you?”

“No! No! No!”

XingFu violently shook his head as he brushed off Ace’s hand and turned his body towards him.  

“It’s impossible. She saw me off!”

“I saw it. This… this was by her side the entire time.”

“She’s here…”

XingFu’s raspy voice lowered to a barely audible whisper. But strangely, Ace was able to hear every word even through the heavy splashes of the pouring weather.

“She must have followed me. No, not followed… She purposely got here before me. I brought her to visit my parents before, so she knows how to get here. With her family’s money, it’s easy to hire a carriage that travels faster than mine.”

“But why would she do that?”

“Yue’er loved surprises. She knew how important this announcement was for me. It wouldn’t surprise me if she purposely came here to surprise me and celebrate together. It’s… it’s something she would do.”

“But it’s not important to know why she came here. What’s more important is finding her!”

Suddenly, a very obvious clue popped up in Ace’s head.

“Wait. If she definitely came to the village, but her body isn’t here… doesn’t that mean she’s still around the village somewhere? She could be hiding nearby waiting for you to find her!”

Ace’s words gave a quick shock to XingFu and knocked him out of his stupor. He quickly jumped to his feet and spoke with a desperately anxious tone.

“Right! You’re right! She’s a really smart girl… I can’t treat her like I lost her already. You’re right, I have to find her. I’m going to go search around the village.”

“Yea, it sounds possible. Do you need help looking?”

“No, it’s fine. You don’t know how she looks and she doesn’t know you either.”

“You sure? I could just transform into you and call her by name.”

“No, it’s alright. Thank you, but if she’s hiding and waiting for help, I would rather the first person she sees to be me.”

“Ahh, I understand. Good luck then. Don’t worry, she’ll be alright.”

“Thank you. You still had business in Senda Town right? It’s alright to leave, I’ll be fine here.”

After hearing XingFu’s last words, Ace gave one last concerned gaze towards the scholar before walking away. However, although his body was leaving, his mind didn’t wander from their parting spot.

His mind was focused on the last image he saw of Wu XingFu. The rain was able to mask his tearstained face, but it did little to hide his swollen red eyes. Although his face showed a twisted happy smile that spoke of hope, his eyes expressed a completely different message. The eyes that should have been soft and tender were instead hardened with a eerie firmness that completely contradicted the smile he had on. His eyes gave off an unfaltering feeling of despair.

The complex contrast presented by both expressive areas of XingFu’s face left a very lasting image in Ace’s memory.

It was unbelievably chilling.

 

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Meanwhile, to the far north of the continent, three travelers sat in front of an open campfire roasting three featherless pheasants into crispy skinned delicacies.

“Wow! It’s starting to smell so good!”

“Wait till you try it! Honestly, that guy’s fighting skill is amateurish, but his cooking skill is top-notch! It’s the only reason I agreed to be his partner.”

“Hey! Hey! What do you mean my fighting skill is amateurish!? Didn’t you see me today? That combo was amazing!”

“Compared to mine, yours was barely decent!”

The trio’s conversation continued with multiple sounds of joyful laughter erupting between them. Finally, the conversation came to an end when the chef announced that their meal was ready.

Without a second of delay, the two waiting men immediately bit into the crispy salty skin and tasted the flavorful juices of the soft tender meat. With a delightful sigh, both men momentarily stopped eating to savor the bliss that was currently dancing across their tastebuds. However, this pause didn’t last long before they immediately went back to devouring their meal.

When the chef saw this, he released a very jolly laugh and nodded to himself when he tasted his own portion.

Delicious!!

It was simply the only word he could use to describe his own cooking.

As he continued to watch the pair dig into their meal, he couldn’t help but lightly chuckle. Previously, he had accounted for them to dig into their food immediately, so he had purposely waited for all three pheasants to cool down slightly before announcing it was ready. This type of thoughtfulness was how a chef should be.

“That! That was so good!! Seriously, are you really a Swordsman? You’re definitely a Chef!”

The first to finish eating was a man in his early twenties who possessed an athletic build and a gentle face. He wore loose clothing and donned a heavy brown cloak with the hood covering most of his fair dark hair. Unsurprisingly, he exhibited a mysterious air due to his cloaked appearance and the lack of any visible weapons.

“Hahaha, it’s nothing much. I just picked up a few cooking techniques here and there during my younger years. It’s really nothing special.”

However, although the chef kept insisting that his skill was average, one could easily see the truth from his face. The man was proud of his cooking and was delighted to hear praises.

But it was true, he did have a reason to be proud, after all, his cooking tasted delicious even without the aid of the unique skills from the Chef class. Instead, the deliciousness of his food came from his hard-earned training in real life.

As such, he took pride in himself and wasn’t shy to demonstrate himself as a powerful Swordsman with amazing cooking skills. In truth, his reasons for picking this route was to dazzle the ladies. The image of a strong handsome man in his early thirties with talent in cooking was sure to be attractive. Sadly, his fighting skills weren’t on par with his cooking skills. Furthermore, his face was only average at best.

On the other hand, the third member of the party was the one who truly possessed a handsome face. However, besides his face and slightly muscular build, he had nothing else worthy of mentioning.

“Now that we’re done eating, let’s go take a look at what drops we got today!”

Without further ado, the chef and the handsome man quickly wiped their oily hands on a piece of cloth and called up their Item Bag window.

“Holy! I didn’t realize, but I actually ended up picking so many items! Wait… is this… an Uncommon!? Oh my god!! I picked up an uncommon weapon!”

“Same! And armor!!”

“Lucky you!! Damn! This weapon has an attack power of 25!! I’m dreaming right?”

“I’ve never gotten loot this amazing before!”

“I thought yesterday’s Average Luck buff was nice, but this Amazing Luck buff… Shit, I’m speechless!”

The two Swordsmen continued their ecstatic queries into their inventory and couldn’t stop announcing the items they found. As their voices grew higher, one could easily hear the excitement contained within.

However, they couldn’t be blamed for such exaggerated reactions towards mere uncommon level items. After all, the two of them were typical casual players. Although they’ve been playing for over a year, their levels were still in the early 70s. But this wasn’t surprising, after all, the majority of casual players were only at a slightly higher level range.

Casual players weren’t able to enter Fantasy Edge as often as they would like due to work or other real life commitments. As such, they would often be slower in developing the skills needed to advance fast within the game. Of course, exceptions were always made based on the motivation of the casual player, but for the most part, it was undeniable that casual players leveled much slower than others. Thus, a great amount of them would choose to join guilds, after all, a guild was still an excellent source for info, tips, and help. Furthermore, being in a guild made it much easier to gather party members for hunting strong monsters or clearing dungeons.

As such, like many others, these two Swordsmen had joined a small friendly guild during their first few days of playing. Due to the advices that were given, both men were quick to reach level 10 and made their decision to become a Swordsman.

However, as these two men later found out, being part of a guild didn’t mean effortless leveling or a free ticket to powerful equipment. After all, it had to be understood that as casual players, they didn’t stand out inside the group. This caused them to not have a valuable position and thus less resources were used on them.

Although they were frequently called to fight strong monsters for training, but due to their weaker strength, their contributions weren’t enough to gain large amounts of experience. Additionally, in terms of item drops, all good items went to the more valuable members of the guild. For members like them, they were lucky if they were able to even receive a potion drop. After all, there were often many players within a single hunting party.

As such, whether it was due to luck or other reasons, these two players could be said to be at the bottom of the barrel in terms of long-playing players. They were poor and possessed only commonly purchased equipment. Thus, their current excitement was understandable.

“Damn, I can’t believe our luck!”

“Right! We’re so lucky to accept your quest!”

Within Fantasy Edge, quests weren’t exclusively given by NPCs. If a player wanted to, he could visit the Adventurer’s Guild and file for a quest to be placed on the Adventurer’s Board. Of course, the price for placing a quest in a selective set of cities was different from the price of placing the quest in all supported cities.

In this case, the duo has accepted a C rank escort quest that promised a decent money reward. Since it appeared to be a straightforward and easy quest, the pair was quick to accept. However, to their surprise, they discovered that their employer wasn’t an NPC, but a real player.

“Hey Sight, let’s add each other as friends.”

Correct. The mysterious young man beneath the hood was the ex-member of the Immortals Guild, the Oracle Sight.

After running from the guild’s base, he had traveled westward and was able to make it to the second city before the guild learned of his whereabouts. But with a whole guild after him, he knew it wasn’t possible to travel alone, after all, he had nearly zero fighting abilities. Therefore, he decided to start an escort quest and hire a few players to serve as his bodyguards.

However, by using his Oracle skills, he easily discovered that he was in a very perilous situation. The Immortals Guild was only a few hours away from him.

Due to that, he immediately accepted the two Swordsmen who picked up his quest. Although their levels and abilities weren’t what he desired, he knew he didn’t have the luxury to wait any longer. As such, the trio quickly packed up their gear and left the city.

Along the way, Sight easily demonstrated the benefits of the Oracle class. Every so often, the three travelers would stop for him to take out his world map and cast a few of his Oracle skills.

Unlike other traditional magic skills, Oracle skills worked in a strange manner. The skillcaster, upon completing the magic chant, would have to immediately ask a specific question to whichever almighty being that would answer such questions. In return, that being would provide a vague response that would become increasingly clearer depending on the mastery of the skill.

Using such skills, Sight would constantly ask about which path was the safest to travel and for the general whereabouts of his pursuers. Although the responses were always vague, his world map would easily depict the safest routes for him to travel. This gave him the ability to travel with the least amount of resistance and provide him with the lowest chance of running into enemies.

One might ask what was the point of hiring bodyguards if he had such a useful skill. After all, weren’t bodyguards pointless if he could avoid all enemies?

True. However, it can’t be forgotten that Sight’s enemies weren’t NPCs, they were real players who were capable of independent thinking. Due to this, the skill could only give predictions based on whatever decisions were made by the pursuers at the time of casting. It wasn’t possible to predict the minute changes of real players, which didn’t offer a guarantee that Sight would forever escape from his pursuers. In the case of him being surrounded or coming across a stray member, it was better to have someone to protect him. Furthermore, it also can’t be forgotten that some routes might lead into dangerous territories that had strong monsters.

Originally, the two bodyguards weren’t very happy with the roundabout escort path, after all, the paths that their employer would take were often the longer routes. This drastically increased their traveling time and made their quest reward less gratifying. However, their discontent was quickly erased when their employer casted a skill that gave them a temporary Luck buff. This buff didn’t only increase their Luck stat, but it would also increase the probability of receiving item drops. The pair of Swordsmen had no more complaints after seeing the increased amount of dropped loot.

Sight couldn’t help but sneer at his previous guild’s use of Oracles. The Oracle class was full of such useful skills, but the guild leader only wanted them to constantly track the location of someone who couldn’t be found.

Due to the benefits from his Oracle skills, he and the two bodyguards quickly developed a friendly relationship. As such, he wasn’t surprised that they wanted to add him as a friend. However, he still hesitated on the reply.

“Hmm? Is something wrong?”

“Oh, no. Its nothing. Sure, let’s be friends.”

Sight quickly added both of the players, however he felt a bit conflicted because he knew the reason why the players added him. They didn’t add him due to their newfound friendship, instead, they were hoping to party up again to receive the buffs from his Oracle skills.

If it was for any other reason, Sight would be ecstatic to gain these new friends. After all, he was planning to start his own guild one day. At that time, the more friends he had on his Friends List would mean the more chances he had at gaining new guild members.

But for these two, their friendship was built upon his Oracle skills. Although Sight found his current skills fun and useful, he had his mind set on becoming a Magic Swordsman. When that happens, he’ll lose his Oracle skills and will also lose the basis of their superficial friendship.

Truthfully, Sight wasn’t too worried about losing the support of these two players, after all, he wasn’t very impressed with their fighting skills. Even among casual players, there were still a lot who possessed higher combat abilities than these two.

However, for the sake of not harming their current relationship, Sight decided to accept their friend request. Perhaps this superficial relationship between them would cause them to spend more effort in protecting him. Worst case scenario was him removing them after he changed his class.

“So, Sight, which path are taking next?”

“Hmm, let me check.”

After a quick check, Sight smiled happily because his current area was safe. There weren’t any pursuers heading towards them.

But this wasn’t too surprising. After what he did, he’ll be surprised if the Immortals could acquire another Oracle in the near future.

“We’ll be climbing that mountain over there, but let’s wait till tomorrow. The sun is setting and there’s not much moonlight these days. Let’s just rest here till the sun is out.”

The two quickly nodded in agreement because, truthfully, they were also tired from the excessive amount of battling they did earlier in the day. It wouldn’t be wrong to claim that the pair of players had never fought as much or as hard as they did today.

Sight opened up his Friends List and made a quick search for his real friends. Unlike the two he just added, these three had a special relationship with him. They were friends who experienced the same amount of suffering he did. Their friendship was established and flourished under a tyranny. Unlike other players, these three truly understood him and he understood them.

“Tina, Bernard, and Sean.”

Bernard, now named LifeDebt, was the first one amongst the three to add him. Unlike the others, he breezed through the Character Creation process and didn’t waste any time at the Name Selection stage. He was surprised that LifeDebt was available, but this wasn’t much of a surprise to Sight, after all, to him, the name felt a bit ominous. However, Bernard didn’t have such concerns. The name held a special meaning to him. It was a reminder for him to be more decisive, otherwise he’ll end up in the same state as he is in real life.

As of now, LifeDebt was a level 26 Gambler in Gremlin City. Although he had yet to fight a single monster after gaining his class, his level and skills were increasing fast due to the amount of money that passed through his hands. LifeDebt lived by his selfset rule of being more decisive. As such, his risky gambles would often cause him to lose his entire fortune, but at the same time, it would also cause him to obtain a much higher one.

LifeDebt had never been happier. The man loved to gamble, but unlike in real life, the consequences from losing weren’t as extreme.

Sadly, it wasn’t clear whether or not the Gambler class would be useful for Sight’s future guild. Although the class had interesting skills, it was clear that LifeDebt wasn’t meant to be a fighter. As of now, Sight could only hope that LifeDebt would somehow improve his winning rates so he’ll be able to help sustain the guild’s monetary needs.

The next to add him was Sean who now went by the name DarkEdge. Amongst the three, he was the most eager to get his revenge on the Immortals. As such, he quickly reached level 10 and advanced into the Assassin class. Before long, he pulled ahead of the others and reached level 30. Judging by his leveling speed, DarkEdge should be able to catch up to Sight’s level in another week or two.

However, although he was leveling fast and it appeared that he was enjoying his class, Sight could tell that this was simply a facade. It was obvious to all three, that DarkEdge was already losing interest in his class. However, this wasn’t much of a concern, after all, he could keep changing classes until he discovered one to settle with.

Finally, Tina was the last to add him. Unlike the other two, her troubles came from being too reluctant at forfeiting her old character name. In the end, she reluctantly dropped two letters from her old name and was able to select the name Sera. Originally, the four friends were a bit surprised that Sera was available, after all, it was a very common name. However, they chose not to think too deeply into it, after all, many players were restarting their characters daily. Although Sera might be a common name, it was equally true that Sierra was also extremely common. Yet, that name was now up for grabs too. Additionally, the four knew about the strange coincidence between Ace and TrueAce. After being witnesses of such a strange event, they knew they couldn’t question the oddity of obtaining a common name.

As of now, Sera was level 17, but no one blamed her for her slow leveling speed. Unlike the others, the Spiritualist class instructor wasn’t located near the beginner villages. As such, she wasn’t able to use any special skills that could help her level fast. Luckily, DarkEdge had also decided to start in Princeton Village. This turned out to work in Sera’s favor because he was now her bodyguard. The two were now journeying towards the distant town that housed her class instructor.

“It looks like they’re doing really well.”

“Okay!! I can’t be slacking either!”

With a firm nod, he pushed himself off the ground and walked over to his two bodyguards. Since he believed that he would lose his Oracle skills upon making the class change, Sight decided that it was useless to train those skills. Instead, he chose to train a completely different skill.

“Hey guys, can you show me how to use a sword?”

“Why? Aren’t you an Oracle? Why do you want to learn?”

This question surprised the pair and caused them to look curiously at Sight.

“Well, it’s true that I’m an Oracle, but this game doesn’t have any restrictions that prohibits Oracles from using swords.”

“I’ll be honest, originally I wasn’t too interested, but earlier, I saw how cool you two were when fighting against those monsters. Afterwards, I just couldn’t resist the urge to learn!”

Upon hearing those words, the two broke into stupid grins and quickly nodded their heads at Sight’s request. They were now very eager to demonstrate their sword techniques.

Sadly, due to the conflicting instructions between both players, Sight ended up taking all night to unlock his Sword Mastery skill.

 

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“Useless trash!!!”

With an extremely venomous gaze, Xue FengLang looked upon the seventy-six men kneeling before him. These men were the ferocious few who left the base to capture the fleeing intruder. However, at the moment, every trace of their former ferociousness had already disappeared. The group of men had their heads lowered as none of them were brave enough to meet their chief’s eyes.

They didn’t dare to refute the insult directed towards them, instead they could only drop their heads lower towards the ground. The apparent anger that dripped from their boss’s mouth quickly caused an uncontrollable shudder to ripple through each of them.

“Trash! All of you are trash!!”

“How… does this… look… like a demon!!?”

Xue FengLang ended his question with a loud roar and stabbed his finger towards a large pile of stones to his left. With one look, it was easy to see that these stones weren’t ordinary. Each one of the reddish-brown stones had a fiery red glow that pulsed out from its cracks. Upon closer inspection, one would notice the stones trembling ever so slightly.

It wasn’t a pile of unordinary rocks, but a collapsed stone monster.

The FireRock Golem.

It was a FireRock Golem that took too much damage and could only lay harmlessly upon the ground.

“Answer me!!!”

Suddenly, the air around Xue FengLang changed. The area around him instantly became suppressively quiet. It was quiet to the point where one’s breathing could be loudly heard, yet there was no sound at all.

As if an invisible hand was now clutching their hearts, thirty-two of the kneeling bandits felt an immense amount of fear towards their boss. Immediately, the men were no longer able to suppress their bodies from shivering as each one broke out in a layer of cold sweat. Their breathing became rapid as they felt it harder to breath. Soon, some of the weaker bandits collapsed onto the ground with their hands placed over their chest. It was a hopeless attempt to stop the phantom hand that held their beating heart.

This was killing intent.

As the Chief of the Blood-Axe Bandits and a former captain of Leydin Kingdom’s army, Xue FengLang was a man who was bathed in blood. Naturally, this caused him to possess an extremely overwhelming amount of killing intent. Simply standing within his vicinity was enough to send shivers down one’s spine.

Previously, Ace and the other six players had suffered a drastic effect from Xue FengLang’s killing intent. However, at that time, his intent was emitted out in a widespread manner. But now, although the amount of intent was the same, it was focused completely on the thirty-two bandits. None of them were capable of withstanding the condensed form of this fear-inducing weapon.

“B-b-boss…”

Finally, a weak voice sounded out from one of the bandits on the ground.

With a rough scowl, Xue FengLang released the hold he held on his men and looked straight towards the one who spoke.

“Speak!”

After taking a full breath of air, the man quickly told the complete story from the moment he discovered the intruder to the moment he returned to base. He didn’t dare to alter the details in any way or form. He simply narrated the full story with complete honesty.

“Imbeciles!!”

“Why… do I even keep you around?!”

In one fluid move, the bandit leader pulled out a large fearsome axe from the embroidered pouch on his waist.

“Boss!”

At the sight of this, Guo Hai, one of the captains in the base, quickly jumped in front of Xue Feng Lang. From the faces of the kneeling men, it was clear that the relationship between this captain and them wasn’t bad.

“Wait. Please give them one more chance. Right now, we’ve lost quite a few men to those six Revivers. We should be bolstering our defences rather than reducing them.”

Guo Hai wasn’t simply a captain within the Blood-Axe Bandits. He was also the man in charge of strategic planning. Although he didn’t have much of an education nor did he read any books on battle tactics, he was still entrusted with this task because he was a man who would often look at the big picture. Unlike the other bandits, he didn’t act rashly. As such, he held a large amount of prestige within the base and even Xue FengLang would often take his words into consideration.

Once again, he was right. Guo Hai raised a good point. Even Xue FengLang couldn’t refute his argument.

However, this didn’t mean his anger had subsided. With a loud angry roar, he viciously swung his axe and released his hold on the sharp weapon. In the blink of an eye, the axe was embedded in the chest of the helpless golem. Soon, a flash of light brought away the lifeless pile of stones leaving only the murder weapon behind.

“A pet. It appears that that kid isn’t simple. Not everyone could tame a golem. Though… this golem looks much weaker than normal.”

Tang QiuFeng, another one of the captains, quickly grumbled his opinion at the familiar sight of a defeated pet.

To his knowledge, golems were extremely terrifying monsters that were near impossible to tame. He wasn’t wrong though, after all, Tang QiuFeng was most familiar with the monsters in the Inner Circle. Within the Inner Circle, golems were highly destructive creatures that definitely deserved their reputation.

“No, I have a different opinion. This monster is simply too weak to compare to a golem. Although it has the appearance of a golem, it’s severely lacking in size, power, and speed. In my opinion, this golem must be one of the weaker variants that appears in the Outer Borders.”

At the sound of Guo Hai’s analysis, Xue FengLang gently nodded his head. He also held the same conclusion.

“But still… the stupidity of thinking this monster was a Demon from the Southern Continent… and daring to flee…”

Xue FengLang’s eyes grew violent once more as he looked towards the thirty-two men. Finally, after a short moment that felt like an eternity, his gaze softened as he spoke with a slightly softer voice.

“Very well, this time, I’ll let this incident go. However, there won’t be a second time. We Blood-Axe Bandits have no need for useless cowards!”

Immediately afterwards, Xue FengLang turned his attention towards the remaining forty-four bandits.

“As for the rest of you… which of you… gave the signal to retreat!?”

“Boss, it wasn’t us. We saw the retreat signal and followed the orders.”

“It was the same for us!”

“Us too!”

A string of similar replies quickly erupted from the rest of the group. None of them wished to be implicated by the one who foolishly sent out the signal. In their minds, they didn’t do anything wrong. After all, they were only dutifully following orders. Yet, none of them dared to openly say this.

“So, none of you are going to confess?”

“Boss! I think… I think the ones who released the signal are already dead!”

At the signs of their chief’s face changing once more, one brave man quickly spoke up. Truth to be told, he, like every other bandit around him, were deathly afraid of their boss.

“Hmm?”

“The forty-four of us here… we all met up with each other while retreating. But none of them came from the direction where I saw the signal! Originally, I thought they were simply traveling slower than us, but because they’re not here… Boss! I’m not sure why they would send the signal, but I believe that they were most likely ambushed while retreating.”

This wasn’t a satisfying answer. However, unlike the earlier thirty-two bandits, Xue FengLang had no reason to punish these forty-four men. Obeying the smoke signals was a rule he strictly enforced.

“Your theory… is plausible. Very well, stand up.”

At those words, even though their legs were still weak from the pressure emitted by Xue FengLang, they were still quick to get on their feet and silently face him. They would only leave at his command.

“Enough, leave! All of you!!”

Once the area was clear of all lower-leveled bandits, only Xue FengLang and his four captains remained inside.

“Such useless trash. If we didn’t lose too much of our men earlier, I would execute them all!”

“Captain, there’s no need to be so angry. Men needs tempering before they can be someone great. The five of us… didn’t we also go through that process? All those years in the army… These men, they only need more experience.”

“Guo Hai, you seem to be speaking up for them a bit too much lately.”

At the curiosity in Xue FengLang’s voice, Guo Hai quickly kneeled down on one knee and clasped his hands together in a salute.

“No, Captain! I only wish for what’s best for our Blood-Axe Bandits. We’ve lost close to a hundred men today. If we lose seventy-six more… that’s almost a third of our forces! Finding more people to join us isn’t easy and it’s even harder to train them. If possible… their deaths should only come from our enemies.”

“Hmph, so be it. Enough, stand up. FeiLi, how’s your injuries?”

“Very good! Almost a full recovery, I should be completely healed in one more day. Captain, your medicine is simply amazing!”

“Heh, of course. Even in the inner circle, the Jade Lotus Pill is considered a rare lifesaving treasure. If it wasn’t for the Revivers, you wouldn’t have the honor to eat one in your entire life.”

At the mention of the pill’s name, both Tie FeiLi and Gu ChangFeng coughed out in surprise.

“What!? The pill Brother Tie ate was the Jade Lotus Pill?! How do we even have that pill!?”

Gu ChangFeng was a natural fanatic for rare treasures. Naturally, he knew about the Jade Lotus Pill and instantly grew immensely jealous of Tie FeiLi for his fortune of eating such a coveted rarity. At the same time, his mind yearned for the treasures that were stored in the Treasure Vault. He knew there had to be even more treasures stored within.

However, Gu ChangFeng’s question only received a faint smile as a response. Xue FengLang had no intention of telling him the item’s origin. Instead, he took out a yellow bottle and handed it to Guo Hai.

“Captain, what is this?”

“A small little treasure I received when we killed those two from the Heavenly Sword Sect. Sprinkle that powder all over the entrance to the base. Heh, judging by how I almost didn’t detect him… that kid should be an expert of the invisibility techniques. Since he knows where the treasure room is, he’ll definitely return. But it doesn’t matter, as soon as he steps on that powder…”

Xue FengLang didn’t bother to finish his sentence.

 

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

 

Assassin’s Eye Active Skill
Intermediate 0/10
The assassin’s eyes can spot the weakpoints of their targets. Nothing escapes from their sight.
Every monster has weaknesses, but it takes a trained eye to notice them.

Be able to see the target’s weakpoints for 10 minutes.
Dealing damage to target’s weakpoints will guarantee a critical hit.
Be able to see in pure darkness.

Mana Cost: 100
Drains 10 mana per minute.
Assassin’s Eye will turn off if mana is empty.
Each skill level up grants:
+30 seconds to duration

 
 

“Perfect timing!”

Ace’s face bursted into a wide smile when the system window showed up. For the past few weeks, this skill was stuck at the 9th level of the Beginner’s stage and had refused to advance any further.

From previous experience, he had already noticed that the skill would level up faster when used on newly discovered enemies. However, after it reached level 9, viewing new enemies appeared to have no effect. But this time, it had leveled up simply from him constantly casting the skill while traveling in near pitch darkness.

‘Could it be that because night vision is one of its basic effects, it required me to use it a lot during nighttime?’

“Well, I should be right, but I’ll think about that later. For now, I need to pull that XiaoFan out of the well.”

“Well? What well? Boss, why is that guy at the bottom of a well?”

“Hahaha, it’s a long story. I thought you were sleeping.”

“I’m awake now!”

With a quick chuckle, Ace could only shake his head as he briefly explained the previous events.

By the time he was done with the story, Ace found himself facing the barren well.

“XiaoFan! Hey, XiaoFan! Are you there?”

“Brother SkyBlade!? Is that you?”

‘Who else would it be?’

“Yep, I’m back!”

“Are they all gone?”

“Yep, want to come up?”

Immediately, the circular wooden board that masqueraded as the bottom of the well tilted at a ninety degree angle.

“Yes! Yes!”

At the sight of XiaoFan’s desperate face, Ace abandoned his initial plans of messing around with the NPC. He quickly dropped a rope down and pulled XiaoFan up from the well.

“Thank Heavens you came back. If I stay down there for a second longer, I’ll definitely go insane… Hey, don’t laugh, you don’t know how scary it is down there. It was so dark and quiet… I didn’t even know how many days passed since I was down there!”

“Less than a day. I was only gone for a few hours.”

At those words, XiaoFan’s eyes widened immensely as he was stunned by disbelief. To him, each second under the well lasted at least five seconds long. Due to the wooden board covering most of the light and the dirt obscuring the board’s edges, there wasn’t much light that could penetrate to the bottom. Without the aid of light, it became extra difficult to calculate time and he had easily assumed that multiple days had gone past. This misconception was further enhanced due to the amount of rations he kept eating. But he couldn’t be blamed for that, after all, what else was there to do but eat?

The two men quickly walked back to the inn and continued their conversation under the aid of a candle’s light.

“Actually, shouldn’t we leave? When they can’t find you, won’t they return here?”

Due to their numbers and their menacing appearance, XiaoFan easily assumed that Ace had only led them away from the town before sneakily returning. However, Ace couldn’t blame him for thinking that, after all, that was his original plan.

However, to XiaoFan’s surprise, Ace shook his head with a laugh.

“Nope, they’re dead. They won’t be back for at least a few days.”

“What!? D-dead? How…? How did you do it? There were six of them! They all looked so strong too.”

“Hahaha, of course it wasn’t me who killed them.”

Ace quickly described his plan and then gave a very detailed narration of the events that happened at the Bandit Base.

“Brilliant! Heavens, brother… I completely respect you now!”

“Well, that was the good news. Now for the bad news…”

“Even though I found where your items are stored, it won’t be easy to retrieve them. That bandit chief is too strong!”

“If I want to take back your merchandise, I’ll have to make sure he is gone from the building, otherwise, once he hears the trick door opening… It’s over!”

Ace had been carefully thinking over this issue while was traveling back. However, he still wasn’t able to formulate a good strategy.

“At the moment… I do have one plan. But, it’s extremely risky.”

“What is it?”

“In a few days, when those six Revivers return, they’ll be leading more people to attack the base. At that time, the bandit chief will definitely have to come out to fight. This would give me the best opportunity to enter his house and retrieve the items.”

“Isn’t that good? It sounds like a wonderful plan!”

“It’s a bit risky… What if they bring really strong friends? If they kill the chief too fast, then they’ll definitely take all the treasure. Besides that, there’s also some other concerns…”

Ace released a deep sigh as he doubted the success rate of the plan.

“Is there a chance you can kill them in these few days before the Revivers return?”

“No, that part I’m certain. No chance at all.”

“Well, let’s think about this some more later. Since it’s nighttime, you should go get some rest. I also have to return to my world for a few hours.”

 

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

 

Era quickly set a timer for one hour on his phone.

One hour.

That was his limit. He had only one hour to get everything done before he needed to rush back into the game. Due to the limited amount of hours he had left to do for his quest, he couldn’t waste too much time in the real world.

‘Okay, let’s boil some water first.’

Ace had two primary goals for returning back to the real world. The first was naturally because of food.

Due to the limited time, he had already decided to pull an all-nighter. He didn’t plan to sleep for the night. Of course, he knew how strained he’ll be after enduring the lack of sleep, but he didn’t have too many concerns about that. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time he pushed off sleep.

Food. This was his primary concern. Last time, when fighting the Sword Tomb Guardian, he didn’t eat enough to properly sustain himself. Thus, he was absolutely famished after he logged out from the game.

This time, he wouldn’t make the same mistake. He’ll cook an extra large portion of various instant food. It should be enough to last him through the night and well into the next day.

Finally, his second reason to come back was to find information. Unlike in the game, the real world had the internet. He had a wealth of information at his disposal. Previously, horse riding, weapon throwing techniques, and various other topics were all solved due to him searching for online help.

Perhaps, this time, he’ll be able to find a link that will offer a good solution. After all, there were many many wars in history.

Assassination missions.

Infiltration missions.

Rescue missions.

There had to be something that he could use!

Thus, Era quickly started up a search on his computer.

‘Search terms… Successful infiltrating missions. Successful rescue missions. How to invade an enemy base and successfully win.’

Although he knew his primary objective was to retrieve XiaoFan’s merchandise, he didn’t want to abandon the possibility of taking down the bandits too. They were a wealth of experience.

“Hmm… Two or three bags of instant noodles? Two should be enough. I’ll throw in some dumplings too.”

As he ate, he browsed the results on his search engine and soon came to the conclusion that there was simply too much information to read through.

The links brought up great stories, but they were either lacking in details or plain unusable. There were a few hopeful websites, but they usually involved citing strategy techniques that he knew nothing about.

In the end, he gave up. He was only further confusing his already confused mind.

 

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

 

In the end, Ace wasn’t able to find an alternative solution.

‘Should I really just wait for those guys to return?’

‘No… wait! Maybe I can lure the boss out. But how?’

“Hey XiaoFan, if you were a bandit boss… what things would make you come out of your house?”

“I guess… when people are attacking…?”

‘I don’t know why I bothered asking…’

He gave a quick sigh and decided to think of the solution himself.

“Well, if I was him… maybe… maybe… if there was… rare treasure?”

Could it be?

“Right… right! If there’s a rare item, he would definitely come out!”

‘It makes sense! The base’s treasure trove is stored in a place that only he could access! Furthermore, he didn’t even give any of the six player’s items to the rest of the bandits. He just took them all the the treasure room.’

‘Logically speaking, Xue FengLang should be a man who is very possessive and doesn’t trust others.’

“If my guess is correct, then that person isn’t the type who would allow items to fall into other people’s hands.”

As Ace nodded at this possibility, he suddenly froze when another thought occurred to him.

“But how long would it take to collect an item? This plan could get him out of the house, but it won’t give me enough time! Damn. Damn!!”

There was no need to think about placing the items further away. After all, if it was placed too far, how would he get the boss to notice it. Furthermore, what if one of the other bandits decides to pocket the item?

‘But what if the amount of items was a lot? If it takes him a long time to collect the items… no… stupid idea…’

“Brother SkyBlade? I have a suggestion…”

“Hmm? What is it?”

Curiously, unlike before, XiaoFan’s voice had become shy and embarrassed.

“This is very dishonorable, so you’ll most likely reject the idea, but… do you want to use this?”

XiaoFan quickly brought out a small familiar white bottle.

‘The sleep powder!’

“Actually, forget I said anything. I feel really ashamed of myself for suggesting this… If you were to use such dishonorable methods…”

However, before XiaoFan could store away the bottle, Ace quickly snatched it away and held it tenderly in his hands.

“No, no, no. I don’t mind! Seriously, I don’t mind!”

He didn’t have such high ethical standards. Perhaps his original image of a hero would demand for pure honest battles and disapprove of sneaky underhanded tactics, but that was simply the view from the past him. The current him had a different mentality. He simply believed that the end should justify the means.

By now, he had already lost his desire to become a hero inside Fantasy Edge. After all, he realized that what he wanted wasn’t for others to look at him in awe or for him to bask in glory. It was simply to become stronger.

As such, within limits, there was no need to abide by unnecessary moral rules. If he did, his two role models would condemn him for being so foolish.

‘This is perfect! I’ll put the boss to sleep! No, I’ll put the whole base to sleep!’

His mind was already formulating multiple scenarios where the little treasure could be used. Unlike his other plans, this suggestion by XiaoFan had an extremely high success rate. After all, even if it didn’t allow him to kill all bandits, it should at least allow him to empty their treasury.

“Hahaha!! Good, let’s have some breakfast before I leave.”

With excitement bursting from their hearts, Lin XiaoFan quickly made the decision to cook an extra large breakfast. It was an early celebratory meal since neither of them could see any fault to their plan. Yet, even with such a large quantity of food, the two were capable of wolfing down everything in sight. Their hearts were merry and their laughter was joyful. Soon enough, every dish was cleaned out and not a single scrap remained behind.

A short time later, Ace patted his stomach while leaving the inn with the sleeping powder stored snugly inside his Item Bag. Inevitably, his gait was quick and rapid.

However, his steps slowed considerably after reaching the outskirts of town. The reduction in walking speed wasn’t due to any hesitation nor loss of confidence, instead, it was for a completely unrelated matter. He had discovered a body.

Ten meters away from him, there was a body that lay prone on the dirt road. Originally, he had decided to ignore it, after all, it wasn’t uncommon to see dead bodies out in the open. However, upon a second glance, he knew he had to investigate.

It was the clothes. The dirty white outfit decked with countless azure-colored patterns felt eerily familiar. It looked particularly similar to Wu XingFu’s outfit.

Normally, Ace wasn’t the type of person to pay special attention to the clothing of others, after all, he was never extremely fashionable. He could care less about what others wore. Of course, the equipment worn by players inside Fantasy Edge was an exception.

But it can’t be forgotten that Ace had spent a considerable length of time staring at the back of Wu XingFu as he searched through dozens upon dozens of dead bodies. At the time, a great amount of his attention was devoted to staring at the scholar’s back, after all, he couldn’t bear to watch the crying man rummage through the bloody corpses. This was a necessary distraction that helped him divert the negative emotions that coursed through him. If he didn’t, tears would surely have flowed down his cheeks too.

Thus, he faintly recognized that particular set of colors worn by the immobile figure. As he walked closer, he felt more certain. Even if the man’s face wasn’t exposed, Ace knew it had to be XingFu.

Finally, he was close enough to inspect the man and quickly confirmed his suspicions. The body lying on the road was the NPC he knew.

‘What’s he doing here? Is he still alive?’

However, unlike confirming his identity, there was no way to confirm his mortality without a physical examination.

Ace quickly flipped the scholar faceup and placed a finger under his nostrils. When he felt a steady stream of air, he released the breath he unconsciously held and quickly returned to the inn.

“XiaoFan! Bring me some water!!”

Originally, XiaoFan wanted to ask about his unexpected return, but he quickly changed his mind when he saw the unconscious man in his arms. Immediately afterwards, he brought back a bucket filled to the brim with cold water.

“Thanks.”

Ace took the bucket and swiftly poured the entirety of its contents onto XingFu. Just as in the movies, he quickly woke up with a loud gasp.

“Brother SkyBlade, who is he?”

“He’s the friend I met yesterday. The one looking for his fiance.”

XingFu slightly jumped at the sounds of conversation next to him, however, his face quickly relaxed when he saw the face of his savior. But, before he could say anything, a loud grumbling noise echoed through the air.

After sharing a short laugh, Ace took out some rations and handed them to the starving man.

“XiaoFan, go make some breakfast for him too.”

When XiaoFan left, Ace took the chance to ask XingFu what happened.

“Actually, I was coming to see you. However, I never guessed that I would faint from hunger before seeing you.”

“To see me? Why?”

“I need your help.”

“Is it your fiance? You weren’t able to find her?”

The pained look on his face said it all.

“What do you want me to do?”
 

Rescue Su Yue Quest
Difficulty B
Wu XingFu’s lover, Su Yue, has been missing from his home village. After extensive searching, he has finally came to the conclusion that his beloved has been captured.

Infiltrate the Blood-Axe Bandits and rescue Su Yue.

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

 
 
‘Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!’

To say that Ace was excited was an understatement. Originally, he had thought about asking the NPC for the quest to exterminate the bandits again. Now that he had a possibility of completing the quest, he yearned for the small collection of Stat increasing pills. However, this was no longer necessary.

Somehow, his rejection of the previous quest led to an easier quest for the same reward!

Ace wanted to quickly blurt out his acceptance, however, he couldn’t. He still had to wait for the end of XingFu’s explanation.

“So afterwards, I came to only one conclusion. They captured her!”

“I should have thought of this sooner, but a part of me didn’t want to believe it! They captured me because they discovered the Official’s Badge on me. Yue’er… with just one look, it’s obvious that she’s not a village girl! If they could capture me, then they could have captured her!”

“I’m not strong enough to bring her back, but you are! I saw how well you handled those bandits… You can also turn invisible! If it’s you… you could sneak into the base and save her.”

“Please… I know this is a lot to ask for someone you just met a day ago. Our friendship isn’t deep, but you are my last hope. Please, I beg you. Accept this selfish request of mine… I can’t lose her.”

The scholar was down on his knees and bowed low enough for his head to touch the floor. This act could be said to be the epitome of sincerness when requesting for outside help.

“I accept. Don’t worry, I’ll save her.”

At Ace’s reassurance, XingFu sat back in his seat and took out a small yellow triangle with bright red markings tied to an equally red string. The triangle was formed by folding a paper talisman that was blessed by heavenly saints.

“This is the item Yue’er gave me when we confessed our love. It can be considered as our most memorable item. If she doesn’t trust you, show her this and she’ll know it was me who sent you.”
 

Su Yue’s Good Luck Charm Rare
Quest Item
A good luck charm blessed by the Diety of Literature and contains the prayers Su Yue has for her beloved in passing the Imperial Exam.

However, due to the Temple Head’s inability to write magical talismans, this charm has no effect.

 
 
After a while, XiaoFan came out with a tray filled with steaming hot dishes. With both quest-givers keeping each other company, Ace soon restarted his journey up the mountain.

Under the guise of his invisibility, he safely made his way up to the bandit’s base. Luckily, the damages from yesterday’s attacks hadn’t disappeared, so the entrance was no longer barricaded by a thick solid door.

‘What should I do first? Find Yue’er or drug the bandits?’

‘Well, it’ll definitely be easier to search if the bandits are asleep.’

As he became concentrated on his thoughts, his feet brought him past the destroyed gates and he once again stepped foot into the base.

Suddenly, a scalding sensation exploded from below him. An electrical current shot through his boots and penetrated deep into his skin. Immediately, visible flashes of electricity coursed through his body as he felt his muscles contract tightly. As his body began to shake, he could feel himself losing control of various muscles.

“Ahhhh!!!!”

Finally, Ace couldn’t stand the uncomfortable feeling of having his body react to a heavy electric shock. His mouth parted wide open and he released a stressful cry. At the moment, he wished the system wouldn’t block off so much of the pain. If he could feel even a tiny bit more of the pain that would accompany such an attack, perhaps he wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable. At the very least, the pain would be a more comfortable distraction.

 

Invisibility Status removed.

 

You have been inflicted with the Stunned status.

Immobile for 180 seconds.

 
 
“Three minutes!? What’s happening!?”

As he forced his head to look around, he quickly spotted numerous bandits rushing out of their homes. They were fully armed.

Suddenly, his health dropped and he fell onto his knees. He had been attacked from the two bandits guarding the gate.

“The ground! This powder! It’s a trap!!’

“You bastards!!!”

However, he was only met with endless laughter as the two bandits raised their axes to attack once more.
 

Your Willpower has reduced the duration of the Stunned status.

 
 
‘Willpower! Yes… willpower! Only this Stat could help me!’

Ace quickly focused all of his strength into fighting against the stunned status. He forced himself to take back control of his body and fought hard to move his limbs.

Sadly, the bandits weren’t going to idly stand and watch him struggle. Their attacks struck him hard and he took another major hit to his health. Four consecutive hits from these bandits were enough to drop his health by twenty percent.

‘Thank god they didn’t use that spinning skill.’
 

Your Willpower has weakened the effects of the Stunned status.

Agility reduced by 30% for the remainder of the status.
Attack Speed reduced by 30% for the remainder of the status.
Movement Speed reduced by 30% for the remainder of the status.

 
 
With the display of the System Notification, Ace quickly discovered that he was able to move. However, he was appalled at the sight of the severe restrictions on his stats. Yet, there was nothing he could do. He had to escape. He couldn’t die here.

It’ll be too late by the time he could revive.

“Body Swap!”

“Haste!”

“Wind Sprint!”

The combination of skills allowed him to reach a normal running speed, but it wasn’t enough to leave the bandits behind in his dust. Instead, some of the bandits were noticeably faster than him and was slowly decreasing the gap between them.

Ace didn’t dare to look backwards. The only task on his mind was to run straight. He had to run till the negative status disappeared.

As he ran, he was horrified to discover one major side effect of the modified stunned status. He was no longer immobile, but as he moved, sparks would occasionally erupt from his body. Although these sparks didn’t damage him, they also weren’t mere cosmetic effects. Each time the sparks shot out, his muscles would contract and he would stumble a little.

“God damn! How many seconds are left?!”

As if to answer him, he suddenly gained an enormous burst of speed and the distance between him and the bandits finally increased.

‘Could there really be a weapon against invisibility?’

He couldn’t help cursing loudly at the sudden discovery of anti-invisibility weapons. He had grown too comfortable with his Shadow Cloak skill and saw it as a vital element of his skill arsenal. His reliance on it was further evident by how much he wanted to implement Canine’s stealthy way of fighting into his attacks.

However, this new discovery was too big of a shock. The crippling effect he received was too powerful.

‘But if I don’t use invisibility, then what should I do? How can I get in? Teleport?’

But he quickly dismissed that idea. The bandits weren’t stupid.

They laid an invisibility trap for him because they knew he could turn invisible. Originally, teleportation might have been viable, but he had already exposed that trump card when escaping. He wasn’t sure how, but he’s positive that the bandits would find a way to counter that too.

‘What other choices do I have? I can’t jump over that distance… BMW? If I climb on top of him while invisible and have him walk in…’

It wasn’t a bad plan, after all, it was a successful tactic that he had used before. However, when he pulled out the FireRock Golem’s housing sphere to command it to return, he discovered that this path wasn’t open for him either. The sphere had turned grey and the monster inside the sphere was surrounded by glowing white lights. This symbolized only one thing. His pet was currently recovering from death.

“Shit! BMW!! Why now?”

Soon, Ace led his pursuers back into the surrounding forest. Seeing this familiar scene, he was instantly struck by a feeling of deja vu.

Would he have to reenact the same events as yesterday? No, of course not.

Yesterday’s troubles only happened due to him protecting a defenseless scholar. Today, he was alone. He didn’t have to run.

“Shadow Cloak.”

He quietly stayed silent as he waited for the bandits to arrive. Rather than run, he had already came up with a new plan. After all, he realized that he did have one other special skill. This was a skill that the bandits would never expect.

‘One, two, three, four.’

There was a total of four bandits that ran considerably faster than the rest. Four was a good amount.

“Where did he go?”

“Invisibility! Everyone, be careful!”

Ace shook his head when he saw the four’s hesitation in entering the forest. He quickly dispelled his invisibility. After getting their attention, he ran deeper into the forest. Truthfully, he wasn’t sure where he wanted to lure the four unsuspecting bandits to, but he knew it couldn’t be a place too close to the edge.

“Body Swap!”

Suddenly, the bandits discovered that their target had disappeared into thin air, but before they could react, two painful screams exploded out from the two in the rear. Ace had appeared behind them and delivered a brutal slash to their unguarded necks. As a result of such a cruel attack, the two immediately dropped onto the ground. They were alive, but they couldn’t move a single finger. No, they couldn’t even feel their fingers.

At the sudden screams, the two bandits in the front quickly turned around and saw the attacker moving away from their rear support. Immediately, one of them threw his axe towards Ace’s retreating figure, but it was all for naught. He had disappeared once more.

Both bandits suddenly felt a horrifying chill go down their spine as they recalled this familiar sight. Immediately, they turned around as quick as they could, but it was already too late. They met the same fates as the other two.

At the sight of all four lying on the ground, Ace chuckled smugly as he picked up a small throwing blade. It was one of his throwing items.

However, since he didn’t need these four alive, he quickly ended their suffering while making sure his killing blows were all targeted to their throats.

“Okay, it’ll be you!”

“Transform!”

After changing into one of the bandits, he quickly utilized his highest speed to hide the body a further away. Upon returning, he summoned out Keki and told him to hide in the nearby bushes.

“Remember, when I tap the ground like this, start hopping that way okay? Don’t make any high jumps! Only short little hops!”

When he heard the voices of the remaining bandits, he silently lay on the ground and activated his Transformation skill once more to add a bloody wound to his throat.

“Fuck! We’re too late!”

“Is he still here?”

“Are they still alive?”

“You want to check?”

“Nah, they look dead to me.”

“Wait, I hear something! They’re still alive?”

One bandit walked over to the four, but after a quick check, he was disappointed to discover that only one was alive.

“Only this one is alive. He got lucky. The cut looks bad, but it didn’t cut through any of his arteries. Hey, did you see which way that brat went?”

Ace slapped the ground and pointed towards a spot to the distance. Sure enough, the bushes in that direction started moving.

“He’s there! That stinking brat, he was hiding while staying invisible!”

The other bandits quickly ran towards that direction, but without any more movements, they were unable to continue following.

“He got away again.”

“Let’s go back.”

“Boss won’t be happy…”

“What else can we do?”

“Should we stay out here longer? If we return return right now, doesn’t it seem like we didn’t put in as much effort as those guys from yesterday?”

“Hey! What are you two talking about? If we don’t return now, this guy’s going to die.”

“He’s half-dead anyway, just leave him here.”

‘Wait… what!? That’s not what I planned!’

“Look at that wound, he won’t be much help in the fight with the Revivers later. Why bother wasting medicine on him?”

‘Shit! These heartless bastards!! I should have just gave myself a cut on the arm or something… At this point, there wasn’t any reason to pick the throat!’

One bandit stepped forwards and looked down towards Ace.

“Sounds right. Hey, I don’t remember you and you probably don’t know me either, but as a fellow Blood-Axe Bandit, I won’t let you bleed to death. I’ll give you a swift death.”

Ace silently cursed as he glared at the man standing above him. His hand secretly moved towards his item bag.

“Wait! Stop! Stop!! This… it feels too wrong. Let’s go back.”

However, before Ace needed to make his move, one of the bandits quickly pushed his way to the front.

“Are you serious? Didn’t you remember how the guys from yesterday looked after seeing the Boss?”

“Let’s find Captain Guo. If it’s him, maybe he’ll help us.”

With the mention of Captain Guo, the bandits showed a heavy consideration over his words, but some still held hesitations. Seeing this, the bandit tried a different approach at convincing the group.

“Look. No matter how you’re going to say it, it’s a fact that we couldn’t catch the kid. We’ll be punished no matter how long we stay out. Let’s return now and bring this guy back. At the very least, we won’t feel bad about killing one of our own.”

“I won’t feel bad.”

At those words, the bandit quickly flew into a rage.

“Shut up!!!”

“Damn! We’re the Blood-Axe Bandits, not the Bloodthirsty Bandits! Why are you trying to kill him? Do you really need to!?”

“What’s wrong with you guys?!”

“I don’t know about the rest of you, but before Boss took over the entire mountain, I was a bandit at Flying Eagle Fort! Let me tell you, I fucking miss those days! I was happy! Although we only had around sixty people in total, everyone treated each other as brothers!”

“But here? We have over six hundred bandits, but no one trusts anyone. When someone dies, we don’t even bury their bodies. Even Captain Huo was just tossed off the mountain. All of us wouldn’t hesitate to stab each other in the back if it meant more rewards!”

“Is that what a bandit means to you? Is that the type of bandit you want to be? How many of you were originally a bandit from this mountain? Do you not miss those days before Boss came?”

These loud raging words finally shut everyone’s mouth. They couldn’t argue back. This was especially true for those bandits who originally belonged to other bandit groups. Each one of them remembered a much happier life. For the ones who weren’t bandits prior to being a Blood-Axe Bandit, they also shook their heads in sadness. They also wished for a different life. A more carefree life. This one was simply too stressful and tiring.

“But what can we do? I was originally someone from the Smiling Tiger Fort and we were well known as righteous bandits. But that life ended once Boss took over the mountain. If we don’t adapt to the rules, we’ll just be killed by those who do. The stuff that we’ve done over these past few years… I don’t feel good doing them, but what can we do?”

The bandit’s words soon caused others to reminisce their old days. However, at the sadness in their words, the previously raging bandit simply shook his head.

“There’s something we can do. I’ll let you guys in on a little secret. Right now, Captain Guo is planning a revolt. If he succeeds, we’ll be back to our old lives. You’ve all seen how Captain Guo treats us. He’s not like Boss or the other captains. Captain Guo truly cares about us and treats us as brothers. Every time one of us is in trouble, isn’t it always him who speaks up for us?”

“You’re right. Captain Guo is really different. If it’s him, I wouldn’t mind following him! But how do you know about this?”

“I won’t hide it from you guys, since I want to believe we’re all brothers here. Truthfully, I’m one of Captain Guo’s supporters and I’m helping him find more support inside the fort. The revolt won’t be easy and he can’t do it alone. What do you say?”

This reveal easily shocked the listening men. For a short moment, they didn’t know what to say. However, this moment of silence didn’t last long before the bandits began to nod in agreement.

“Yes. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t keep living like this. If I’m going to die, I might as well risk it all and revolt! Let’s go back and find Captain Guo.

The bandits shouted loudly in agreement. As such, they quickly bandaged Ace’s wound and retreated back to base.

‘W-what did I just overhear? This is… interesting…’

The small smile on Ace’s face went unnoticed.
 
 


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13 thoughts on “Chapter 18

  1. he doesn’t really seem to have enough poison to knock out all the bandits
    perhaps the boss might work but wouldn’t a bandit leader have someone taste-test his food?

    thanks for the chapter

    Like

    • Yep, theoretically speaking, the medicine’s effects will be weakened a lot if used on let’s say… a large pot of porridge.
      But, you’ll have to keep in mind that it was never said how much of the powder had to be used. Its said that this particular powder is an extremely potent drug, so the amount needed won’t be as high as what you’re imagining. You’ll have to remember that XiaoFan used it accidentally as a cooking condiment and from that its easy to approximate how much he used to knock the six players out for a day.

      Not sure I agree with the bandit leader having people taste-test his food though.
      I know this is common for say… the Emperor of China. But for a bandit chief in his own place, I don’t think its a common practice.

      Like

    • Yep, 100% sure that these NPCs are not real, free willed, beings.

      This isn’t the type of vrmmo story where the players are sent to a different world and they think its a game but its actually a real world.
      This also isn’t the type of vrmmo story where the NPCs are played by human staff.

      Like

      • Wow… then this mmo must be either traumatic for the average person, or making him dissasociate reality with murder. I was never a fan of “videogames make people violent” , but this one may do it.Wonder why its so popular, being of very advanced technology does not make a videogame popular… then again, its only disadvantage is that it is more realistic that a videogame should be to be enjoyable, I can see people falling in love with the expansive world.

        Still, I’d stick to retros.

        Like

      • Its popular within the world mainly due to how different it is compared to other games. Players go into the game knowing how realistic everything can get, so most players wouldn’t immersive themselves completely into the game world. Of course, those who know this but still decide to immerse themselves completely are those who have really fallen for the game.

        But you’ll still have casual or professional players who treats this as nothing but just a 4D game experience so they won’t be too affected by the NPC’s emotions.
        In Ace’s case, he develops a deeper relationship with NPCs even when he’s trying not to because a part of him secretly wants to.

        But yep, I agree with you about how such realistic games can be traumatic for the average person since it allows them to experience things that they might never have the chance to experience in their entire life. However, its unavoidable. With how successful Fantasy Edge is, other game companies will try their best to make similar type of games which will lead to this type of VRMMO being a standard.
        Retro games that you prefer will soon be relics of the past and only enjoyed by oldies 😛

        Personally, I would love this game and go for the full immersive experience.

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  2. Plot twist, bandits aren’t actualy bad. 😀
    Well, you hinted it before, but it still cought me off guard.
    Just a question if i may ask. Did you have this planned when you started the bandit arc?

    Like

    • Yep, all arcs up to Chapter 68 have all been planned out as of now.

      Its not really a plot twist. At the start of the bandit arc, all the information the MC has received of them is basically the opinions of the commoners and victims. To them, all of the bandits are bloodthirsty villains that have no heart. Basically, they villainize them to the point of them being pure evil monsters.
      However, now Ace is hearing the POV of the bandits themselves. In such a large group, there would definitely be a variety of different types of people with some actually being good men who were forced to do bad deeds.

      So this wasn’t really meant as a plot twist or to catch you off guard. Its just showing a more realistic display of villains because they can’t all be like the bandit leaders. In a large organization, there’s bound to be good and bad people mixed within.

      I’m just not sure did I pass that message off well 😛

      Like

      • It just came kind of unexpected for me. And that is good. 😀
        I love things like this. It really gives the bandits depth.
        Some writers just don’t bother with such things.
        And I might have used some wrong words myself. 🙂

        Like

      • Wow. I am actually amazed by how far you’ve planned ahead. 50 chapters, thats pretty impressive. Keep up the good work, this novel is great!

        Like

  3. Wow i did think actually that that captain Guo was a pretty legal guy but yeah, you have me now looking forward for Ace making a deal with the captain to get mutual benefits and make the rebellion succsesful. Or maybe you will do something completely diferent but whatever it is, i’m sure it will be interesting to see XD.

    Like

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