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Crucis turned towards Starfighter, who was carefully reading through Grisier's notes. "What have you figured out so far?"

"I can't read most of this, but I can recognise a few words. I can explain some things about the letter from 'Jack,' though."

"Go ahead," DicingDevil said.

"There's a faint imprint of some text written in local language on the bottom of the paper. Seemingly they drafted the first three paragraphs there, then flipped the page and translated them to English. Firstly, the word that often gets translated as 'con-man' in English around here," Starfighter said, "is the native word 'baliduok,' which means in literal translation 'a man whose foundation is lies about the world.' 'About the world' is a bit imprecise, maybe 'designed in opposition to reality' is what I mean, lies which paint a different reality in place of the real one."

"I see," Crucis replied. "So more like the pope than yourself?"

Starfighter laughed. "Yeah, not my kind of con-man. I'm just an ordinary scammer. 'Baliduok' seems to be a common word in old writing, but by now it's sort of a high-brow cuss word."

"I guess the letter's writer is apparently from those older times, so he probably meant it in the original sense you mentioned. It does add up with what we've figured out about the King and Queen."

"Alright. The word 'bear' - 'gar' originally - in 'Kruxol Bear' probably refers to his maulings with the claws, but it's also an image often used to refer to enemy soldiers. So it might mean that they believed he was serving the enemy Kingdoms near Kruxol, and attacking on behalf of those enemies. I heard some rumours about spies and assassins from Kruxol, people up North seemed to be very paranoid about it."

"That's quite possible, we should look for information on this in Kruxol."

"Yes. The locals don't have a word for 'rage' as such, the closest equivalent is 'garlner' which is literally 'bear's tranformation.' It refers to a person's face transforming into an animalistic, bear-like form due to anger. It can also be used more loosely, if they have an angry or hateful demeanour and this can't be shaken, which is probably what he means."

"I see. So he calls their anger 'garlner,' then he becomes the Kruxol 'gar' wearing the twisted mask?"

"Yes, the 'gar i Kruxol.' The 'i' is pronounced like a short 'ee' separated clearly from the last syllable, a bit like Russian ы, it means 'of' here."

"I see. Interesting, thanks."

"Did you find much in the other pages?" DicingDevil asked.

Starfighter nodded lightly. "Most of them I can't get much from, but one of them mentions a village just West of here, named Mokra. It says something about a tunnel, and a hidden chest."

"I know that village," DicingDevil replied, "it's on the way to the Hunting preservation, just North of Bilhiks. It has a large tunnel dug below one abandoned cottage named 'Poacher's Den,' which we use to sneak into the Hunting Lodge if we're red-named and need to bypass the guards. We can go there and look, if there's something hidden."

"I can understand some directions, but I don't know if the chest will still be there. It might be a good idea to go there anyway, if it's on the way."

"Sure thing. Let's make our way to the village and check on that tunnel."

The group summoned their mounts, and proceeded South-West across a wandering forest path. Crucis' Coelophysis mount found this terrain fairly comfortable, but Starfighter and Akshel collided lightly with some trees on the way, picking up some scrapes.

Soon, they arrived at a small village, with a sign outside saying 'Mokra.' Although most of the village was made up of modest huts and cottages, some collapsed or abandoned, the West end of the village had a wall across its borders and was filled with large, wooden buildings. There were a few players wandering around among these buildings. The walls had a large doorway facing the village, and through this Crucis could make out that many of the players staying in these buildings were children or parents.

"Those buildings weren't there before," DicingDevil said.

"It's a safe zone," Grisier replied. "I'd guess that it was an extra residential area, added because Kaxil was upgraded to a starting town. The game probably counts the residential area as a part of Kaxil, there's also a teleport next to it."

"Ah, that must be it. There seem to be a few children in there."

"I guess they're using these buildings as a school, because it's less crowded than in Kaxil. Most buildings in Kaxil have NPCs or other functions, but here buildings where nobody is staying are empty enough to be used as classrooms."

"Why are these children in here?" Akshel asked. "Wasn't the game restricted to 18+?"

"In some countries, controls are relaxed or can be bypassed," Grisier answered.

"Yeah, with modern technology, things are typically released with some security holes," Starfighter said. "That's sometimes added over time, but it can be difficult to cover every possible exploit. And in some countries the games are just released or smuggled without protections, I imported my copy from Vietnam."

"There's not many people in the older part of the village," DicingDevil said, "The tunnel is this way." He guided the group.

The 'Poacher's Den' was a trashed cottage, with furniture thrown into the corners and a torn blue carpet. Lifting the carpet, DicingDevil pointed the way to a tunnel beneath. The rest of the group slipped through into the dark, muddy tunnel, followed by DicingDevil. There were small figures of animals painted across the sides of the tunnel. Starfighter broke off from the group, to inspect a few of these cave paintings.

"The writing you showed me said something like, 'go left from turtle,' then said to search near the ground for 'alekaza.' I'm not sure what is 'alekaza,' but there's a turtle drawn here," he said.

The rest of the group moved closer to inspect the tunnel wall's paintings, which were difficult to make out in the dark. Crucis saw a small outline of a turtle with a blue shell, painted on the wall next to Starfighter. The details of its head had been painted with some precision, and it cast a vacant gaze towards the left side.

"The turtle is facing left," Crucis said. "Is anything facing down?"

Starfighter shuffled to the left, examining the paintings. Soon, he found one which was looking downwards, a painted silver dolphin which seemed to be descending from a leap.

"This dolphin is looking down," Starfighter said.

"Alright, let's see if there's something beneath it," Crucis said. He crouched down near the wall, but in the darkness it was difficult to find anything. Grisier cast [Conjure Light] to help.

Akshel was inspecting the lower wall with his hands, but suddenly flinched back in alarm and drew a dagger.

"What's up?" DicingDevil asked.

"Felt like a snake. Wait a second." He carefully leaned closer to the wall. "Nevermind, it's a snake skin. A small piece of the neck."

Crucis leant over and picked up the snake skin.

"It looks to be blue with black stripes, a bit like a krait. It's also slightly wet. Maybe alekaza is something like a sea snake?" he said.

"Could be," Starfighter said, "One of the villagers who told mythological stories had called Jormungandr 'istokaza,' and 'isto' is 'world' in this language."

"So maybe 'kaza' is snake or serpent?"

"It's probably something like that."

Crucis inspected the snake skin carefully, and found that there was a blunt pin inside it.

"It now says to look to the left and right, I'm not entirely sure what it means. There are locks there, which seal a door behind 'alekaza,'" Starfighter said.

Akshel quickly moved to the left of where he had found the snake skin, and found a small leather compartment in the wall hidden behind a stone. It was closed, but had a small hole in the centre. Crucis went over to look.

"It's closed," Crucis said, "But maybe this will help."

He carefully placed the snakeskin's pin into the hole, and the leather compartment flipped open like a wallet. Inside, they saw a narrow, reptilian eye positioned as if it was staring back at them.

"There's an eye, but I think it's been removed from the rest of the creature," Akshel said.

"Yes, it's an eye from a snake corpse. Someone hung it in there," Crucis said.

DicingDevil immediately went to the right and found a similar leather compartment, which opened in the same way. It contained the snake's left eye.

"Well, someone here didn't like snakes," Akshel said briefly.

"Maybe it's the God of the Bible?" Crucis laughed. "But more seriously, I wouldn't be so sure. This looks slightly ritualistic," Crucis said. "They took a lot of care to place the eyes as if the snake was staring, even though it was dead. It could be some kind of reverence."

"That wouldn't be surprising," Grisier said. "This tunnel was first begun under a temple that collapsed, then poachers took it over and seemingly tunneled through to the hunting area."

As the two eyes stared out, there was loud creak as the wall edged backwards behind the snakeskin's original location. By pushing it softly, Crucis was able to push the wall back to expose a hollow space behind it. The area behind the wall was mostly empty, but contained a doorway leading downwards into a small, dark room below.

"Who volunteers to take a look?" DicingDevil said.

Crucis agreed to scout out the room, and walked quietly into the gap in the wall. He told the rest of the party to wait outside until he sent a message saying to enter, and to make minimal noise.

Carefully stepping down across a haphazard array of scattered stones, Crucis made his way to the door. He couldn't hear anything inside, but the door seemed to be bulky and green. As he lightly slid the door open, he stopped suddenly as he heard the sound of somebody rummaging around in the room below. The door must have been soundproof. There was also a loud noise which sounded like flowing water at one end of the room.

The person inside the room seemed to be too busy looking for treasure to notice the slight opening in the door, so Crucis used [Stealth Cloak] and quickly slid into the room, then silently walked up behind the person who had been in the room, a level 43 man named [Grandos]. Grandos looked to be slightly older than middle-aged, with combed brown hair and idealistic green eyes, and was frantically but tiredly looking through a row of cupboards in one corner of the room.

As Crucis appeared behind him, it took Grandos a few seconds to register the Assassin's presence. Crucis used this time to crouch slightly and deliver a firm [Panoramic Strike] which stabbed a gash across Grandos' spine, and followed up with [The Ripper] to widen this wound downwards across Grandos' back. Blood was pooling thickly across the wound through the spinal area, and Grandos began to sink forwards.

Grandos attempted weakly to withdraw his sword, but Crucis easily crouched down and used [Sword hold] to grab this, then pressed Grandos' neck lightly against the edge of the open cupboard in front of it, until Grandos' loose grip gave way and Crucis could grab the sword and throw it away across the room. Grandos was on 27% HP and was slouching forwards while tears dropped from his eyes.

Crucis made no move to kill this opponent, and instead brandished his dagger threateningly towards Grandos' neck. After 15 seconds of crying hysterically, Grandos finally saw an opening and began to speak.

"Leave me alone," Grandos said. "I was a politician when I was on Earth. My ideal was to serve the people. Right now, I'm helping out with the schools for children here. Please let me keep doing this, for their sakes."

"Why do you need the treasure to help them with school?" Crucis asked.

"Well, the treasure requires you to select 6 other players to also receive it, otherwise you can't obtain it. Some of the kids are still trying to level up, hunt and get gold to support each other, so I will send them the treasure as well. And hopefully it will also encourage them to listen to their lessons."

"I see." Crucis paused briefly. "What are these schools like? What do you guys teach?"

"We brought a group of actual teachers trapped in the game, and they teach various subjects. I made sure to implement an equal hiring policy by quota, so we have teachers of all races and genders."

"All genders? How many is that?"

"Oh, plenty. Plenty!" The politician's tone turned slightly maniacal for a moment.

"I see. But you're a politician, so do you teach the kids polisci? They seem a bit young for that. I had a few friends who studied it, they left our country of Ukraine for university like me, it's quite a heavy subject but I got some of what they were saying." He had made up the last sentence, he had never actually lived in Ukraine. However, he knew that the Ukraine was considered a fervent Western ally.

"No, I teach them civic responsibility, tolerance, and respect for their fellow-man."

"Ah. So as a politician, what nation were you from? I wouldn't want to attack you here, since you're clearly an important individual, and might have helped my homeland. I got scared when I saw another player, that's all."

Grandos relaxed slightly, as Crucis slowly let his dagger drift away from Grandos' neck. "Canada. Ha, I am powerful, but I think that this power should be wielded for a good cause, to combat bigotry and hatred, and promote a flourishing society."

"I respect those with power," Crucis lied. "I'll tell my party to let you leave in peace, please don't try to leave hastily and alarm them. But anyway, what is a 'good cause'? A friend asked me a good question about that - I think he worded it well. In a world ruled by faceless, multinational corporations, isn't the abating of 'division,' 'bigotry' and 'hate' just a natural effacement of difference and identity in favour of homogenisation? Is it really just a battle of good and evil ideals, or is modern society too grey and amoral for that?"

Crucis stepped away from Grandos, towards the door. As expected, the spinal injury made it difficult for Grandos to get up, and instead he dropped and lay face-down on the floor, mouth clenched at the pain of trying to get up.

"You raise an important problem," Grandos stuttered, but immediately relaxed into speaking with a rehearsed air, "that is, about corporate influence and power. I'm sure some Marxists would say that we're all believing in capitalist ideology. But I think that's an overly pessimistic view of the world, we are not all just slaves to economic interests. Besides, even Marxists support ending sexual discrimination, racial conflict and hate, though I understand that many other people are beginning to consider these issues a distraction. But I think that we should press on to solve the issues of our times and create an equal, just, respectful society. Sadly, the political will is not there, though the power is. As Marx said, the state should be the heart of a heartless world."

"He said religion was that, using the analogy of - himself, suffering from continual pain and illness, thus needing opiates to dull the pain. Quite like yourself. Sadly, I don't have any opiate on me at the moment, maybe try praying to a God and see if Marx was right."

"I think I would be best off leaving to reach the village, they will take care of the wounds. Please allow me to leave, you wouldn't want to attack someone powerful like me, you don't know what we could do in retaliation."

Crucis frowned slightly. Grandos' boast was just posturing, but Crucis could sense impatience and so launched into a monologue to exacerbate this. While doing this, he quietly drew out his sword, grabbing it by the blade and swinging it lightly near the ground to keep his arms ready to strike.

"Strange to boast about such power while bleeding on the floor. Don't you know that a state is just part of its society, and does not give you any power here and now? But you 'raise an important problem' - or question, as you perhaps meant to say. So I shall respond to it by casually philosophising, as you did about the last 'important problem.'

"A social system tends to organise itself into one mass, and a state expresses this unity and organisation. Society typically concentrates itself into the state, an expression of the social order. The power of the state is the power of society over the individual. In a state based on modern society, where all manner of different goods and services, even beliefs and philosophy, are reduced to the identical substance of monetary values, then of course political issues centre around disputing and censoring 'division' and 'hatred' - it is the erasure of individuality, everyone forcibly melted into one currency. You are just a lever in that globalist engine, you do not resist it. You'd educate the child by emptying his mind, then celebrate that he doesn't 'trigger' anyone."

"That's crass libertarianism! The state is a force for good, you underestimate my power. Now let me go!"

Grandos leapt awkwardly in the direction of his sword, but was intercepted by a prepared [Mordhau] by Crucis, whose sword's hilt crashed bluntly into the side of Grandos' head as the politician rose. Grandos collapsed into the room's wall, and fell to the floor. Crucis saw that there was a small, underground stream flowing on the side of the room next to Grandos' sword, so he picked up the sword and threw it into the stream, where it washed away.

"Don't tread on me," Crucis chirped, as Grandos lay paralysed and crying on the floor. After kneeling and using [The Ripper] to cut painfully across the back of Grandos' knee to keep the politician from regaining footing, Crucis stood up and stepped on the spinal wound, pressing downwards when Grandos tried to rise.

Crucis had the higher ground. The fight was over.

As Grandos painfully bled to death, he let out a few stifled cries before lying still. Crucis was busily typing in party chat, telling the rest of the party that they could come to the room if they liked.

He knelt down by the open drawers, and saw that the large, open one contained a sheet of paper saying, 'Place a sword here, then reach for the bottom drawer.' He pulled out a spare [Broken Faith Sword] from the minor dungeon, a cracked blade which glowed faintly in the darkness, and slotted it into the drawer. He then reached to the bottom drawer, which clicked open to reveal a small, brown, leather box.

As he tried to open this, a dialogue box appeared.

[You must send this to six other people, in order to open it. Please type in their names.

Be aware that these people will be attacked by level 150 undead if they try to enter this tunnel, or the village after midnight. This curse will start the day after this box is opened, and will last for two weeks.

No character may receive this treasure more than once.]

He carefully typed in the names of his party members, who were filtering into the room:

[Akshel]
[DicingDevil]
[Grisier]
[Dionarcy]

He then pondered the two remaining names. Shrugging, he decided upon [Dr1fter] and [ImpalerVladislav], two Hashin members. He was allowed to send a short message along with this. He typed: 'In celebration of the DeathGang victory. Good tidings to all. P.S. some of you guys are alright, don't come to Mokra after midnight or enter the tunnel. Two weeks + 1 day until it's safe.' The rewards were sent by mail.

This might help to alleviate the tensions between DeathGang and the Hashin, at least for now. The Hashin who were raiding DeathGang had been dealt a fierce blow when their meeting location was raided by Guilds from Kaxil, and this might allow Dr1fter to calm the rest of the Guild. However, both DeathGang and the Hashin had plenty of aggressive, self-interested players at the lower levels, and their rivalry would probably rekindle over time. But Crucis would have time to prepare for that, and in the meantime these Guilds would distract from his own actions.

"Who's this guy? Looks familiar," Grisier said, glancing at the corpse.

"Some politician," Crucis replied. "I killed him by lecturing him to death about how taxation is theft."

"Really?" Grisier asked facetiously.

"Honestly, no. I killed him by accident, I was trying to get him to sign an autograph using his spinal cord as a surrogate pen. It's because he's Canadian, he has no, um, pen. I suppose he deserved to die, though, he was a politician."

"I recognise him, I think he was named Jared Dwight."

"I guess so. He wouldn't have wanted to be an American Idiot, so he'd have to find an alternative kind."

"How can an idiot be a jar?" Akshel yelled at them, in confusion, as he entered through the door of the room.

The group pondered this for a few minutes. What did it all mean? What was the culmination of this yelled question? Then they left the room.

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MOROSE

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