The next morning, Five woke up and quickly pushed the layer of animal fur which acted as a blanket.
"Good morning Master."
In a corner of the tent, Ariel had already woken up and was guarding the tent. After last night's feast, the Wild Bull Tribe kindly provided tents to all the guests; those tents were quite large and could accommodate up to 6 people. Each tribe would normally receive two tents but since Ariel was a woman, it would not be appropriate for her to sleep in a crowded tent full of men.
Fortunately, the Wild Bull Tribe prepared more tents than needed and Ariel and Five decided to share one tent together. Neither Five nor Ariel found this situation strange; the harpy was brought here to act as a bodyguard, it was normal for her to stay near Five as much as possible.
"Morning!" answered Five with a sleepy voice. He slowly stood up and stretched his body. "Mmm, the sun is already up. Should we go and get some breakfast?"
At the center of the Wild Bull Village, each tribe was once again seated in a large circle. However, this time, not all the barbarians were present. In fact, sending 10 people to a meeting was simply too much and most of them were there just to act as bodyguards and to display the strength of the tribe. To avoid overcrowding the central place, a group of barbarians had already departed to take a look at the townsmen's encampment with a group of scouts.
The other noteworthy difference was that this time, the Wild Bull Tribe and the Wandering Ram Tribe also joined the circle and naturally, these two tribes held the best spots.
"Since we are all here, I declare this session open! Our scouts have already departed accompanied by some of your men to bring the newest reports on the situation. They should be back in about 4 hours. Until then, we would like to share the observations that we have made, and I would then invite you to share your own information!" solemnly declared Soren, the leader of the Wild Bull Tribe.
Five was seated at the back of the Black Iron Tribe's spot and was quietly judging the barbarians. "It seems that Soren can have the aura of a leader when he wants to. At least, he does not look as carefree as last night," said Five to himself.
Seeing the different tribe acknowledge him, Soren continued, "As you all know, the closest encampment to our village is the Tolden Encampment. During the last week, our scouts discovered that the townsmen have set up a temporary camp outside their city wall. The camp was small at first but since then, it had grown to a decent size and according to our estimate, it should be housing about 500 individuals. The design of their camp is similar to what we observed during the previous war! There is no doubt that it is a military camp."
"500 more soldiers do not sound very threatening compared to the 2500 soldiers permanently stationed at the Tolden Encampment but unfortunately, our scouts also reported that the camp at the townsmen's dungeon was expanded to accommodate 300 more people. Furthermore, we also discovered a temporary camp being built 50km north to the Tolden Encampment. If we assume that some of their new soldiers are staying inside the encampment, then we can estimate the number of soldiers to be at around 5000! If they are still at the same level as during the previous war, my tribe should be able to hold its ground, but I doubt that is the case. What do you all think?"
As Soren was speaking, he was carefully examining everyone's reaction, in particular, that of the Wandering Ram Tribe Leader. The Wild Bull Tribe was a large tribe which housed more than 1500 individuals. Soren was confident in the strength of his tribe, especially as he knew that the average barbarian was far stronger than the average townsman soldier. Unfortunately, if the townsmen continued to gather more and more soldiers, the balance would soon tip in the favor of the townsmen.
It was why he wanted to unite all the tribes against the growing threat and as he expected, as soon as he revealed the numbers, murmurs started to rise from the crowd. The other tribes were naturally worried about the situation, many of them were not as large as the Wild Bull Tribe and would not necessarily be able to protect themselves. Soren was delighted to see the barbarians' reactions but the person that mattered the most did not react.
The Wandering Ram Tribe leader did not even flinch as he listened to Soren. Instead, the old man lightly coughed to maintain the order, "Before we come to a conclusion and start a messy discussion, I would like to ask the other tribes located at the border to also report their observations."
His voice was calm and quiet but had a strange soothing effect. The barbarians quickly calmed down and the next tribe representative stood up.
"Very interesting!" thought Five. The numbers reported were not absurdly large to him. After all, during the first trial, he had to kill more than 100 beasts. The second trial should at least involve 200 enemies.
Each time a barbarian would speak, Five would make a mental note to estimate the number of soldiers gathering at the border. In total, 6 invited tribes were located at the border. Five did not know the location of the villages but in total, he estimated that 20000 soldiers were currently guarding the border.
It was a massive amount of soldiers but Five did not consider it as a huge threat. First of all, the majority of these soldiers were already previously stationed there and Five highly doubted that these soldiers would ever leave the encampments. It would be foolish if the townsmen decided to leave their town defenseless just to capture a small barbarian village.
Second, Five believed that the townsmen were not really preparing for a war. He knew that this world was a game and to keep players motivated, events were an absolute must. A war was clearly a huge opportunity for the players to participate but he did not find anything about it on the forums!
Although he could not participate in the regular players’ forum, he could still browse through and read the news. There has been absolutely no discussion about a potential event and there were no threads about the Tolden Encampment either. This area was clearly relatively new and unexplored by the players.
Therefore, why would such a huge number of soldiers appear at the border? One of the answers Five came up with was the trials! It was what Five concluded from the different facts he observed. In that scenario, these many soldiers did not represent much of a threat to him as many dungeons spawned all over the continent. Clearly, the system was stationing the soldiers there, preparing them to attack the dungeons of the region when the time would come. It was naturally just a theory, but Five's instincts pushed him to believe he had guessed correctly.
"The situation is very worrying! The townsmen gathered a significant number of soldiers but that is not yet enough to threaten us! Before we do anything else, I would like to invite the members of the Black Iron Tribe to speak. According to the letter of your Shaman, you have some valuable information to share with us!" said Soren.
The barbarians quickly shifted their attention to the Black Iron Tribe. They were curious about what they had to say; the Black Iron Tribe was a low-medium size tribe and was fairly popular, but they were situated at a reasonable distance from the border. In normal circumstances, they had no need to scout the border, so what could they have to report.
Unaware of the situation, Five was deep in thoughts as he was evaluating the situation of the border and pondering on how to react. It was only when Ariel lightly nudged him that he realized that everyone was looking at him. He immediately understood what just happened and quickly stood up.
"Greetings to you all. My name is Five and I was sent here to share some information with you. I will not hide that I am not a barbarian... However, although I am a townsman, I am against any potential conflicts between the two parties. Many of you might recognize me as my guildmates and I have recently started doing some business with some of your tribes. It should be clear to you that a war will have a serious impact on our business which is why I am standing here!"
Behind Five, Ariel was rolling her eyes, "Was there even a need to lie like that?" She knew that Five could not reveal that he was a dungeon master but never did she expect Five to impersonate some random merchants.
To Five, pretending to be one of the players that came to trade was his best option. It would first create a reasonable cover for him and at the same time, reduce the animosity directed at him as many tribes were grateful to the players for providing them with food and materials.
"I do not have any inside information on the soldiers' movement, but I do know something more interesting. In short, a large number of humans have been summoned all over the continent and they all have some special powers. In fact, my guildmates and I were also summoned there which is why we have a different mentality. We are different from the other townsmen not only because we think differently but also because we have abilities like this!"
As he spoke, Five suddenly took out his mage wand from his inventory and showed it to the barbarians.
"As you can see, I do not own any special items that allow me to store this but instead, I was gifted an ability that allows me to do so. But more importantly, I think that what really separates us from the other townsmen is our ability to revive."
As he finished speaking, the barbarians immediately started discussing among themselves, not caring about maintaining any form of order in front of the Wandering Ram Tribe leader. What Five had just said was simply too unbelievable. Wasn't it equivalent to saying that a massive infinite army had just appeared and was preparing to attack them?
After staying silent for a moment, Five quickly hid his smile and continued, "However, our revival naturally has a severe cost! We can revive but in exchange, we have to give up our levels!" After he finished speaking, Five put back the mage wand in his inventory and crossed his arms waiting for the questions.
He was well aware that he had just revealed important information to the barbarians but that would not affect him in any way. For this meeting, Five decided to be completely transparent and cooperate with the barbarians. He wanted them to have as much information as possible as he did not want a war to break out! A war would simply disrupt the growth of the dungeon!
Five did not know the strength of the barbarians which is why he simply revealed everything. He believed that the barbarians would be smart enough to gauge the situation. If they were strong enough, then they could be on the offensive side and get rid of the threat before it grew up. On the other hand, if they were not confident, they could negotiate to maintain the current peace. In both scenarios, Five's dungeon would stay away from the flames of war.
"Can you give us more details about the penalty you are talking about? How many levels do you lose?" asked one of the barbarians.
As Five expected, he was soon engulfed in an avalanche of questions.
After asking more than a dozen questions, the crowd of barbarians finally calmed down. They were still worried about the situation but wanted to see the Wandering Ram Tribe leader's reaction. As a matter of fact, the different tribes were all very polite to Five even if he represented a threat. After all, it was now well known among the tribes that some townsmen started to do business with some tribes, allowing them to sell their old items and purchase essential food and material. Since Five presented himself as one of those merchants, the tribes were all looking for an opportunity to befriend him and invite him to do business with them; they would certainly not antagonize him and would rather have someone else raise the suspicious points. Even the Black Iron Tribe members believed him as their tribe leader only mentioned that they would be escorting two guests and did not give any information about him.
The only barbarian that remained absolutely calm during the entire meeting was the Wandering Ram Tribe leader. "So you say that those 'players' might not form part of the new soldiers observed by the scouts?"
"It is just my assumptions, but I do believe so," answered Five.
The old man remained expressionless and continued to ask. "How can you be so sure?"
"It is just a logical deduction, but we can easily confirm this. If you bring me there, I will be able to identify the players there," answered Five.
"That is good. You don't seem to be lying and therefore, I believe we should focus on the present situation for the moment. 20000 soldiers represent a significant force but that is surely not enough to deal with all of us..."
Seeing that the attention was slowly shifting away from him, Five let out a sigh of relief and sat back down. He felt a huge pressure being lifted off his shoulders. He had successfully completed the task he was given and could now stay there without any worries.
Directed by the Wandering Ram Tribe leader, the barbarians soon started discussing among themselves, formulating some strategies to deal with the townsmen. The meeting quickly became very boring for Five as he was not interested in watching the tribes urging each other to send more men to the battlefield.
Time went by and the heated discussions showed no signs of stopping. Five and Ariel did not have anything else to contribute and simply watched as they slowly got more and more bored. The barbarians understood the importance of these discussions and were not willing to stop, they did not even stop when the delicious smell of roasted meat started to permeate the air.
It was only when the scouts sent earlier finally returned to the tribe that Soren stood up and spoke, "Friends, I believe it is time for a short break. My tribe has already prepared freshly hunted beasts for your enjoyment. You will all soon be served, and we can all enjoy a delicious meal as we listen to our scouts' report!"
"Ahhh... So tired... It has been a while since I've been into such a boring meeting like that," complained Five as he walked toward his tent.
"You had many meetings before, master?" asked Ariel who was walking right behind Five.
"Way too many and most of the time, I do not even understand what they are talking about. Directing a company can be hard sometimes..."
The day had been very long for the two. During their short lunch, the scouts reported the exact same information that Soren shared earlier. It could be considered as good news as nothing had changed but it was still worrying. The barbarians spent the rest of the day discussing and planning for the war. Naturally, the war to come was still not confirmed, it was just that when facing such a huge threat, the barbarians wanted to be prepared.
Five had nothing to add to the discussions. It was only at the end that the Wandering Ram Tribe leader suggested the idea to go to the Tolden Encampment to confirm that none of the soldiers were players. Five agreed without hesitation; he was precisely looking for an opportunity to see more of the world and had no reason to refuse.
After the very long meeting, to the surprise of Five, the Wild Bull Tribe prepared another feast for the barbarians. It was normal for them to receive proper accommodation and food but from Five's point of view, the Wild Bull Tribe was overdoing it. It was clear that hosting this meeting was not cheap and would consume a significant amount of resources of the tribe.
As much as it was strange, Five would not say no to a delicious meal. The dinner was rather peaceful as the barbarians would finally relax and many of them took the opportunity to approach Five. Since he presented himself as a merchant, the barbarians of the different tribes tried to befriend him and invite him to their village for business.
They did not know that Five was lying and the latter politely refused using the excuse that his guild was slowly developing but would soon expand its range of operation. He tried to remain as vague as possible to avoid raising any suspicion but also took the opportunity to ask the barbarians about the location of their village from which he was able to draw a rough map of the region.
"Master, you need to be very careful. The barbarians are all very strong, especially the old man that lead the meeting today. I cannot see his level, but he should be at least level 50... Which also means that he should be able to see through your amulet..." murmured Ariel.
Five frowned as he heard the harpy. After a few seconds of reflection, he answered: "You think so? I trust your instinct, he can probably see that I am a dungeon master and that you are a harpy, but he did not attack us! Which means, he can be considered as an ally... At least for now... I think that he wants us to go with the scouts tomorrow to test us!"
"Oh? Then what should we do?" asked Ariel as she observed her surroundings to make sure no one was following them.
"Behave as usual. If he is really that smart and wise, he should realize that I am siding with the barbarians. However, I want you to promise me something. The Shaman promised me that no barbarians would target us, but we cannot trust him completely. If that guy attacks us tomorrow, I want you to escape as soon as possible without worrying about me. As strong as you are, you are not able to deal with someone at level 50. I can die... But you can't..." quietly said Five as he stopped in front of his tent.
Behind him, Ariel bit her lips and remained quiet, it was a tough decision and she was unwilling to accept this order.
Five smiled and stepped forward to enter the tent, "At least, I can trust Ariel. She did not immediately accept the order," said Five to himself.
He was about to push open the flap of the tent when suddenly, Ariel grabbed his arm to stop him.
"What is it?" curiously asked Five as he felt that the harpy's grip was strangely firm.
"Master, there's some danger. I feel the presence of someone in the tent!" quietly answered Ariel as she pulled Five behind her. She wore a serious face as she carefully examined the inside of the tent by using a soft air current.
At the same time, a muffled laugh came from the inside of the tent, "Not bad, not bad. To be able to detect my presence, you are quite skilled!"
Five widened his eyes in surprise. He immediately tried to pull out his mage wand from his inventory but at the same time, he felt a strange invisible force surround his body. Before Five could react, he and Ariel were suddenly pulled into the tent without being able to utter a single word.