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"Your knowledge of this area is impressive. So you're saying that there's a better minor dungeon slightly to the North?" DicingDevil said to Starfighter.

"Yes, but it requires a slightly higher level. At least 4 or 5 guys some way over level 50. It's the same as the dungeon you use, but a bit obscure. I guess they forgot to add it to the map, and to set the entrance up correctly," Starfighter replied.

"They probably aren't in much hurry now, too many other issues," Crucis said. "Well, why doesn't our group set off there? Dicing, you mentioned that minor dungeons allow for six players, he can tag along with us and show the way."

"Yes, a good plan. I'll tell the others," DicingDevil replied.

DicingDevil and Grisier set off towards a small crowd of DeathGang players.

In this game, most dungeons were divided into two kinds, which players designated as 'major' and 'minor.' 'Major' dungeons were dungeons which featured a succession of boss battles, and often had the party adventuring through a fairly large area with its own lore. 'Minor' dungeons were just a succession of battles with large mobs, and were typically shorter, easier, and less rewarding. Players were allowed one chance per day at each type of dungeon, although some large donors had been granted a 'VIP' status which granted them an additional major dungeon.

In addition to these basic dungeons, there were also dungeons designated as 'trials,' like the 'Battodo Trial,' which were generally limited to attempts once per week and tested the player's skill by measuring how far they could survive against progressively more difficult challenges.

Eventually, major dungeons would become difficult to complete for groups of Assassins. Minor dungeons, however, seemingly got easier over time due to higher-level players being able to clear mobs comfortably with strong area-of-effect attacks.

As the DeathGang players were conversing, Crucis hid away and drew out the golden string which had tied Jack's letter in the last dungeon. He placed this string around the [Pendant of Silence], and saw that this crafted a [Sacred Deathbringer Necklace]. While the effect of this necklace was similar to the [Holy Deathbringer Necklace], it added an additional effect named [Xiezhi], which gave your first two attacks a 5% chance of ignoring half of the opponent's Constitution stat, if you ambushed them and were using some form of the [Figure Blur] effect. While Crucis generally felt that an ambush from [Stealth Cloak] was more secure, an attack which ignored a large part of the opponent's Constitution stat could be potentially devastating because it would bypass the enemy's main defences.

While the opponent's Dexterity and Agility could still be used to parry, mitigate or dodge the blows, Crucis figured he would generally have an advantage in those areas. However, he suspected that players like FGRT might still be immune, because they had unnaturally high resistance to damage which was not linked to their CON. But that couldn't be helped. The [Xiezhi] effect was still quite valuable. Crucis wore this [Sacred Deathbringer Necklace], but it was hidden under the shinobi shozoku and hence the DeathGang members would not see it.

He bounded upwards, and saw the familiar four people from the previous dungeon's party now talking to Starfighter. Since Starfighter had no Mount, DicingDevil tossed him a spare loaned key which he kept on hand to prepare for any awkward eventualities like group members with Mounts that they couldn't control. At this early stage of the game, people were still getting to grips with the Mount feature, and, as the group's leader, DicingDevil tried to minimise delays.

Starfighter used the key, and was surprised when a large mongoose with sleek brown fur appeared, named [Ichneumon (Non-Combat)]. As he got on, it began moving quickly in a zig-zag motion, and he had to struggle to stay mounted.

"They said that this one was a test, so I guess good luck," DicingDevil said, hopping onto his own mount. The rest of the group followed after DicingDevil and Starfighter, as Starfighter's haphazard mount awkwardly led the way.

As they neared the minor dungeon they reached a clump of low-hanging, large trees in front of a swamp. However, they were soon halted by a group of three [The Fountain] players, who stood defiantly in their way.

"Stop, DeathGang! You villains have killed my friends, now you will pay the price!" said one, a tall level 50 ranger named [Lusray].

The other two joined in, but Crucis could see that they were nervous. Seemingly, they had noticed that the lead player was level 40, and Lusray had impulsively guessed that this was a low-level group. This wasn't made any easier by the fact that they were staring straight into the sun as they tried to survey the mounted players from low in the surrounding marshes. Lusray's two friends were both level 48. They had skipped the war accidentally to grind, and had come North to escape the jeers and blame of their ill-tempered Guildmates.

As DicingDevil prepared to engage, Starfighter smirked and then pounced seamlessly from his Mount to slash at Lusray's face with a [Hawk Slash]. This cut a dark, bloody gash. As Lusray teetered backwards due to the force of the unexpected strike, Starfighter wrestled him downwards and used the crossguard of his sword to press heavily into Lusray's neck and force Lusray to fall down backwards.

Lusray was dizzy and struggling to catch his breath, and the cross-guard's blunt force had left him slightly nauseous. However, as Starfighter swooped downwards with his blade to use a harsh [Slice] on Lusray's wounded neck, Lusray found that he couldn't raise his sword to fend off this assault because it was trapped beneath a curved blade. Looking closer, Crucis saw that Lusray's sword was pinned beneath one curved blade of a double-bladed [Haladie] dagger, with a black hilt tinged slightly red by blood, which Starfighter had deftly withdrawn as he went to ground.

As one of Lusray's friends, named [Brendaen], tried to kick Starfighter away and then raised a sword to stab downwards, he was accosted by a mounted Crucis who pulled him away by the neck. Crucis leapt off the mount, and used its momentum to drag Brendaen to the ground in a rough [Chokehold]. As they met the ground, Crucis slit Brendaen's throat with a [Black Spot], then dragged this wound harshly against the dusty, uneven ground. Brendaen tried to speak, but only coughed up blood. Crucis used a reverse grip to stab harshly into the back of Brendaen's neck with [Panoramic Strike].

Brendaen seemed to twitch slightly as Crucis withdrew the dagger, and Crucis saw that Brendaen had died frozen in a slightly hopeful expression. One of his hands was stretched as if it had been reaching out for something, but it wasn't clear what. Cruxis raised his eyebrows. Brendaen's pose reminded him slightly of the mechanical positivity of Emmy's speech. Something about that girl was engrossed with wounds and the heroic image of futile resistance to them, he wondered if this explains why Keene was so rash and quick to challenge him in the mist. She had readily been willing to live vicariously through his imaginary story of overcoming obstacles. Like Lusray's followers, she had been enthusiastic to follow a chimerical, brave quest that led nowhere, and that ended in the grave.

They were all hopeful skeletons.

Beside Brendaen, Lusray died under a steady assault of neck-bound slashes from Starfighter. Lusray's neck was left a mutilated mess. Although Lusray had managed to push Starfighter away slightly, any hope of fighting back was snuffed out as Akshel tangled Lusray's arms and head in a firm grip, and left the warrior at Starfighter's mercy. The remaining enemy was killed swiftly by DicingDevil, with Grisier assisting in slowing the enemy's movements.

"That's not like any Arch-Knight I've seen," Akshel said, surprised at Starfighter's fierce assault of Lusray.

"He knows da wae of using a sword," Crucis clicked, light-heartedly.

"Well, most Arch-Knights paid to unlock the class early," DicingDevil said. "I think this guy is free, like us, so he probably couldn't take the usual tried-and-true Arch-Knight approach of walking in and showing off ballet moves with sword props."

"He shut down a much larger player, as well," Akshel remarked.

"He used the Arch-Knight's speed and physicality to shut down his opponent directly and target their weaknesses, it's a good strategy. The haladie was a nice touch," Crucis said, as he climbed back on board his Mount. "Where did you get it?"

"Ah, there's a village to the North-East where they make it," Starfighter replied. "I nearly ran into a level 120 beast on the way there, though, so be careful."

"Alright. Anyway, let's make our way North," DicingDevil said.

Starfighter led the group further North, into an empty and quiet area. Going up to a boulder, he swept away some moss along the ground, and they saw a minor dungeon entrance leading to a underground tunnel. They thanked their guide, then invited Starfighter into the party for the dungeon.

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MOROSE

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