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Michael waited patiently at the cusp of his camp, standing with a group of people. To his side was Nolan, who had a small bandage wrapped around the stubs of his ring and pinky finger on his right hand, where the castle lord had sliced them off.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Nolan said nervously, looking around the woods. They had set up camp here with a few other groups of survivors from sector four and sector six, but were nowhere near the sizes of the larger camps.

Many people in Michael’s camp were voicing their intent to leave for Eric’s in the past few days, even with the bad rumors circulating around about how Eric treated his camp members, coercing the women to serve him sexually in exchange for a higher priority spot on the list to promote.

Despite all that, they still wanted to go to Eric’s camp. Strength in numbers was a very primal instinct for people, and so Michael decided to negotiate with Eric’s camp while he still held some semblance of loyalty over his people.

He had done a lot of negotiations as a front-office VP back at the electronics and media conglomerate corporation he worked at back on earth, and so he was simply trying to get the best deal possible while he still held leverage.

The rumor that he was discussing merging with the Lion was completely fake, something that Michael had made up on the spot when that scout master called Godfried came last time, to try to milk a better deal from Eric.

In reality, Michael did try to send a reconnaissance party to the Lion’s camp. They never came back for whatever reason, and he couldn’t send out another party without risking a mutiny from his own camp at the suicidal order. Nobody wanted to go near the Lion’s camp anymore.

“We have to do this,” Michael said. “This is our last chance when I still have leverage to secure us some experience.”

“But what if they see through your bluff?”

“They won’t,” Michael replied. “Because of a small detail you told me. Remind me, Nolan, what exactly did you see when the Lion transformed?”

The short man scratched his head with some of his good fingers. Thankfully, the wound did not inhibit his ability to pull a bowstring, or he would be severely handicapped.

“It was in the middle of the forest. I saw him turn, then scratch the ground furiously with those giant paws and charge at my men. He killed four of us before we could even react.”

“Yes, right there. That’s our ticket to success.”

“What do you mean?”

“We just have to mimic the paw scratches on the ground somewhere near our meeting site. Make them look like a few days old and discreet, to better sell the illusion. We also need footprints.”

“I see,” Nolan replied, understanding Michael’s plan.

“Tell our men to get onto it now. We need to be prepared for when they come.”

Deceit and conspiracy were some of Michael’s strong suits back on earth, and they would play a main role in the politicking that was surely to follow this impending negotiation.

Little did he know that Eric’s party was already on its way, armed to the teeth and with very little intention of negotiating.

---------

“Hah… hah…” Marcello panted, laying down his hatchet. He had taken a short nap from early morning till dawn, and then labored on this totem for the better half of an hour.

He worked diligently, making sure to pay attention to his hatchet strikes to deliver strikes where they were needed. As the quality of the construction seemed to take into account a myriad of factors, he decided to take the process a bit more seriously this time around.

After half an hour of more laborious work, he finally finished the totem.

[Shoddy Wood Totem] – A shoddy wooden totem crafted by an unknown carpenter. Although diligence was shown in its creation, the totem has no particularly unique or distinguishable features.

Grade: Shoddy creation.

Bonus: None.

Characteristics: None.

“What the fuck!” Marcello shouted, throwing his hatchet down in frustration. This totem’s identified description was even worse than the previous one, which he sloppily put together.

He just didn’t understand what was lacking. He put effort into making it, and yet there were no bonuses at all? How come the awful totem at least had some effects, while this one had nothing at all?

Marcello paced around the clearing angrily, feeling as if he had just wasted several hours for no reason at all, the same kind of rage someone would have while stuck in traffic for countless hours or working with a printer that hummed but failed to print.

In all honesty, he was hoping for some kind of additional damage against wolves buff from a creation before he fought the wolves, in addition to his own curiosity about the gambling-like nature of the outcome of his constructions.

Still, for the totem to have no effect was just mind blowing to him. It was just a regular totem, shoddy grade.

In the end, after a lot of stomping around and tearing his hair out, Marcello came to the conclusion that his constructions needed to have meaning for them to manifest bonuses or the like. He couldn’t just spam build a bunch of totems and try to harvest some good ones out of that. Or, maybe he could, but not in the way that he was currently doing it. This felt like a puzzle that he didn’t know the solution to, and didn’t have the time to try out endlessly.

It was at times like this that Marcello felt that his profession was an absolute scam. Sure, it now had a very fancy name called Carpenter of the Ages, but what did that even mean? He wasn’t even receiving any quests from it to guide him along his path now. It felt like after his profession was promoted, it was somehow even worse that it was before.

Anyway, it was time to move on no matter how frustrated he was feeling at the moment. If he wanted to complete the gnome’s quest about the secret of the forest, he had to do so before the blood moon arrived.

Marcello came across another deer and killed it, before coming across a familiar face. It was a mole rat, except this time it was only level sixteen. Very disappointing, as he swiftly disposed of it with sundering blow and a few hacks to the body with his longsword.

He continued to head north while farming anything that he could, leaving a trail of animal corpses in his wake. Still, it was not enough for him to go past level 32. Marcello didn’t understand why there were so few things to farm in the first place. Maybe it was because of the amount of initiates in the forest, all competing for the same experience sources. But still, it felt oddly insufficient.

While continuing to mark each tree with a hatchet swing so that he could find his way back, Marcello noticed that there was a slight fogginess as he continued forward that was not present before.

He considered using his legendary King Jaeger’s Giant Transformation conquest ability to do a bit of scouting ahead, but the trees were thick and tall, and at his current transformed state he would not be able to see over the treetops.

His only saving grace was that his silk pants were letting him walk much faster than he would be able to normally, allowing him to cover a significant amount of ground each hour.

The fog grew thicker as Marcello continued, and soon he was barely able to see up ahead. He had veered a bit westward in his travels, but still he was reaching the northern barrier to the forest.

Soon, he realized why the far north of the forest was considered off limits. Marcello activated quiet steps and hid behind a tree, observing several gray wolves led by a white wolf patrolling up ahead.

They were on an entirely different level from the monsters he had faced so far in the forest, and there were many of them.

He used identify on them.

[Dire Wolf – Level 22]

[Dire Wolf – Level 21]

[Dire Wolf – Level 22]

[Dire Wolf – Level 23]

[Dire Wolf – Level 21]

He finally rested his eyes on the leader, who seemed to be female unlike the gray ones, and what he saw almost gave him a heart attack.

[White Dire Wolf – Level 40]

Tsk. This was not going to be so easy. The white dire wolf aside, the levels of the gray dire wolves were quite manageable for him. But the real problem was the numbers of wolves.

Marcello hadn’t experienced fighting multiple high level enemies like this yet, and the logistics of fighting a group was a lot different from just soloing a single enemy.

That wasn’t the only issue though. There was still the white dire wolf, sitting at level 40. This pack of monsters made the deer that he fought thus far seem like a sad joke. If was going to win this fight, he needed to go in with a strategy rather than just run in guns blazing. If anything, he had to find a way to disarm or lure away that white dire wolf.

Marcello slowly backed away, keeping to the shadows of the trees, when suddenly, he felt a pain across his entire body, as if the energy was being sapped from his limbs.

HP: 261/263

Marcello’s head whipped back to the white dire wolf and her pack, but they were still patrolling undisturbed.

HP: 259/263

HP: 257/263

His health was slowly falling, and he felt as if his entire body was decaying, like his flesh was beginning to rot. The rate of decay was very slow compared to his immense health pool, but still alarming.

“What the fuck?” he whispered, looking around in confusion.

He backed away in a panic, his first thought being that the fog was poisonous. But as he moved, he noticed a foreign tendril of mana attached to his body at the waist.

He realized the implications immediately. It wasn’t the fog; something was using hostile magic against him, and it was a spell that he hadn’t encountered thus far.

The tendril was black, far different from the red mana that he saw Emma use. A creature of the forest, perhaps.

Marcello couldn’t see his adversary or tell where the tendril of mana was leading, as the wisp of mana grew faint to the point of invisibility as it led away from his body, but he had something at his disposal that was effective against magic users regardless of whether or not he could see them. He could only pray this creature would be susceptible to it.

Giant’s Roar.

GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

The loud, echoing roar reverberated through the forest, and much to Marcello’s surprise, the tendril of black mana connected to his body was suddenly severed.

Whatever this creature was, he had managed to silence it with his enigmatic bulwark knight’s anti-magic ability. Still, he could not see his adversary. Feeling anxious about what would happen once giant’s roar wore off and his anti-magic spell was put on cooldown, Marcello quickly took off before this black magic creature could pursue him.

That marked the end of Marcello’s first encounter with Gabriel in the forest.

-------

Gabriel shuddered, staying absolutely quiet with He Who Hides in the Shadows activated so as not to alert the knight of his location.

That strange knight had just showed up to his farming spot out of nowhere, and he was at a ludicrous level. Level 32. Just how was that even possible?

At level 24 himself, Gabriel had fancied himself one of the highest level initiates in the entire forest. At least that’s what he thought, until right now.

But even with the level disadvantage, Gabriel thought that he could take on the fight, to discourage the knight from ruining his farming spot. It was because he had a method, developed ever since the first hard trial. At this point, it was foolproof.

Gabriel had leveled up his hard earned sneak ability [He Who Hides in the Shadows] from epic rank to legendary rank a few days ago. With it, he was virtually undetectable as long as he stayed within the shadows of the trees, of which there were many in this forest.

Slipping from shadow to shadow, he could use Draining Touch to slowly siphon and decay the deer of the forest, chasing them as they ran away and finishing them off over time.

Using this strategy of siphoning from the shadows while avoiding the detection of the other factions, he had received a secret class promotion at level 20, granting him the Necrotic Priest class. This was a linear upgrade from his previous Necrotic Healer class, and granted him a stronger version of draining touch.

That was when he moved on to gray dire wolves, and he was successful in killing them off slowly over time. He tried the same strategy on the white ones, but they were a bit too strong for him to finish off.

If the strategy worked on monsters like the dire wolves, Gabriel had confidence that it would work on this strange knight as well.

And so he tried it. At first it was working, and the knight began to run. But then, the knight seemed to have realized something, then used some kind of shouting spell that completely shut Gabriel out of using draining touch, sending him into a panic. If the shout had disabled his sneak ability, he would be at the mercy of the wolves.

But his legendary ability held, and soon Gabriel was holding his breath as a pack of wolves ran by him, chasing the knight.

-------

Marcello ran as fast as he could. He had shaken off that black magic creature, but his giant’s roar had attracted the attention of that pack of wolves, who were hot on his trail. He ran as fast as he could and the added movement speed from his pants helped greatly, but the wolves were gaining ground on him.

A gray wolf lunged at him, its teeth sinking into the wooden plank shield that he just barely managed to summon on time. There was nowhere left to run.

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HereBeTreasure

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