Having completed his training from Bors, Ryu was now a solo adventurer. Though, he wasn’t all too anxious traveling alone. He walked untroubled through the murky woods as he followed his map of the Brown Forest. The map wasn’t an extravagant chart by any means. It contained minimal information, which was just the layout of the region and the route of the forest roads. The forest drawing depicted the wooded area being in the layout of an inverted pentagon. There were mountains running along the northern border, and at each 'vertex' of the 'pentagon,' there was a road that pathed inward, converging into a circular route that ran around the center of the forest.
Ryu scanned his eyes across the illustration to gauge how big the Brown Forest was. Pinching his index finger and thumb together, he made an inch-long increment, and using that as his base measurement, he moved his fingers across the sheet of paper to count how many times the forest measured down and across.
Ten inches down and nine inches across.
Ryu's eyes shifted down to the corner of the map. There, he saw a map scale that indicated how far the forest measured in reality versus on the map. The scale provided a map measurement-to-map distance ratio of 1 inch: 10 leagues. Using that the provided ratio, Ryu calculated the approximate area of the Brown Forest.
A league is, what, almost three and a half miles?
Taking just a moment, he did some quick mental math and figured out the dimensions.
So about 350 miles by 315 miles? Well, it should be a little less since it’s a pentagon…
Although his approximated calculation was less than the real calculation, he was flabbergasted by the numbers, as they accounted for an incredibly large area. He looked at the map one more time to make sure there wasn’t any sorcery or visual error happening before his eyes. He even rechecked his math just to be doubly sure. But much to his dismay, it all checked out with his initial results.
Geez, this forest is huge… And I don’t even know how far away my next training place is. All Bors told me was to head in this direction.
Ryu sighed, stopping in his tracks. He turned his head to the left, looking out into the western region of the forest. He had only logged on for 20 minutes, so he hadn’t traveled far. On top of that, he was relatively close to the monster area where he had solo killed the wolves, and that was exactly where he was looking at now. He turned his head back facing forward onto the road. Then back to left. Then forward again. Then left. Then forward. Then once more, he turned his gaze to the west. He considered his options: keep on the path and continue on—to wherever that was, and however far—or get off the road and blow a few hours training and hunting.
It’ll be troublesome if I run into a large pack of Brown Wolves. I might even die, especially if I come across a pack the size of the one that attacked us when I began my training... But I need to be prepared for what’s to come… It's probably best that I use this time to train and hunt on my own.
He inhaled deeply and walked off the path, heading into the western region beyond the road.
As he entered the familiar region, a virtual message appeared to Ryu.
|You have entered a Monster Zone: Brown Wolf Thicket [Area 1].
You and your party will receive the following buffs while in Brown Wolf Thicket [Area 1]:
These buffs are divided equally among all active party members in Monster Zone: Brown Wolf Thicket [Area 1].
|Duration of buffs: 3 hours|
Upon seeing that the duration of the buffs was only three hours long, he understood why it had decreased from its original 24 hours.
That must mean that party buffs run on a real-time clock. So even if you’re offline, it’ll still take away from the time.
With that, Ryu wasted no time and got straight to grinding. He spent the next two hours killing monsters he encountered, all of which that attacked him on sight. It was strange, though. None of the monsters he encountered were Brown Wolves. For the two hours he’d been grinding, he had only come across Brown Opossums, Brown Raccoons, and Brown Foxes. Coming into a Monster Zone named aptly as the ‘Brown Wolf Thicket,’ he expected that he’d encounter the creatures the zone was named for. But after his wandering for a few hours, he still had no such encounter.
Bored, he opened up his Titles Descriptions menu, checking up on the two new titles he recently received.
|You have an innate curiosity and sense of duty that compels you to seek out help, either for your own sake or for the sake of others. As such, you venture out into the world, completing tasks that may be necessary for furthering your adventures through Albamania.
Bearing the title of The Seeker allows you to receive quests from Albamanians, all without fail. As such, you will always be successful in receiving quests, should they present themselves to you.
|The Seeker Who Seeks Beyond|
|Your innate curiosity and sense of duty make you headstrong and determined. Being so, you are resolute to any cause you give yourself to. Should you be hindered during your travels, it shall only be temporary. For someone who is headstrong and determined as you, obstacles are but an inconvenience.
Bearing the title of The Seeker Who See Seeks Beyond allows you to trek through your journeys unhindered by obstacles. As such, you will never fail a quest, for there shall always be a way presented to you to guide you through your journeys.
These titles don't really bring any extrinsic value. Hmm... But they could be useful later. I'll have to wait and see.
Ryu closed the screens.
Shaking his head, he sighed. He brought his attention back to his grinding.
Where did they all go?
Ryu stopped moving, keeping silent. He turned his head around a few times, listening to his surroundings. He waited to hear something. Anything. Birds chirping. The wind breezing through the shadow of the trees. The silent creeping of a lurking monster.
But he heard nothing.
Cautious by such silence, Ryu headed back in the direction of the road.
Might as well go back.
But as he was walking away he heard a cry coming from behind. It was faint, but he heard it.
It was a moaning cry, and whatever was making the noise, it sounded to be in great pain. He could hear the sad cry echoing, reverberating through the woods.
That’s definitely not a Brown Wolf.
In a normal situation, it would have been sensible for him to not bother investigating. His logical self told him, “Just walk away and go grind somewhere else.” But there was a great intrigue gradually surfacing from within, and it compelled him to turn around and check where the noise was coming from. But most importantly to Ryu was: what was making it? Anxious but also curious, he took a deep breath and turned around, walking in the direction of the sound.
I’m gonna regret this… Aren’t I?
He had totally given himself into his curious urge, so it was too late for him to force himself to stop and turn back. He simply followed his ‘instincts,’ letting the sound guide him as he marched through the forest.
Ryu walked for several hundred feet, trudging through the damp forest floor. The crying happened once every 10 to 15 seconds, but he knew he was getting close based on how much louder the sound became. He was also aware that he was now entering a different area, as he began sweeping aside darker branches and thicker shrubs. The trees grew closer together, too, many of them twining together like vines.
Finally, Ryu saw light breaking through the intertwined trunks of the trees from up ahead. It was obviously a forest opening, he thought. Relieved he was now exiting the mesh of forestry behind him, he walked toward the light.
But when he entered into the clearance, all he could do was look at what lay before him. His eyes widened, and his expression turned into one of shock. The terrible kind. There were piles of bodies everywhere, human and animal alike. Hundreds of bloody monster carcasses were slowly disappearing, dozens of them being Brown Wolves. The human bodies, on the other hand, stayed; nothing happened to them.
They’re not disappearing…? NPCs?
It was then that Ryu heard a grunting noise coming across the open area. A person was standing over a giant brown elk that had collapsed next to a tree. The elk’s back left leg had been gashed by a sharp object and was bleeding. Its chest was covered in blood, as well.
But what really drew Ryu’s attention was the individual who stood over the animal. The NPC wore the kind of attire that would make anyone suspicious of him; he was dirty and smelly-looking. He had a rough-bearded look and his voice was gruff, too. Cautious, Ryu took cover behind a tree, observing from afar.
“Give me that stone, you damn animal!” the man yelled to the creature, who had an egg-shaped object between its teeth. He held a cutlass in his hand and swung it at the frail creature’s neck with the intention to kill. But as he did so, a Brown Wolf came from behind, jumping onto him, biting him in the shoulder.
“GAHHH!” the NPC shouted. In pain, he tried shrugging and pushing the large predator off, but the creature’s teeth were ingrained in his flesh. The wolf stayed put and remained grappling onto the man’s back. With nothing else to do, the man tilted his cutlass downward, flipping it reverse-side, and he stabbed the sword backward into the beast. The creature fell down, dead. Desperately sighing and regaining his standing, the NPC once again placed his attention back onto the bloodied elk. But to his fortune—or rather, the elk’s fortune—three more wolves came and jumped the man, gnawing and biting him in the face. He let out horrific screams as he died.
Now that the man had died, the fur beasts approached the dying elk. But to Ryu’s surprise, their snarling faces turned into sad and compassionate ones. They went up and licked the elk’s wounds and face; Ryu could hear their sad whimpers.
Three arrows plummeted into the wolves, one arrow hitting each wolf. They fell down instantly, not even making a dying cry. The arrows had pierced through the back of the neck, straight through the spine.
“I told these bastards to remain with the group,” said a well-dressed male NPC, appearing out of the shadow of the trees. “Idiots.” He looked at the dying elk with a grim smile. “Hmmph. I guess it means more for me then.” He raised his longbow, readying the arrow on the string. But as he was about to release, he heard a vicious growl coming from behind. Ryu saw clearly from his position what it was.
It was a Grey Wolf, and it was almost threes time bigger than the Brown Wolves.
Startled and frightened at the sight of this, the NPC jolted, inadvertently releasing and dropping his bow. “Im-impossible! A Grey Wolf? In this region—No, in Moratia… That’s impossible!”
The Grey Wolf gave the man no opportunity to pick up his weapon and it charged immediately—not that it would have mattered, as the NPC’s bow skills were not capable of killing such a monster.
“Damn you!” said the man. He recomposed himself and hurriedly, he raised both of his arms together, forming a diamond with his hands, and exclaimed aloud, “Ligno Lanceato!” When he said this, several large pieces of wood ripped off from the trunks of the neighboring trees and formed into spears. They hovered over the Grey Wolf, which had stopping charging when it saw the NPC using his attack. The Grey Wolf snarled at the man, its mouth receding upward to show its six-inch canines.
Ryu observed this phenomenon, recalling the description of his natural energy skills. And remembering them, he correctly surmised what the NPC had done.
‘Manipulating natural phenomenon,’ is it? It’s what I tried to do with my walking over water… Although, I failed. So, this is also what you can use it for… Bors probably wasn’t capable of using natural energy to this extent. That’s probably why he always relied on physical combat.
The NPC motioned with his hand and the wooden spears flew at the creature. The wolf managed to evade the first few spears, but sadly, it couldn’t evade them all. Once the first spear hit, another one came plummeting into the mad beast. The Grey Wolf stood back up every time, maintaining its original, snarling aggression toward the evil man. But every time it stood back up, another spear came hurling… And then another, and then another… Until finally, the animal realized it was going to die this day, so it charged, unhindered by its grave wounds.
Seeing the reckless animal charge at him, the NPC’s face turned grim. At that moment he knew he too would be dying this day. His couldn’t move at all, pre-occupied by the image of him being mauled to death by the giant creature before him. He stood, jittering uncontrollably, as his floating wooden spears dropped to the ground and their brown auras disappearing. He watched as the giant wolf opened its jaws in his face…filling his entire view with darkness…
The wolf made quick work of the NPC, quickly tossing his corpse aside. Stumbling on its very last breaths, the spear-impaled creature approached the dying elk. Like the other wolves before it, it too licked up the wounds of the graceful animal.
The egg-shaped stone fell out from the gripe of the elk’s teeth and onto the ground, and when it did, the Grey Wolf licked it as well. And in the most loving manner. It continued comforting the elk, and especially the stone, until sadly, its time came. But before it humbly fell to its death, it gave out one last howl. A sad, but proud howl, which could be heard for miles around. It then lay down, lowering its head, slowly falling into an eternal sleep.
Ryu waited a moment, making completely sure the Grey Wolf was dead before he appeared out of the woods.
He approached the dying elk.
Seeing a human approach, the elk kicked its legs struggling to get up. Alas, it couldn’t and collapsed back down. Out of all options, its only thing left to do was to comfort the stone, a stone which shimmered ever-so-brightly in the light of the sun. It stretched out its neck in its attempt to collect the small thing. But even so, it could not get in reach. It even stuck out its tongue, too. But to no avail, that still did nothing.
Ladened with much emotion, Ryu most gently picked up the stone, which was just a few inches out of the paws of the dead Grey Wolf. The egg-shaped thing was large for a so-called 'stone.' It had an opaque black tint to it and was no bigger than a small pineapple. Using both his palms, Ryu delicately placed it by the snout of the giant elk—which again attempted to struggle its way up and run away with the stone. But once again, it failed to get up, too weak and wounded.
Ryu scooted himself up closer to the large creature, placing his sword on the ground, to which the animal jolted in fear. It wailed its front legs, trying to kick Ryu, but Ryu gently knocked them down. By the grace of some god, the creature looked at Ryu. Behind Ryu’s somber expression, it saw a great sadness, which, strangely, calmed it for a moment.
Ryu gently placed his hand on the dying creature’s neck, softly stroking his hand up and down the creature’s fur. “It’s okay… It’s okay,” Ryu said, softly.
Being petted in such a gentle manner, the elk calmed down, sniffing and snuffing Ryu all about, even licking him all over and in the face, to which Ryu laughed with ticklish delight.
The elk then lowered his head, nudging the stone to Ryu.
A little taken by surprised, Ryu said, pointing to himself, “You want me to have this?”
The elk responded by moving its head up and down.
This elk has intelligence. I wonder if—
Ryu heard a loud horn blowing off. He raised his head, turning to see where the sound came from, but he immediately felt a nudging at his hand. He looked down and saw the elk nibbling across his arm. It was then that the elk bit Ryu’s arm, dragging his hand over the stone on the ground. Ryu understood and clasped the stone in his hand, but the animal continued to nudge the player away, ramming its snout up against him, pushing him away.
What? What does it want—Wait… … … Does it want me to leave?
The horn blew again, sounding much louder this time.
Hearing the sound getting much closer, Ryu understood what the elk was trying to do, and so he quickly grabbed his things. But sensing that the stone was an important object, he accessed his interspatial ring and placed it into one of the slots. After doing so, he scurried across the field and hid behind the trees—far enough away to see the open view, but also far enough away not to be seen from across. He kept his attention on the elk as it lay there alone… It was only moments later that a group of people came into the clearance, with some even dropping down from the branches of the trees.
The first thing the group took notice of was the Grey Wolf. “No way! What’s a Grey Wolf doing all the way out here?” they exclaimed.
Not minding the Grey Wolf, one of the men, looking to be the leader of some sort, crouched down to the NPC that had been ravaged by the Grey Wolf. “The fool’s dead.”
“Tch. Serves him right,” said another man. “He should have led his party better. Damn idiot.”
“Does he have the stone?” said another, different man who was straight to the point.
The crouched man checked the deceased NPC, patting him all over. “No.” He stood up, looking at the lone elk, and approached it. He quickly eyed the animal and saw nothing of interest. “And it seems that the elk doesn’t have it anymore, either.”
“Damn!” shouted one of the men. “We’ve been chasing it for two weeks, all the way from the northern border. And now this. Captain’s gonna be mad.”
“Why am I gonna be mad?” asserted a female, walking up from behind the group. This young woman wore a tight military coat, and she had brown thigh-high stockings running up her legs, and boots just as high. Her long, dark hair gallantly drifted along her back as she marched. She had a serious stature, but more than that, she had “Danger” written all over her. And Ryu could tell she was just that.
This woman is strong.
“C-Captain…!” murmured the earlier guy.
The dominant man from the group unsheathed a sword and killed the creature he stood over. He showed no remorse and plainly sliced the giant animal across the neck. He swiftly swung his sword to the side to get the blood off and re-sheathed his sword. “My lady, it appears that we have lost the stone,” he plainly said.
The woman dramatically sighed. “That stone is a relic of Moratia. The viscount will be very disappointed to hear about this.” She turned facing the direction of Ryu.
Ryu quickly turned his back against the tree, hoping she didn’t see him. There were a number of twigs and branches by his foot, and he became completely still in fear that he would step on them. He lightened his breathing and continued to listen.
“All of you!" the lady exclaimed. "Spread out. We will not leave this forest until the stone is secured.” She turned over to the remorseless man, and said, “Contact the other teams. Tell them to check everyone they come across. No one enters or leaves this forest until they have been thoroughly checked.”
“Yes, my lady,” the expressionless man said.
Before taking her leave, she added, “…And get Mordred. We need him to track the stone.”
Hearing the lady utter that name, the expressionless man’s face turned pale just ever-so-slightly. “Mordred, you said?”
“Do you have a problem with that, Percival?”
“No, my lady,” he stuttered. The man took a 45-degree bow, crossing his left arm over his chest. “I will do as you say.”
“Good. Then we are done here.” She walked for just a few short steps and stopped. Her eyes gleaned over at the dead Grey Wolf. "And get someone to pick up the loot from that Grey Wolf. I expect the items to be brought to my tent when we return to camp."
"It will be done, Lady Guinevere."
With that, she headed back into the shadow of the forest, the remorseless man following her.
After witnessing all of this, Ryu carefully and quietly scurried away, back to the main road. He needed to get as far away as possible, and as fast as possible. It was imperative that he get to his next training place to start working on his swordsmanship. Or else, if he ever encountered people like the ones he saw today, he’d be in big trouble.
But as he was running along, a shadow crept up from above. The mysterious figure dropped down from the canopy of the trees. “Hey! Where do you think you’re goin'?” a young light-armored man said. He smiled bashfully as he landed.