There was a loud commotion as a group of players surged across the border from Area D to Area E, pushing their way loudly through a large clump of trees and bushes. They had gained the attention of a few of the area's rangers, who shouted at them and ran to cut them off.
"Looks like they've finally found a way through," Starfighter said calmly.
"Quite a scene," Crucis replied.
"I doubt they make it," DicingDevil said. "Probably for the best, they have a couple of level 57 players. Might be time-consuming."
Akshel was watching attentively, like a spectator at a horse-race. "Yeah, but those are a Knight and a Mage. No way they make it past without getting caught."
"Quite. But maybe the others will."
"Let's wait and see," Starfighter said.
The Hunting area's rangers soon rushed up to the stragglers from the group breaking out of Area D, and firmly stood in the way.
The level 58 Mage, who was held in place by the shoulders, began to scream loudly in protest. His voice, loud and slightly youthful, boomed through the area.
"But you have to understand! Our team-mate - someone killed him! Someone killed him, whom? We have to figure out!"
"Excuse me, sir, please proceed back to your designated Area. You will be fined for your breach of Area boundaries," the stocky female ranger replied stoically.
"Don't you dare! Look, George was my friend! Nobody hated — how dare you! We have to check what happened. If someone killed my team, I'll wring his neck right here, right now!"
"Excuse me, please don't try to resist. You will be fined more, and might be barred from the Hunting Lodge."
"This is urgent! Let me through! I'm looking for my team-mates -"
"Did your party members also violate the Area boundaries? If so, then report them to us. There is no need to search for them yourself."
"N-no! I mean, they're dead! They're... You ruined their future! How dare you! We've been trying to get through for so long, we could have saved them! We could have! How dare you!"
Crucis couldn't make out the Mage's facial expression from behind the thick bushes, but it sounded like it would be quite a sight.
"Give it up," the level 58 Knight shouted to the Mage, as a Ranger's heavy hand caught the Knight's shoulder. "They're dead anyway. Leave it. You'll get us all banned!"
"But - fine!" the Mage huffed. "We finally got through, now you're just giving up? Fine!"
"That's, um... sunk cost, right? The fallacy? Bro, chill!"
The only ones still not caught were a male and female archer. Crucis saw that the female was carrying a sword, and guessed that she was of the [Ranger] sub-class.
Soon, the male archer had been caught soon after his feet got caught in a vine. A hand grabbed him roughly from behind, and he was thrown to the ground.
Only the level 43 female archer kept going, leaping desperately through the leaves. She barely knew where she was going, but she was sprinting to get away from the area's rangers because she knew that her group was likely to be barred from the Hunting area for up to a week. The Hunting area was important to her, since it was where she had gained most of her valuable items and EXP.
While much of the game still confused her, since she had never intended to play it seriously, she had been able to cajole high-level teams into taking her on long trips to the Hunting area.
Due to her sub-class' skills, she found this terrain easier to navigate than the rest of her group. She sprung easily over the bushes, and weaved between trees with near-perfect balance.
"A ranger chasing a ranger?" Crucis commented.
DicingDevil laughed. "Yeah. I think the ones who enforce the area rules are technically called 'wildlife rangers' or 'reserve rangers,' but their nametag just says [Ranger]. So a ranger chasing a ranger."
"All we need is a red-haired Australian to make a trifecta."
"Looks like she's made it through the bushes," Akshel said. "Pity, no-one to congratulate the winning horse."
The female leapt over a small, fallen tree as if it were a hurdle, then stumbled forwards. Falling behind, the wildlife ranger behind her tried to walk circumspectly around the obstacles. Her eyes darted towards the mines, as she looked for anywhere to hide from the rangers.
As she approached, her nametag, [LittleSunflake], fanned out above her head.
Her dirty-blonde hair was thrown awry by the chase, and scattered across her face and neck. Though beady-eyed and slightly small, even frail-looking, in stature, she was quite muscular, and had been involved in several sports teams — primarily the 'soccer' team — in her US college before getting trapped in here. In melancholic moments, she sometimes wondered if the team was just carrying on without her now.
Seeing a few people near the mines, she remembered that her team-mates had been killed in this near-empty area. That meant she was probably facing their killers right now. Frustrated, with no safe direction of escape, she lost her temper but hid this effortlessly.
Calmly, she put on a slightly unnatural, but charming, smile and said in a melodic, artificially softened voice, "Hey, guys, you look like you've been down there. Could you help me hide?"
Crucis raised an eyebrow. It was highly unlikely that this female, knowing that her team-mates died here, would allow the killers to corral her into the mines where she could be easily trapped. He activated [Stealth Cloak] as soon as she looked down.
As the female jogged calmly forwards, swerving towards the mine entrance, she quietly pointed her sword towards Danemy and changed course to attack him. He was the nearest enemy. However, as she extended her sword and stepped rapidly towards Danemy, she saw the words [Black Spot] appear in front of her.
Crucis materialised beside her, and intercepted her run by slicing his dagger across the front of her throat. Blood gushed from the wound, as LittleSunflake gagged to a halt and fell to the ground to avoid further injury.
However, before Crucis could pin her down, she sprung back up almost automatically and punched him hard in the chest.
Although Crucis was winded by this blow, he sternly grabbed her outstretched fist by the wrist. The momentum of the punch meant that she was now leaning towards him, and she was unable to withdraw as he stabbed firmly through her neck wound with [Panoramic Strike].
She cried out softly, like an ingénue, and tried to speak but could not enunciate the words clearly.
Starfighter closed in on her and struck with a [Mordhau] to the back of her head, that sent her falling forwards past Crucis and onto the ground.
She started to leap up again, but this time was held down by Crucis' foot on her neck. She yelped slightly, and fell back down.
The ranger was slowly approaching, but took a permissive approach towards the players in Area E fighting against players invading from Area D. They gave the fight a wide berth.
LittleSunflake cried as she saw black smoke rising from her wounds, as it reminded her of her own hopes going up in smoke once she was trapped here. It was one of the more meaningful moments of her short life.
Danemy knelt down over her, and used a small [Scalpel Dagger] to tear large gashes across her back. The [Scalpel Dagger] was a small dagger which extended only a short distance from the hilt, but its blade was incredibly sharp and had a high chance of causing [Bleeding]. He had found it in one of the corpses laying on the path to the Lost Man's Resting Place.
While LittleSunflake writhed heavily across the ground, Crucis kept her head pressed claustrophobically to the ground while Starfighter kicked at her feet whenever she tried to rise.
Soon, she was dead, and her back looked like it had been mauled by a lion. Danemy stood up, satisfied with his work. He saw that some of the girl's party were still watching from afar, and waved to them.
"Oi, the 58 Mage is crying," Akshel said. "Is that the most consoling you can be, Danny?"
He had seen the level 58 Mage running across the Area D border to get a better view, and breaking down in tears as he saw LittleSunflake die.
"Well, that guy is highly emotional, and the girl was maudlin," Crucis said. "I'm sure he was attached to her, but honestly her death might be for his own good. Will he realise that? Sadly, probably not."
"Well, he won't be back in the Hunting area soon, anyway," Danemy said. "And the fines will be steep. Strange, we're not the ones on the run from the law this time, it's the do-gooders...?"
"Some people have such a thirst for goodness that they will break the law," Starfighter replied. "They're vigilantes, y'know, like superheroes. And that girl would've probably left you dead on the ground, but she probably had a no-kill rule or something. You got lucky, kid."
He laughed lightly.
"You're right, Akshel," DicingDevil called out, walking closer to Area D. "We should give them a more consoling send-off."
At DicingDevil's guidance, the party went close to the Area D boundary and started yelling mock-solemn farewells for a few minutes.
"Hate to see you go!"
The level 58 Mage screamed in frustration and wildly struck a ranger on the face. After the Knight walked up to hold him back, the Area D group left towards the Hunting Lodge with their tails between their legs.