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Marcello staggered forward, trying to deal with the full-body recoil from his giant transformation as best as he could. His footsteps were heavy and lethargic, but he just couldn’t let this half dead level forty white wolf get away with a clean conscience.

Experience was hard to come by in this forest, and Marcello really did not want to allow his growth to stagnate after already coming so far. Using the very last of his mana that he scrounged up over the course of the fight through the ring of mana regeneration (uncommon) that he picked up from the bronze chest, he recalled his archeios javelin one last time and hurtled it towards the white wolf.

The javelin just barely missed to the side, causing Marcello to curse under his breath. Seemed like he was going to have to do this manually. He re-equipped his silk pants and marched on forward, the speed boost from the pants propping up his movement speed as he gained on the white wolf.

But as he continued forward, the fog was getting thicker and he knew that he was about to re-enter the domain of that black magic creature.

Right now, Marcello had a choice. He could turn back and lick his wounds, letting go of his precious prey, or he could chase for just a bit longer…

In the end, greed overtook his motivations. Despite being armed with an intuition based inheritance, it was not active twenty-four seven, only lending its aid when necessary. Marcello was just human after all, and right now he was in a state of combat drunkenness.

He did not notice that his armor itself, the Enigmatic Knight’s Armor that contained the slightest hint of malice, was slowly beginning to influence his emotional state, begging him for more combat like a hungry dog eyeing a piece of raw meat.

“Just a bit more,” Marcello grunted, blood dripping from his longsword. He looked like a mad knight in the afternoon glow of smoggy forest, and his sword’s craving for blood had become his own craving for blood.

The large white wolf, once an intimidating sight, let out an injured howl as it began to stumble in its step. Multiple lacerations on his body from the archeios javelin and that deadly cleaving wound in its ankle from the knight’s giant longsword had worn it down, and although it could heal itself over time, time was not a luxury that the pursuing knight was willing to grant the wolf.

Marcello finally closed the gap with a faltering fast walk, raising his bloodthirsty longsword with both hands as the wolf turned to face its foe, baring its teeth.

A flash of steel cut across the white dire wolf’s neck right as the wolf lunged forward, its fangs sinking painfully into Marcello’s armor. But the damage had been done, and its biting grip weakened by the second, with the knight delivering some powerful punches to its upper torso.

Marcello wrestled the white dire wolf to the ground, the beast so large that he could not wrap his hands around its entire body. At such close range against a powerful foe, he could not get the speed on sword swings that he wanted to deliver enough damage, so he ended up wrestling the heavily injured wolf. Marcello grabbed the white wolf’s neck with his elbow locked in place and began to squeeze down on its fur, blood dripping down his dented chestplate from the white wolf’s neck wound.

The white wolf thrashed about, but Marcello held on to his vice grip around the wolf’s neck, choking it for an entire minute before finally, the wolf collapsed.

Pushing the unconscious white wolf’s body off of his own, Marcello picked up his longsword from the ground and swung it down at the fanged overgrown beast’s head, the longsword landing with a resounding crack.

Finally, it was dead. The faint lust for combat in Marcello’s chest began to subside.

You have slain [Lvl 40 White Dire Wolf (Keeper of the Inner Forest)] - You are the sole contributor to this kill, and have received bonus system points for the kill. Bonus experience awarded for solo contribution. Bonus experience awarded for killing a higher level enemy.

Ding! [Enigmatic Bulwark Knight] class has leveled up to level 33. Strength has increased by 1. Constitution has increased by 2.

Ding! [Human] race has leveled up to level 33. All stats have been increased by 0.1.

You have slain a Keeper of the Inner Forest. It is unknown what the effects of this act are. Your actions may have an influence on the destiny of the forest, brave one. Forest intrigue quests have been altered.

Marcello breathed in deeply, still catching his breath from the bloody melee. He read his notifications after allowing himself to rest for a moment, and retreating further out of the fog. Thankfully, that black magic creature did not show itself, although Marcello did catch a glimpse of a figure darting between shadows in the forest ahead. He did not want to face the creature at the moment.

The wind howled ominously through the coniferous woods, as Marcello took some time to carefully read the notification.

This notification was strange, as it was somewhat related to the gnome quest, and yet it seemed to be a lore related entry that would have popped up irrespective of the existence of the quest.

Marcello recalled that forest intrigue quests would disappear on the night of the blood moon, which meant that there was some kind of secret to the forest that lay beyond the mist, in the inner woods.

As strong as he was at the moment, he wasn’t sure if he could venture into the mist by himself when one of the Keepers alone was that strong. And yes, keepers, plural.

Before he moved forward, he needed to strengthen himself somehow or at least gain some intel on what lay ahead. Otherwise, he would be taking a leap of faith into the unknown, giving a chance for the unknown to bite back, perhaps fatally.

“No need to get myself killed,” the knight said out loud, taking a large leaf to wipe some of the blood off his armor. It was a gruesome affair, but he could only be glad that much of that blood was not his own.

For now, he decided to take a step back and hunt more beasts along the outskirts of the inner forest, and carve totems in his down time. He would level up and consolidate his strength by killing more of these wolves and keepers of the forest.

Yes, doing so could possibly be inadvisable based on the ominous wording of you have slain a Keeper of the Inner Forest. It is unknown what the effects of this act are, but he had very little choice in this matter. In this world, only strength was a given, and he would not give up his chance at deciding his own fate for the off possibility that killing these keepers would turn out to be bad. And plus, Marcello had no doubt that the other initiates of this forest would do the exact same, seeing as how they were so ready to kill him just for voicing his intent on claiming a few level fifteen deer.

For now, Marcello’s focus was his own growth, in any way possible. Simply killing things was not the only way to grow stronger, as he had found out during his ten days in the terrestrial biome. Building, doing something as strange as nonstop woodcutting for an insane amount of time, and even experimenting with mana application from wood to stone were all things that helped him get stronger, and none of those involved killing anything. Well, he took that back. The platform’s historic piece status was actually triggered by his use of it to slay the King Jaeger.

Either way, what that meant was that a good combination of slaying beasts and experimenting with alternative methods of growth was the best way forward, before he attempted the inner forest.

Marcello made it his personal goal to reach level forty before he tackled that on. There were more wolves for him to slay in the foreseeable future.

Speaking of wolves, he just noticed that the white dire wolf had dropped an item. Not just an item, but an entire treasure chest much like the ones he found in the King Jaeger’s lair. At the sight of loot, Marcello smiled. Nobody would complain about extra loot.

It was a silver treasure chest. Not bad.

He walked over and kicked it open, revealing an old scroll.

[Scroll of Conjuring Ghosts (corrupted, uncommon)] – A single use scroll that extracts a dear cost from the user, in exchange for conjuring up apparitions of ghosts that will chase and attack enemies in the vicinity without distinction between friend or foe. As the summons are tortured spirits, they may not be controlled. Base mana cost of 100, increasing with mana pool. As this is a corrupted item, there is an additional cost attached with use of the item. Temporarily decreases all stats of the user by 1 after cast, for as long as the apparitions last.

Marcello frowned, his excitement tapered by the conditional nature of the description. A strange item had come out of the silver treasure chest, with a new classification tag called corrupted that he had never seen before.

The scroll was not a great fit for him, as a hundred mana was almost his entire mana pool, which currently sat at 5/114. The minus 1 to all stats after cast temporary effect was actually kind of stomachable by Marcello, since his lowest stat was 18 and his highest stat was 81, so one off each was more or less okay. It was basically the same as temporarily stripping away his Lord Slayer title, which granted plus 1 to all of his stats.

But still, the fact that the scroll was a corrupted item did not sit too well with him, and the description did say rather ominously that the ghosts would not distinguish between friend or foe, and would mark any living creature in the vicinity, hopefully besides their own summoner, as an enemy.

Marcello decided to pocket the scroll in his inventory and move on, leaving it alongside some other untouched items such as the banshee’s orb, imp’s tail, and those two obsidian hatchets that he now kind of regretted buying.

Maybe he could sell it later on, or use it as a last resort. Still, he would rather not use it if he didn’t need to.

Standing up from his lazy sitting position that he had assumed while examining his loot, Marcello walked to the edge of the fog and drew out a commonly used item in his inventory, his rusty hatchet.

He went to work on a nearby tree, which he planned to make two totems out of as his stamina recovered and his body shook off the recoil from his giant transformation.

-----------

Gabriel observed from the shadows as the armored knight walked away just to begin chopping away at a tree. The necrotic priest with crooked glasses from where Agnis had hit him was confused and horrified by the knight who was now a staggering level 33.

He hadn’t seen what exactly unfolded when the wolves ran past him to chase the knight, but a gut wrenching roar later, all he saw was that powerful level 40 white dire wolf limping back towards him like an injured puppy, with the knight in pursuit, this time in rather mangled armor. There was a faint malevolent aura surrounding him, and Gabriel could only barely pick it up because of his attunement to dark energies from his Necrotic Priest class.

The knight caught up to and killed the wolf in a terrifying display of strength, overpowering and strangling it. And now, right after killing the wolf gruesomely with a vicious blow to the head, the knight went directly to chopping down trees in the forest, perhaps channeling his bloodlust and rage at the trees themselves.

Gabriel had entertained the thought of talking to the knight, as he was human just like him after all. But the more he observed the knight, the more he was convinced that he was a maniac.

A maniac that seemed intent on cutting down every tree in this forest, so it seemed. Gabriel had never seen a human being cut down a tree so fast, like a well oiled machine.

The bespectacled teenage priest swallowed nervously, realizing that if this knight chopped down every tree in the area, there would be no more shadows for him to hide in.

Did the knight somehow know about his hiding ability? If that was the case, then this would turn out to be really bad for him.

At this rate, the maniac knight was going to chop down all the trees, use that silencing ability of his, and then kill him. He had to go, now.

---------

Thud.

As a knight in bloody armor felled a tree several miles away, a ranger and a thief finally made their way back to Eric’s camp with looks of horror on their faces. The camp was a lot less populated than before since the main fighting force was gone, but there were still a few post-promotes and guards left behind.

The wide eyed thief spoke first, her voice quivering. “There’s a monster in the woods! A new one!”

She was speaking to Devin, a high level post promoted warrior that Eric had left behind to manage the camp while Godfried was gone. He was tall and lean, with spiked hair like a rock band guitarist. Devin scoffed. “The hell do you mean, a new monster? You mean some real experience for once?”

Hilga, a slightly pudgy redheaded warrior that just got promoted recently after a soiree with her boss also laughed. “If there really is a new monster, we would have heard about it by now. More experience for all of us, right?”

“No!” the ranger said, backing up his thief companion. “It’s a real monster. We followed the tracks of a deer, thinking that it was a trespasser poaching on our territory, when we came across a snuffed campfire and this horrible tall monster looking our way.”

“Oh?” Devin sneered with arrogance. “Let’s see this camp then. Lead the way.”

“B-but boss said not to leave the camp until he was back,” the female thief stammered, clearly not thrilled about the prospects of going back.

“We’ll only be gone for a little while,” Devin said, licking his lips. “That experience is ours. What do you say, Hilga? Keep this our little secret?”

The pudgy redhead nodded with a smirk, her greed for experience showing. “Of course Devin. Let’s go!”

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HereBeTreasure

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