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“What do you mean?” the eyepatched Eric said angrily. “Devin’s dead? Killed by who?”

“By the knight!” the fiery haired Hilga replied. She had escaped without any permanent injuries from her scuffle with Marcello, but her tone was a lot more somber than before. Her partner had not survived the ordeal. “The one whose level is blacked out!”

“Yeah, he’s a psychopath, that one,” Frank answered. His body was battered and bruised, and there were multiple cuts across his body from stumbling onto branches on his delirious stumble back home from where Marcello had left him for dead.

As he was also a first-hand witness of the knight, Eric had invited both him and Hilga into his private tent for discussions about the death of Devin.

Things were a bit more serious than usual, as the last time Hilga had entered Eric’s tent, it involved her sleeping in his bed with another woman. The last time Frank entered Eric’s tent, it was to celebrate with a night of drinking.

But now, with the numerous casualties sustained by the hands of Agnis’s surprise attack and the loss of a mid-rank promoted class in Devin, Eric’s camp held a somber mood. He had barely benefitted from the expedition to assimilate the stragglers from Michael’s camp.

His hands were practically shaking in anger. Nobody dared to defy him like this thus far, and that idiot Devin just had to get overconfident and go alone with Hilga. He should’ve known better.

And yet, it made no sense to Eric, no matter how he thought about it. How come Devin and Hilga together could not bring down the knight? Was he really that strong? It wasn’t like he was the black witch, was he?

“Tell me, where exactly did you encounter the knight?” Eric asked both of them.

“I found him in the forest just north of here. Not too far away,” Frank replied.

“Devin and I tracked the knight for a while. He was not exactly stealthy, and left a bloody trail of dead animals in his path. And some stupid ugly carved wooden logs too. No idea why he does that, but you can’t really look into the minds of crazy people. Anyway, I found him over here.” Hilga pointed at a part of the map far further north than Eric was comfortable with.

“Are you sure?” Eric asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I’m positive,” Hilga replied. “What, you don’t believe me now Eric? After all we’ve been through?” She winked at him.

“Fine, fine,” Eric replied. “If you met him here, that means that he’s passed those packs of wolves guarding the inner forest. Because that spot you just marked is well into the inner forest.”

“Oh, really?” Hilga asked incredulously. “Well, that does explain all the fog… I wasn’t thinking too clearly at the time. Had more important things to worry about, like not losing his tracks.”

“Did you see any wolves?”

“Now that you mention it, I did see a dead white wolf and a few gray mutts alongside it…”

“Excellent.” Eric grinned widely. “You know what this means, don’t you? I don’t know how he did it, but that bastard cleared the wolves that were inhibiting our progress. The inner forest is open now! There will be more experience for everyone to harvest from now on!”

“This is tremendous news! We will move by sunset, and march through the night. There’s no time to waste, and so much experience to be earned.”

Eric laughed. “First, we will track down and kill that knight. After that, we’ll monopolize the entire area and strip it of all of its monsters. We will have the most post-promotes in the entire forest, haha! This is such good news!”

“Frank, you go inform the guards of our plans. I will make the announcement in half an hour. Tonight, we will go hunting. May the gods watch over us.”

----------

“This way, master Maio!” the goblin shaman said to Marcello, leading the way.

Marcello tried to teach the goblin how to say his name, but the goblin simply could not pronounce so many complex syllables at once, and so it ended up calling him something like maio. Not like it mattered too much. Still, it irked him to no extent.

Marcello took out his irritation by remembering to smack the goblin on the back of its head periodically. The goblin appeared to take it with glee as well, as it seemed reinvigorated ever since its master spoke from the bonfire.

“Masters will eat master Maio, hehee!”

“Shut up, Grute.”

Smack.

As the goblin shaman did not seem to have too deep of a personality, or brain functions in general, this particular scene had already played out at least a dozen times as they ventured through the foggy inner forest. The goblin shaman appeared to have the attention span of a goldfish, and no more than ten minutes later it would make another off-handed remark that would earn it another hard smack on the back of its noggin.

The goblin shaman also made a pretty terrible guide, all things considered. As a vip entity in the goblin world, it was not exactly great at following maps or directions. As far as Marcello could tell, the goblin shaman was only marginally better at navigating than he was himself.

It was a long and arduous journey to finally reach the grove that the gnome Garib had spoken about in his quest offer.

The entire forest grove was hung in a thick fog, and Marcello waited on the fringes of the grove patiently as he watched numerous goblins scuffle in and out. He noticed that the goblin shaman was about to cry out for help, and so he took some rags he had from earlier and stuffed the shaman’s mouth.

Upon taking a look at the goblins, they were all kind of low level. No hobgoblins in sight thus far.

He mentally previewed the combat, seeing that there were about twelve goblins running about with a few more in a burrow at the center of the grove. He couldn’t see any silver weapon or anything of that sort right now, but it was kind of obvious that the goblins would stash their goods in their burrow.

If things went well, he’d score a large amount of free experience as well as complete the gnome quest and grab a silver weapon.

“Well, I guess this is a good a time as any other to try out my new dark magic technique, huh?” Marcello said with a sadistic grin on his face.

He looked at the goblin shaman, who was now shifting its eyes uncomfortably as it knew its inevitable place as its master’s dark mana battery.

Marcello grabbed the goblin shaman’s arm and took out his bone sceptre, channeling the dark mana from the goblin’s catalyst linked body to his own. An orb of dark magic appeared in front of his bone sceptre, and it streaked towards the goblins in the grove, alerting them.

The goblin looked confused, as that particular type of dark magic was a hallmark of goblin shamans. They had still not registered that it was intended to attack them until it reached nearly halfway through the clearing. The orb was already larger than a soccer ball before it reached them, yet Marcello smiled at the sight of it growing larger instead of fizzling out this time.

-20 health.

You have suffered backlash from utilizing dark mana channeled from another entity’s body.

Your understanding of dark mana has increased.

Your proficiency with mana manipulation has increased.

Your proficiency with mana transference has increased.

Your aptitude for dark magic has been unlocked.

Your [Enigmatic Knight’s Armor] resonates with the channeling of dark magic.

He suffered a bit of recoil yet again, but it wasn’t as much as last time. But more importantly, so many notifications slammed him at once that Marcello was completely overwhelmed. He pushed them all to the side, not caring about them at the moment because he was in the middle of combat right now.

A group of the goblins fell fast to his dark magic orb, two of them severely injured while the rest were damaged, but after the first cast Marcello could not muster the strength within him to do it again. It was time for him to do things the old fashion way.

He summoned his archeios javelin and aimed, taking advantage of the fact that the goblins were still confused to get several pot shots off first, before they finally located him.

All while this was happening, his goblin shaman slave cried out in a muffled voice that was heard by no one. It could barely move too, as its hands were bound together by the wooden cuffs that Marcello made.

His goblin shaman slave could only writhe in agony as it watched its own brethren get wiped out by Marcello. And yet, it didn’t seem to be particularly bothered? In fact, it looked like it was giggling or laughing.

Maybe it was because it considered these worker goblins to be underneath it in stature. Tch. Even in the goblin world, there were the privileged shaman goblins and the worker goblins, huh…

No particular fanfare was needed for Marcello’s sword and shield assault on the goblin colony. He was so much stronger than them that he basically blew them back with every cleave of his longsword, and stunned goblins that approached too far with a push of his shield or even a punch.

Notifications for goblins slain flew in like the wind, as Marcello swatted goblins away as if he was the second coming of hercules. His javelin and longsword tasted just as much blood as his gauntlet fists themselves, as the one-sided massacre simply padded his experience bar.

Quest information for [Uncover the secret of the forest] has been updated.

A strange gnome living inside the hollow of a tree has asked you to retrieve an old silver sword from a grove in the northern part of the forest. You have found the grove in the northern part of the forest, which has been taken over as a goblin colony.

Clear out the goblins within the grove [0/1].

Retrieve the silver sword [0/1].

Optional objective: Kill the Hobgoblin [0/1].

Quest: [Uncover the secret of the forest]

This quest will expire during the night of the blood moon, which is nearly upon you. There are scant few days left for the quest to be completed. After the night of the blood moon, all forest intrigue quests will expire as monsters evolve to their next stage.

You have begun to shape the destiny of the forest by how you have chosen to approach this quest. May the stars watch over you, brave one.

“There’s a Hobgoblin here??” Marcello shouted in surprise. His eyes zoomed through the system notification and located the most striking word there was in the description.

“Fuck. I wonder what level it’ll be this time.”

Right as he said that, he saw a large figure step out from the goblin burrow. It was a giant hobgoblin.

Before he could even catch his breath, two more hobgoblins stepped out from the burrow. Marcello’s eyes widened in confusion.

“Didn’t the system notification say that there was only one? It says zero out of one here doesn't it?”

He hadn’t expected there to be three hobgoblins. They looked just like the one in the tutorial, every bit just as intimidating as before.

But suddenly, there was another movement from within the burrow.

Up to this point, Marcello was a bit worried about fighting three hobgoblins at once, but he felt in the back of his head that he would prevail.

That sense of security disappeared immediately as the new hobgoblin appeared from the burrow.

It was a shade darker than the rest, and was nearly double the size of the other hobgoblins.

[Level 53 Evolved Hobgoblin]

A monster stronger than the white dire wolf appeared for the first time, and it was flanked by three other mini-boss tier hobgoblins.

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HereBeTreasure

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