As the three players made their way back to the dungeon entrance, a soft, metallic rumble resounded from above a corner of the courtyard. It sounded like a soft thunderclap.

Looking up, Crucis saw a gaunt figure crouching inside a large crack in the roof. He could dimly make out a white mask on its face as it turned to gaze regally at the players. It tossed a scroll of paper towards them, and then leapt heavily away out of sight.

Crucis walked up to the paper, and saw that it had a long, thin golden string holding it in place. Removing this, he unscrolled the piece of paper.

"It's a letter," he told the group, as they came up to take a look.

"A tale, from nowhere.

"The disease has been torn out at its root. The King and Queen are dead. To think that a glib con-man should have become a leader of my people, and cast me out. He used us as a springboard to establish a wider Kingdom. Yet all of us are shackled to this land, like a prison. In exile, I still managed to do odd jobs around this area and witnessed the building of the palace, until I was ratted out by the people and they chased me away. I still remember the rage in their eyes. But by then, the spread of disease was already beginning.

"I managed to sneak back and take up lodging in the house of one victim of an early plague, wearing his ragged, grey shirt. After a week of barely being seen, the neighbours became suspicious, and soon two of them broke in to check on my identity. I killed them, and escaped through a low window. By then, I had stolen most of the dead man's possessions, including this mask, which local superstition believed to have magic powers which protect against the plague. The Queen also had one. It did not protect against plague, but it did seem to have other magical powers, like the ability to breathe or emit blue fire.

"I donned metallic claws, and used my knowledge of the area to steal from nearby, killing anyone who got in the way with a sword, fire or the mauling claws. I was known as the blight of the court, widely called the 'Palace Ghost' or the 'Kruxol Bear.' But through all the disease, the court's magic only grew greater. Ambushing the King as he wandered the palace distractedly, he nearly killed me and I was forced to leap from an open window to escape. This disfigured my face. I became like the King, who wore rashes across his body. Sometimes, I have strange dreams of waking up in the crowded palace, next to a crown.

"Once, I led a vigorous people, now I rule over an empty court stained with the bones of the diseased. So be it, to reign is worth ambition though it be in Hell, as they say. Haha.


"A spring-heeled Jack?" Crucis remarked.

"I was afraid that he was going to attack us for a moment," DicingDevil said. "But he seems to be a fan."

"What's attached to the bottom of the paper?" Grisier asked.

Crucis saw that three small pendants had been sealed across the bottom of the page. They were each named [Pendant of Silence], and contained a flat, circular blue-black gem, which seemed to be stained lightly with scarlet around the edge. Each of the group took one.

"It's strange, he didn't have metallic claws or a sword when he approached me on the stairs before, but he did use bats to scout us out like the King had done," Crucis said, "This time he clearly had the claws, you could hear it as it landed. He says that his mask was similar to one worn by the Queen, and also parallels himself with the King in the next paragraph. Since he seemingly got his supernatural abilities from the superstition surrounding the mask, his supernatural 'Palace Ghost' persona is partially a product of the King and Queen's superstitious powers. So perhaps the 'Palace Ghost' isn't just him, and he merely partakes of a superstitious 'magical' phenomena that's already there?"

"How do you mean?" asked Grisier.

"The mask is already there. Its power is a result of the King and Queen's fantasy. The Queen was still around when he snuck up on us. If your powers come from wearing the mask, then are you a new figure, or a distorted form of something which is already present in the court? We've already seen that the King fancied himself as a bird, this kind of crazed leaping and bird-like mask doesn't seem akin?"

"No, you're right. That would also explain why he sometimes dreamed that he was a monarch, it was difficult to dissociate himself from the fantasy where his powers arose from. So you're saying that the figure that attacked you might not have been him?"

"Well, it's like someone riding a disobedient horse, sometimes the horse will start off on its own and the rider will just be carried along. But he seems to have remained ultimately incorruptible despite the superstition and madness that he was playing with. A Hamlet of sorts."

"Yes, and no wonder since a lot was rotten in Ganféan's state. I wonder if we can find out more about this 'Jack.'"

"It's possible, maybe if we ransacked the place we could find some documents. But as for himself, he is elusive. I doubt we could catch him." Crucis had a plan in mind to do that, but he would have to figure some things out during his next run, and he wanted to eventually try it on a run without DeathGang members alongside him. He wanted to speak with the figure alone, so that anything it revealed would not also be known to DeathGang.

"Yes, difficult to, even with our high Agility. Maybe some people in the prison may have been sympathetic to him? We could check for information there," DicingDevil said.

The other two nodded.

"What are these pendants for, by the way?" Grisier asked.

"We can attach them to a necklace, and wear them. This pendant says that it requires a string necklace," Crucis said, reaching into his inventory. "Well, that's easy."

He pulled out a string, and used a knife to cut off part of it. He slotted it through a hole above the pendant, and tied it into a round, simplistic necklace. Going to the [Crafting] menu, he input this combination of items, and it recognised the new necklace as a [Holy Deathbringer Necklace]. The gem began to emit a misty, faint pale blue aura.

"Quite a name," he laughed.

The necklace's description said that it gave users, "the effect of [Figure Blur] for 5 seconds, each time that they use a skill which includes a buff to Agility or movement speed." It did not apply to moves like [Stealth Cloak], which already applied their own stealth or invisibility effects. Hence, it would primarily affect [Speed Demon] and [Dodge Step]. This was useful, as [Speed Demon] required a few seconds to cast, and during this time the user was vulnerable, making it inconvenient in most fights. However, Crucis didn't wear it yet, since he would need more Agility-buffing skills for it to become truly effective.

The others in the group also made the necklace with string.

"They have some silver and gold strings in town, also a few enchanted ones. We can see if those give this pendant a stronger effect," DicingDevil said. "It sounds a bit basic for now, not many moves for it."

Casually, Grisier demonstrated the necklace's ability by wearing it, then casting [Young Deer's Speed]. This speed buff caused him to turn slightly hazy and transparent, and as he walked windingly to his left it was difficult to keep track of where he was. Curious, he waited until the cooldown on [Young Deer's Speed] had completed, then cast it again. The spell failed, because he already had the buff. However, it still triggered the necklace, causing him to become hazy and partially invisible again. As this effect ran out, he cast the failed spell again, and retained his hidden nature.

"Casting a failed spell comes at one-fourth of the cost, and one-third of the cooldown," he said. "So now I effectively have a really cheap spell which keeps me hidden."

"Congratulations, you have begun to walk the path of the ninja," Crucis laughed.

"Why do you guys wear those black costumes?" Grisier responded. "Doesn't it sort of stick out?"

"Agility buff. And it doesn't really stick out, since most Assassins wear one."

"As your mana regeneration increases, soon you'll have nearly free quasi-invisibility," DicingDevil said to Grisier. "We'll have to send you on recon missions, let the Assassins stay by campfire. I for one welcome our fashionable Mage overlords."

"Yeah, always a pity how these games seem to confuse the 'heroic warriors' for 'fashionistas.' Ah well. He'll be great in the right terrain, like near the sea or large rivers," Crucis said. "Not only can he shield himself, but people could barely hit him."

"Well, all in good time, I suppose," Grisier said humbly.

The three walked out of the dungeon. Once outside, they summoned their Mounts and proceeded West, arcing lightly Northwards along the edge of the hill range. Grisier's Mount was one which Crucis wasn't familiar with, a [Lesser Hugag]. This large, moose-like creature had legs which were joint-less and stood firmly straight, as well as a thick upper lip which covered the rest of its mouth. It seemed almost like a gag creature.

Soon, they reached a large, flat grassland with a few old, ruined wooden buildings across it. A few looked like they were being renovated. They stopped at a large building with a thatched roof, and Crucis saw a few people hanging out on benches across the room. There was a glowing, blue sphere next to the entrance to this building.

"That's a teleport to and from Kaxil," DicingDevil said to Crucis. "Dionarcy will use it to meet up with us. The weaker party is also here already, I think they're meeting our Guild's Vice-Leader in one of the meeting rooms. He's not fond of non-Guild members, so it might be better for you to sit down elsewhere. Sorry about that."

Crucis smiled resignedly. "I'll find somewhere to sit, plenty of free space. You guys go ahead."

DicingDevil and Grisier walked into the building. Crucis stayed outside, by the entrance, and surveyed the surrounding area. He saw some horses passing by in the distance, heading towards a small forest to the South. Squinting slightly, he saw that one of their riders was a level 50 Hashin member named [Glora]. A few other horses were making their way towards this forest from a distance, and he guessed that these were Hashin. He started a quick conversation in the party chat.

Crucis: hashin heading towards the forest south of here. probably meeting.
DicingDevil: hashin have been a nuisance, a few of their groups attacking us 2day after the war. their leader congratulated us, idk if these are rogues.
Grisier: nething we can do? if they meet here, they are probably coming from kaxil direction towards our territory.
Crucis: could alert some of the big kaxil guilds to their location. maybe using alts?
DicingDevil: ok, dionarcy just spawned. he has a fountain alt in kaxil, will tell him to mention it asap. that town really hates hashin rn.
Grisier: ok we're here, now for dull lectures. c.u.

Crucis changed into a stiff, grey shirt which the King had dropped, as well as some black pants he carried around as spares. Although this was quite formal attire, he was already bruised and cut and so he didn't have much choice of blending in with a casual look. He wore the [Holy Deathbringer Necklace], since it fit well with the shirt.

Walking into the building, he saw that there were a few, rectangular tables stretched out on the left, with a few scattered groups of players around them. Players were sitting down calmly next to each other, and most groups didn't seem to be pre-formed. Crucis saw a group of three players sitting next to the entrance, two females and one male. This group seemed quite relaxed and were mostly from a small Guild, so he figured that he might as well sit down next to them. Since they were all relatively high-level, ranging from 40 to 47, he wouldn't stand out too much among them except for his wounds.

They also had name-tags above their heads: level 43 [Mirel], level 47 [Blanchette], and level 40 [JoDark]. He waited for them to introduce themselves before calling them by name, however.

"Hello, what's your name?" one of the females asked Crucis. She was a middle-aged brunette woman with a fairly blank face, and looked almost aggressive as she spoke. She and the other female had been showing off some rare and valuable items when Crucis had first arrived.

"Chrysalis," Crucis lied in response.

"Welcome, Chris," said a younger girl who was sat opposite Crucis. She seemed to be in her 20s, with blonde highlights across her straight, brown hair which had been thoroughly combed. Oddly concerned about hairbrushing, in a video game.

"Thank you."

"What happened? You're covered in bruises," she said with a hint of alarm, her shoulders sagging slightly towards the table.

"I was running a dungeon nearby with some friends, it was set in like a palace. It was a bit gruelling, but not such a big deal. After that, I was attacked by some ganker, I didn't catch his identity because he wore a mask. That was a tough fight, his dagger tore this wound." He lowered his collar a little to reveal the chest wound from the Queen's [Blood Spiral] spell. The rest of the group gaped in surprise. "But I managed to fight him off until the coward fled, he leapt away and ran off like the devil himself. Scoundrel."

He assumed that characterising the [Blood Spiral] wound as a result of a dagger would make it seem like the result of an intense, bloody fight. The rest of the group reacted as expected.

With her mouth slightly open, the younger female said, "I hope you're alright! Yeah, there are gankers everywhere nowadays, we just try to keep to safe zones like this. I was attacked by one, out of nowhere, yesterday near Kaxil. He shoved me to the ground, then kept striking me down until I died. I didn't even get a hit in."

"Maybe the [Ariston]? My attacker was also that sub-class," Crucis offered.

"Sorry, what was that?"

"[Ariston], a kind of Assassin that are strong when they can corner and assault opponents, but they're weak as soon as you get out of the bind. That's why he wasn't able to win, in these open areas it's difficult to corner someone your own size."

"Yeah, that sounds like it. Well done winning, maybe that will teach those brutes a lesson! By the way, my name's Mirel, real name Emmy. My friend here is Blanche."

"I'm JoDark, I'm from [The Fountain] Guild. Nice to meet you," said the level 43 male sitting beside him. Crucis shook his hand casually.

"Hi," Blanche said, "I see that Em here is already attached to you!" She laughed.

"So, do you guys know any decent grinding spots nearby?" JoDark asked. "My Guild just ignores me."

"The forest down South is nice," Blanche said, "Mobs of all sorts of levels. They mostly keep to themselves if you don't attack them." Emmy nodded.

"Be careful down South, there's Hashin meeting there at the moment," Crucis said.

"Oh, really?" JoDark responded. "I should tell my Guild, they have a bone to pick with the Hashin. But if I say it, they'll probably ignore me."

As JoDark typed clumsily, Crucis took a look around the room. To the right, there was a small bar, where people were picking up things to eat. The people on this table had had a couple of drinks, but seemed to have arrived quite recently.

Near the bar, a sleazy-looking level 40 player in a glossy black outfit was walking around offering players directions to the 'White Spiral Stones,' in exchange for 900,000 gold. Crucis had heard of these stones, they were a randomly-generated phenomenon that lasted for a week. A few large, white stones would appear, carefully arranged in a spiral shape. At midnight, powerful creatures would spawn around them, and rare, valuable items had a chance to appear in the centre. A few items and skills could only be obtained in this way, since the game was new.

However, Crucis could not afford this offer at the moment, since most of his gold was in Storage, and guessed that the offer was probably exorbitant anyway. All the same, White Spiral Stones were generally found in out-of-the-way places, and he wondered how this player had found one.


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