“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.”
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.
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.
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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