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Chapter 19 Part 1
Although the group of bandits had valiantly spoken about revolting against Xue FengLang’s aggressive reign, it was clear that their thunder was much louder than the rain that followed. The group were synchronously retreating at an increasingly slower pace.
From their actions, Ace understood that even though Xue FengLang induced a lot of hate within the men, the effectiveness of his methods was undeniable. His oppressive presence was firmly engraved inside the heart and mind of each individual. The fear inside their heart grew stronger with each step and it became harder to maintain their former conviction.
‘At this rate, when will we make it back?’
He knew he had to take matters into his own hands if he wanted to speed up their return. The things he needed to do were all in the bandit base and he wasn’t too keen on wasting more time outside. Coincidentally, the effectiveness of his disguise also depended on his swift return back. Therefore, whether it was due to his impatience or due to the sustainability of his plan, he knew he was forced to act.
With a silent sigh, Ace softly activated his transformation skill and gave himself a paler complexion. With a sharp gasp, he then stumbled slightly and pulled against the arms of the two men supporting him.
“Woah, are you alright?”
Ace shook his head and muttered an unintelligible sound.
“Damn, we’re moving too slow! This guy doesn’t look like he could last much longer!”
“You’re right, his face is too pale! Don’t worry brother, we’ll get you back safely. Hey, let’s hurry up! We can wait, but this guy can’t!”
Consequently, the group of bandits rapidly sped up their pace as a result of Ace’s act. His cry of alarm had loosened the incorporeal sense of fear that firmly clutched onto them. As an unintended bonus, the group believed that Ace wasn’t fit for travel anymore and quickly created a makeshift cot out of nearby materials. The cot wasn’t comfortable, but Ace couldn’t be any happier at the conclusion.
‘This is wrong, but I can see why there’s so much liars in the world.’
Before long, the bandits made it back to base and greeted the two guards at the entrance. Originally the two were surprised that the group was back so soon, but they decided not to question after seeing the heavily injured bandit on the shabby cot.
“Damn, can this guy even make it? Why did you even bother bringing him back?”
“Forget it, hurry and bring him in.”
Ace soon found himself transported into a small building that served as the bandit’s clinic. However, calling it a clinic was simply giving the dark gloomy room too much credit.
It was simply a one-room building fully stocked with common medical supplies such as bandages and healing ointments. Essentially, it was a medicine storage room. But there was a reason why it was called a clinic rather than a storage room. Two small cots were set up against the wall for the injured to rest.
Even without a doctor or a nurse, the addition of two simple cots was enough for the bandits to declare the existence of their clinic. Clearly, bandits love to dream.
At the sight of the friendliest bandit walking over with a bandage roll and a medicine bottle, Ace quickly opened the Customization Window for his Transformation skill and carefully adjusted it’s settings while being treated. With his softest voice, the minimum sound that emitted from his lips were inaudible to the ear. At the very least, one would have to place his ear directly next to his mouth to hear the near silent murmurs.
A few short minutes later, the man who operated on him gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder and announced the completion of the treatment.
“Okay, you’ve stopped bleeding. I’m not a doctor, but it should be safe to say that you’ve kept your life. Sadly, it looks like you were cut too deep so you’ll likely lose any abilities to talk in the future.”
At the sound of those words, Ace quickly widened his eyes and made a horrified expression. He wasn’t sure how to react in this kind of situation and couldn’t help but wonder if his reaction was too exaggerated.
‘I should pay more attention to people’s facial and body reactions when I watch TV from now on. If I become better at acting, it should help me a lot with the Deception stat.’
“Hey, don’t worry. If you could find a good doctor or someone with powerful healing magic, it should be treatable.”
“He’s right, I’ve heard that some of the doctors in the Inner Circle are able replace a damaged limb with a fully functional one from someone else. There’s even an expert who became well-known after replacing his left arm with a Flame Ape’s arm!”
“But if you don’t want that, then magic should be the way to go. There’s powerful healers in the Inner Circle who can regenerate lost limbs! A throat injury should be nothing to them!”
Multiple bandits suddenly offered caring words upon seeing the ugly expression on Ace’s face. However, though their words were kind, he couldn’t help but think back to the heartless attitudes that they had earlier in the day.
It was only a few hours since then, but their change was too big. It was simply a direct contrast of their former selves.
One could say that this change was attributed to their newfound discovery of humaneness, but could people really change so drastically in such a short time?
Were people really so fickle or were they simply too fake?
Ace didn’t have an answer. He didn’t have enough experience interacting with others to be able to answer such a question.
Yet, although he was curious, he couldn’t use this moment to learn. He gave them an awkward smile and silently nodded his head. However, a few seconds later, he realized that he should have grimaced during the nod. After all, even though his injury was bandaged, an action such as nodding should still hurt. Sadly, it was now too late to make up for that mistake. He could only pray that they wouldn’t notice the slight slip up.
“Okay, now that you’re better, go rest for a bit. The rest of us will go find Captain Guo.”
They didn’t notice.
From their actions, it was clear that their mind was more focused on the looming conversation with their captain than on him. As such, the group soon left the clinic.
After the last man left the building, Ace quickly stood up and activated his invisibility. The impending talk between the bandits sounded too interesting to be missed.
He quickly followed behind the group that was stealthily moving through the darker areas of the base. Their cautious movements appeared to symbolize their attempts for secrecy, but this act only served to humor their stalker. Was it possible to divert attention when moving suspiciously in such a large group?
Surprisingly, Ace noticed that although the group were seen by multiple people, none of them questioned their actions. Apparently, no one cared.
After a few more twists and turns, everyone was guided towards a seemingly normal building in the base. Similarly to the other wooden buildings in the area, there was nothing special about this one.
‘This doesn’t look like the home of a captain.’
From his previous visit, he had already seen the homes of normal bandits that were more spectacular than this one. Even if Guo Hai was a frugal man, it didn’t make sense for someone of his status to live in a place like this.
‘Ahh, of course! I misunderstood. If they’re going to talk about rebellions, then it definitely won’t happen at that guy’s home.’
Sure enough, the building was revealed to be a weapon storage room. The inside was filled to the brim with a variety of weapons and armor. Surprisingly, even though axes were the weapons of choice for these bandits, the arsenal in the room was primarily stocked with other types of weapons. Swords, sabers, daggers, and bows were commonly seen throughout the place. Additionally, the walls of the building were riddled with multiple slashes and holes that were undoubtedly made by the weapons in the room.
However, Ace’s eyes weren’t immediately attracted towards all these items, instead they were attracted to a familiar glow emitting from a large section of the wooden floor. The deceptive trapdoor instantly wiped away any remaining traces of confusion. A second sweep across the room revealed a single small scratch on the wall that also emitted the same glow.
“Close the door and watch carefully.”
The speaker carefully selected one of the sabers lying in the armory and quickly stabbed the tip of the blade into the glowing scratch on the wall. This action caused a slight rumbling to vibrate out from below and the trapdoor lowered into the ground to reveal an empty cavity beneath the room.
‘Damn!!! Trapdoors are so cool!’
From the short demonstration, Ace was able to draw upon a few obvious conclusions. The trapdoor would only activate if a particular weapon entered into a particular deep cut on the wall. Most likely, the myriad of cuts and the innumerable amount of weapons were simply used as a camouflage.
‘How clever. Even if people suspect there to be a trapdoor, they wouldn’t be able to open it. Those weapons… they’re not new weapons either and all of them had various markings and dents on the blade. Those dents should be the markings on a key and the trap will only activate if a blade with a particular set of injuries enters a particular cut on the wall.’
It was a simple concept, but it was also overly effective. Even Ace with a Deception stat of 173 was only able to notice the trapdoor and the keyhole, but as for the key, his Deception stat showed nothing of interest.
Ace wasn’t the only one to be astounded by the trapdoor. Likewise, every other bandit around him were equally shocked with some showing huge expressions of fanaticism.
“Wow, oh wow! This… this is real right?!”
“A secret underground room! This… this… damn, its too amazing!”
The man who opened the secret room released a knowing chuckle. He also had similar reactions when he first experienced the secret inside this armory.
“Okay, quickly go in. We normally don’t keep the entrance open for too long.”
The bandits needed no further invitation and quickly rushed in with the invisible Ace following suit. As the last one to enter, Ace stayed close enough to the entrance and saw the man quickly pull the saber out of the wall and drop it onto a nearby table before rushing into the slowly closing entrance.
‘Hmm… this part doesn’t feel too well designed.’
Underneath the storage room was a well-light underground tunnel that was wide enough to fit four burly men.
‘Was this already here or did that Captain Guo create this? Is it even possible to create these tunnels without anyone noticing?’
Although these questions passed through his mind, they were simply rhetorical questions. He understood that this was a game world, so some things couldn’t be explained through logic and common sense. In the real world, these were puzzling questions that would be difficult to answer, but this wasn’t the real world. In Fantasy Edge, there were various special skills or items would make it easily possible to dig effortlessly through dirt and create such tunnels.
The group marched down the wide passageway and discovered that the underground area consisted of multiple different tunnels.
“Be careful down here and don’t wander around. When Captain Guo created these tunnels, he placed a few deadly traps in some of them. Some others would lead to a dead end.”
“Did Captain Guo create all of this himself?”
“Should be. I heard that he used a special combat technique to carve out these tunnels.”
“There’s such a powerful technique!?”
“Yes! That’s why I’m convinced this rebellion will be a success! Captain Guo might not lose to the boss.”
Before long, the man brought everyone to a large clearing that was connected to seven other tunnels. From the size of the room and the carving of a stone table in the center, it was clear that this cavern was the meeting room for the rebellion.
“Find a seat. For now, we can only wait for Captain Guo to come.”
“I’m a bit confused. When did you notify him? How does he know we’re here?”
“Honestly, I’m not sure either. But from what I’ve noticed, Captain Guo will always know when someone enters this room. He’ll also know how many people are in the room.”
“Can it be… magic? Does Captain Guo know magic?”
“It’s possible. Don’t forget that the Boss, Captain Guo, and the other Captains are from the Inner Circle. Their strength isn’t something we can imagine.”
Sure enough, half an hour later, footsteps could be heard coming from a nearby tunnel and a strong refined man walked in with a smiling face.
Immediately, every bandit in the vicinity stood up and shouted out their greeting.
“Hahaha, it’s nice to see everyone, but try to keep it down. We’re a bit deep underground, but sound might still travel up. So, seeing how you’re all here, I believe Wu Ming has told you about our plan?”
His question was met with a firm nod.
“Sit. Sit. There’s enough chairs for everyone. Now, how much of the plan did he tell you?”
“Actually, I only told them you were planning a revolt. I didn’t mention anything more about the plan.”
“Really? I’m surprised all of you agreed to come here after only hearing that…”
A brief hint of suspicion curled off of Guo Hai’s words and he looked carefully at each of the men sitting in the room.
“No! Captain, we only came because Wu Ming told us your reason for the revolt. We… all of us… we don’t want to live like this anymore.”
“He’s right. These past few years has been too stressful. The boss… he’s too scary. I can’t help but feel that if things maintain as they are now, I’ll soon end up with my body tossed off the mountain.”
“Captain Guo, in the entire fort, you’re the only one who cares about us. If it’s you, I would definitely support you in becoming the leader of the Blood-Axe Bandits.”
Guo Hai revealed a gentle smile on his face as he listened to more and more people speak out their inner thoughts. He patiently waited for everyone to finish talking before resuming from where he left off.
“Yes, I can understand your feelings. Although I wasn’t a bandit before coming to Tenya Mountains, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel the same way. My ideas of the bandit life is the same as yours. A life of freedom and enjoyment. I am a military man, at least, I was.”
“I believe I don’t have to explain how my life was back then. Military life. It’s all common knowledge. We have strict training schedules and a lack of freedom. Everything we did was by the rules and we’ll be punished harshly if we don’t abide by them.”
“Thus, I was quite happy to leave the army and become a bandit. Freedom. This was my reason. However, Xue FengLang’s vision of bandits is different from my own. From the way he trains you to the way you are sent to kill others, it’s not much different from the army. He’s essentially turning you all into soldiers.”
“If I wanted this, then I would have stayed in the army! But, enough is enough. We need to change our lives around. I, for one, will not become a soldier again. How about the rest of you? Are you all content with being soldiers? Do you want to live the rest of your life following Xue FengLang’s orders?”
An unanimous cry of refusal quickly erupted out from every man in the room. Any reason for not supporting the rebellion was thoroughly erased by Guo Hai’s speech and their rebellious hearts became fervently ignited. Everyone could feel the fervor in their heartbeat and the rush of anticipation that shot through their body.
“Right!! With that answer, I believe it’s safe to say that we’re all brothers here. Together, let’s fight for our future!”
Guo Hai easily swayed the men into joining his cause and began to describe his plan.
“Originally, I planned to recruit as much supporters as possible and wait for an opportune moment for us to initiate our attack.”
“But Captain, will there even be a moment like that?”
“You don’t know him as well as I do. The secret manual he’s studying doesn’t belong to any school and is extremely complex. Xue FengLang might be a genius martial talent, but even he isn’t suitable to train in it. Every so often, an accident would occur during his training and he would suffer from a heavy injury.”
“Really!? That… is it true? Can it be real?”
“Absolutely. However, he’s extremely secretive with his training and every time he’s injured, he’ll hide inside his room to heal. Due to this, not even us captains would know that he’s been injured.”
At those words, the bandits looked at their captain with obvious confusion on their faces.
“Don’t worry. I have someone on the inside giving me information. But of course, this was only my original plan.”
“Huh? Why? The plan sounds good! Why do we need a new plan? Is it better?”
Guo Hai sadly shook his head and sighed deeply before answering.
“It’s the Revivers.”
“Their appearance has completely messed up the plan I carefully made over the past few months. From yesterday, we could see that their strength definitely isn’t something trivial. Just six Revivers were enough to kill Huo YanCao and injure not only us captains but also Xue FengLang. Judging by their reactions when we killed them, it’s obvious that they’ll be back with a much stronger force.”
Although his face was peaceful and nonchalant, the danger hinted by his words were enough to send shivers down everyone’s bones. A lot of their comrades had died during the fight, would they be able to survive an even stronger attack?
“What should we do? Can we even win?”
“We’ve already requested help from the other bandit forts in the alliance and they should arrive in a few days. However, I have no idea about the exact date… Also, due to the distance, they’ll most likely arrive after the Revivers.”
Seeing that these words weren’t reassuring enough to calm the group of bandits down, Guo Hai quickly clapped his hands to get their attention.
“Hey, there’s no need to be so solemn. Don’t worry, although time was short, I’ve already worked out a new plan.”
“What kind of plan is it? What can save us?”
“We’ll be taking advantage of the Revivers.”
However, this piece of info didn’t receive the type of reaction that he expected.
“W-what do you mean? Do we stay back and not fight at all?”
“We can’t! Boss will kill us first!”
After the bloody battle from the previous day, they would be lying if they said they weren’t scared of fighting the Revivers. Their ruthlessness could easily be seen and they knew that none of them had the capabilities to win against them. If they had the choice, none of them would want to fight them again.
It was true that the Blood-Axe Bandits had a fearsome reputation and they were all seen as fearless and bloodthirsty brutes, but this was only against weaker opponents. Against regular villagers and normal mercenaries, they were a force that would show no fear. However, against such powerful experts, they didn’t possess the same thoughts.
Sadly, under Xue FengLang’s rule, fights were mandatory. Everyone had already seen the consequences of going against this rule. One group being shredded apart bit by bit wasn’t a sight that could easily be forgotten.
Thus, even if they were scared of fighting the Revivers, they were more scared of their boss. Logically speaking, at least fighting enemies would offer a chance to live and an opportunity to be rewarded. As for all cowards and deserters, a swift death was merely a blessing.
From the instantly appalled faces in front of him, Guo Hai could easily guess what they were worried about.
“Hahaha, don’t worry. We’ll fight. At least, we will… in the beginning.”
“What do you mean?”
“As battles typically go, the first to fight are never the strong fighters. Usually, it will be men like you who fight until we are forced to strike. At that point, there’s nothing you can do but fight. However, I urge you all to prioritize defending. What’s important is to preserve your life. Of course, you’ll have to do this in a way that doesn’t appear suspicious… but that shouldn’t be difficult, since the Revivers should be stronger than you anyway.”
The men quickly nodded their heads in agreement.
“Now, this next part I’m going to say will be very important. Assuming that the enemies are strong, while fighting, you are to slowly retreat. After a certain point, I’ll jump in and separate both you and the Revivers. This will be the point when the high leveled fighters join in.”
“What do we do then? Do we continue fighting or stand behind?”
“Retreat. Continue retreating. At this point, Xue FengLang should be too busy fighting to worry about you. If you want to survive, you’ll have to retreat into this secret underground tunnel.”
Multiple gasps sounded out as they realized what this entailed.
They’ll be safe.
“Of course, if anyone follows you in, you’ll have to activate the traps I have set up down here. But even without the traps, you should still be safe as long as you can remember the layout of this place.”
“I don’t mean to brag, but I’m very proud of these underground tunnels. No, rather than calling it underground tunnels, it would be more accurate to call it an underground labyrinth!”
“When creating this place, I’ve utilized every skill I’ve learned from a Formation Specialist and a Trap Specialist that I once befriended. The traps in here… its ability to restrict and trap enemies… It’s not something that could easily be overcome. Originally, this place was made as a reassurance against Xue FengLang, but now it appears that it’ll be used to save you all instead.”
At this moment, multiple rounds of cheers could be heard echoing off the walls before they slowly disappeared into silence.
“Captain, you’ll be fine fighting against the Revivers right?”
Now that the bandits no longer had to worry about their own safety, they were suddenly reminded about the death of Captain Huo. They desperately wished for Xue FengLang to be killed, but what if the one to die was their Captain Guo?
This was the worst case scenario, but it wasn’t a completely impossible possibility. There was still an off chance that it could happen.
However, this batch of worried bandits never expected their captain to laugh at their question.
“There’s no need to worry about me. Do you guys treat me like an idiot? Since I ordered you guys to retreat when it was safe, why would I stay behind for the conclusion of the fight? I will also be looking for a chance to escape from the battle!”
“To summarize the battle, we only have two goals.”
“One. To keep you all safe, you must participate in the battle until Xue FengLang takes action. To do this, you must focus on defending while steadily retreating. However, do not make the retreat too obvious.”
“Two. I’ll make sure that Xue FengLang gets placed in a bad situation before I make my escape. I’m not sure how this will happen yet, but in the midst of battle, it shouldn’t be too hard to deal an attack or two at him before I make my escape. After all, he should be too focused on the enemy to care about me.”
“This battle… there can only be one conclusion…”
“Xue FengLang’s death and our rise!!”
After the conclusion of his speech, Guo Hai spent a considerable amount of time to show the newest members of his rebellion the secrets of his underground labyrinth. Knowing this, Ace immediately activated an empty map scroll.
As he secretly followed the group, Ace was astounded by the level of thoughtfulness placed into the creation of this place.
He had already noticed and acknowledged the multiple turns and split paths while following the group, but the labyrinths design went much deeper than that. There were revolving doors hidden in walls that led to empty rooms or to another passageway. Traps of various degrees of severity also existed around each corner. Some traps were created using formations, so they weren’t detectable even by his Deception stat. Finally, Xue FengLang showed the various entrances and the secret unlocking methods for each.
This tour revealed an immense amount of lifesaving secrets to the people there. Ironically, the one who benefited the most wasn’t one of the bandits, but the invisible stalker that followed closely behind.
Each trap and useful contraption mentioned by Guo Hai was carefully marked on his copy of the Underground Labyrinth map. He didn’t know why, but Ace felt that this information would be useful one day. At the very least, it offered a degree of comfort to his intentions of killing Xue FengLang and the rest of the bandit captains.
‘Strange, there’s still some empty areas on the map. He said he’ll show everything, but he’s actually hiding a few areas?’
This was an observation that nobody would notice if they depended only on their memory. After all, a labyrinth was true to its name. It was unbelievably complex and made to confuse intruders. Luckily, Ace had a map that would track his movements, so he easily noticed various holes in the revealed sections of the map.
“Well, I hope you all will remember what I’ve just told you. There is no room for mistakes and there’s nothing I can do if you mess up. For now, go return and report to Xue FengLang. He might scare you, but he won’t punish any of you due to the impending battle.”
With a compliant nod, the group quickly left through a different exit than the one they entered from.
‘Hmm, that Guo Hai… Why is he just standing there?’
Just as Ace was about to follow the group, he couldn’t help but notice something peculiar about Guo Hai. Typically, it was normal for everyone to leave the room after a big discussion like this. At times, it might even be normal for the leader to exit first. However, for Guo Hai, he simply stood there and watched everyone leave first.
This action caused Ace to dally a bit longer in the area and eventually notice the extremely friendly smile on Guo Hai’s face melt off into an angry cold frown.
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