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Since Crucis and Starfighter had no Guild tag, they were nominated to explore Mokra's residential area. A group of explorers from DeathGang would be suspect, especially due to the Guild's recent notoriety, but the high-levelled Crucis instead just attracted interest and curious looks from the low-level players nearby.

Before entering the residential area, he had worn a cheap dark-green coverall from the village's clothing store, as well as a peculiar [Grass-Patterned Helmet] plundered from the dead Grandos. He had noticed that most higher-level players in the village were wearing this kind of helmet, a grey, fragile iron helmet embroidered with patterns of a strangely resilient grass which held it together more firmly than typical low-quality equipment. It was probably forged from materials available near this village. However, he surmised that most players in this village were relatively low-level and not very well-equipped, instead making do with makeshift equipment like this helmet.

After wearing the helmet to blend in and signal status, he had also equipped a flashy, wide and glowing white-grey [Faith Greatsword] dropped by Alice in the minor dungeon. As expected, the players in the village gawked at the large, high-level sword and its gold-lined bronze hilt. While swords dropped by undead had no minimum Strength requirement, he did not have nearly enough Strength to wield it effectively. However, the residential area was a safe zone, and so he went with the general logic of 'use big sword to impress small players.' It worked, and soon a few players had gathered around, led by some curious children, as he inspected the area's buildings and market stalls.

A few players walked up around this powerful-looking visitor, but a female level 28 player named [Kleoboule] ushered them back. She looked middle-aged - though still slightly youthful - and Greek or Irish, with a pasty white face and dark brunette hair. From her tone in speaking to some of the children, Crucis surmised that she was one of the teachers at the village's schools.

"Thanks, now I can breathe. But you have a nice community here, very enthusiastic," he addressed Kleoboule.

"Maybe a bit over-enthusiastic," Kleoboule smiled. "Anyway, nice to meet you. I'm Clementine, but you can call me Cleo. These children will be going to class soon, so you will get some peace."

"Alright, Cleo. I'm Charles, and this is Gary." He gestured towards Starfighter. He didn't want anyone here to recognise Starfighter's real name, so he figured he'd make up fake ones for both of them. "We haven't been here before, so we're still getting our bearings. The children listen to you easily, are you a teacher here?"

"Oh! Yes, I am. Glad that you noticed the schools, they have been going well. These children may not look studious, but they are when they're not distracted by fancy visitors!"

"They're clearly a curious lot. So tell me, do the children mostly focus on their studies, or do they also hunt and train a bit around here? Because I see a few of them waving around dashing swords of their own."

"Those... Yes, they all want to help hunt and defend their friends. They're even a bit competitive about it, but they barely know what they're doing! Since you're stronger than the others here, would you mind showing them a few pointers later?"

"If it calms them down for now, so they can get to class, then I'd be happy to." He turned to Starfighter beside him. "Are you interested in joining, Starfighter? You've always been a model citizen, after all."

"Yes, of course," Starfighter said.

Crucis hid one arm from the crowd as he had turned towards Starfighter, and he used this to type instructions in party chat. Starfighter saw this, and spoke to Crucis on cue.

"There's a lot to see here, though, you can see they've organised a lot. We might miss some things."

"Yeah, but I'm sure that it would be worth taking a look." Crucis began speaking to Kleoboule, "Any chance that you guys can show off some of the stuff you've been doing in here? You've set this all up so quickly, in only a day or two, but in all the bustle it was probably hard to set up directions." He laughed lightly.

"Sure," Kleoboule replied, flattered. "Yeah, I also got a bit lost here at first. I don't know much about the stalls, but I could show you around the school building." She was anxious to get the kids to a classroom, and guessed that if these visitors went in that direction, then the children would follow.

"That sounds interesting. I guess that these kids are going there now, so if you're not teaching yet then feel free to show us around. I'm sure it will prove surprisingly orderly."

Kleoboule nodded and smiled, biting her lower lip slightly. Crucis and Starfighter followed her towards a series of rectangular wooden buildings.

As they were walking, one of the children asked Crucis, "What's that sword named?"

"The Faith Greatsword," he answered.

"Cool."

Looking down, he saw that the person asking was a brown-haired, square-faced boy surrounded by a small group of friends. Crucis anticipated more questions from this group, and sure enough they came in a flurry.

"Where did you get it?"

"How'd you become that strong? Isn't it dangerous out there?"

"What was the most painful fight you had?"

"Does that sword just break enemies into pieces?"

Crucis half-sighed. "I can't answer all of those at once. The sword is from the Ancestral Graveyard to the North, it hits hard but bosses at this level are still tough. It's dangerous, but that makes it important to be strong to guard yourself and others. What were the other questions?"

The Ancestral Graveyard was a remote level 70 area with a level 90 boss, and nobody had cleared it yet. As such, Crucis assumed that the villagers wouldn't be that familiar with it, but would assume that a player voyaging there was strong.

A black-haired, young girl who had been paying attention chirped in. "What was the most painful fight you've had? And Arthur wanted to know how you're so strong."

"Most painful? I think I got ambushed by three Hashin a couple of days ago, while going to dungeons with four other guys. Our group managed to fight them off, but I stood in front with a shield and got stabbed so many times. I've died once or twice, but it was never as much. Why would you ask, you'd like me to be in pain?" He asked the question with a laugh.

"It wasn't my question! But that sounds awful, why did you go in front?"

"To protect the rest of the team, who were more vulnerable. It's usual tactics. If they were killed quickly, then I'd be outnumbered easily."

"You might still win!"

"Maybe you're right! By the way, Cleo is calling you, maybe you should rush. It's been nice talking."

"Sure. I'm Stacy, but my name here is DeerLotus! See you later!"

She turned away and headed towards one of the wooden buildings, where a group of students was gathering. Crucis and Starfighter had 20 students around them, but 9 of these dropped off to follow Stacy into the building.

The rest of the children reluctantly made their way into the other buildings nearby. Crucis saw that a few buildings had NPCs, and weren't used as classrooms for the moment, but the students had entered empty buildings filled only with players.

Kleoboule smiled at them when she was done, and led them into a wooden building larger than the rest, which contained a grey carpet across the floor and was populated by two NPCs who seemed to behawking goods.

"We treat this as the main school building because of the carpet, but we don't use it at this time - these two characters get really noisy if it's crowded!" she chirped.

Crucis laughed. "At least the carpet is quite lush, for a classroom."

"Yeah, the students love it."

"There's also a lot of tables and boxes laid out on the right side, it looks like some kind of system. Is it?"

"Yes, this is where the important school functions are done. For example, this box," she pointed to a tall, bronze-bordered wooden box with a large slot in it, "is where students can collect their assignments. It's a special kind of box, I think called a [Village Mail Box]. It checks who letters are to and from, then they can only be withdrawn by the named student. It's a nice way to distribute assignments, but it's also a pain, because we have to sign each envelope!"

"That must be difficult, along with all of the effort in getting this place together. But I see there's plenty of marked assignments."

Starfighter asked a question. "Do you grade the students, or just offer feedback?"

Kleoboule replied. "We've had no time for a grading system yet. Besides we hope that the students will get back to their own schools soon, so it doesn't seem important yet. We grade the older students, but most students will just be given feedback."

"That makes sense," Crucis said. "Plus, I'm sure teachers here are from various different curricula and systems, so getting a single grading system going might be complicated anyway at this stage."

"Yes, actually, we try to stress getting teachers from everywhere. I don't know that many details of the policy, but I think it's working. The other teachers have taught me a lot about their experiences, I didn't learn that much about it in Ireland."

"You're Irish?" Starfighter said. "Great place."

"No, Greek living in Ireland, but everyone insists I look Irish."

"At least you don't have red hair, then that would spiral out of control," Crucis said light-heartedly.

Kleoboule giggled, then walked across the right wall of the building to show a large billboard.

"This is where we place announcements. As you can see, I wrote a few announcing some new subjects we had found teachers for."

"What subject do you teach?" Crucis asked.

"Um, I help out wherever necessary. Cultural studies is popular, we look at cultural phenomena and analyse the message and how it relates to various demographics. Students love it, because it reminds them of the world outside, which they miss. I also help with primary school level English, which used to be my specialty, and with Art."

She led them over towards a small side-room, which contained a collection of sculptured and small paintings placed in array over a series of rectangular, wooden tables.

Crucis walked into the room, and started browsing across the many slapdash artworks. He saw that a few students were clearly trained at painting, and had painted flowers or landscapes with some level of proficiency, but he didn't find much thoughtfulness or meaning in these paintings. However, one which interested him was placed on a lower shelf of one table, and it seemed to have a black, jagged diagonal line across the centre which Crucis had thought was a crack at first.

The painting seemed to have been slotted into the lower shelf in order to hide it, suggesting that the student wasn't favoured. Crucis hence crouched slightly to inspect it, but feigned an interest in the more flashy paintings on top of the table. He quickly made out some details of the painting on the lower shelf.

It portrayed a lion - whose head was a rather anarchic spray of red and yellow lines radiating out from a point - with red eyes, leaping in the centre towards at a human on the left side. The human was painted slightly messily, but was holding a grey sword. The lion was placed on each side of the black, diagonal line, as if its sharp, detailed claws - drawn on with pencil - were ripping the page in two.

Crucis found this conceit interesting, and as he looked more closely he saw a realistic set of dark, green, pointed trees in the background and carefully-painted shadows on the green-brown ground, which gave the painting the slightly lush dark atmosphere of Transylvanian woods. A hint of red sunset was painted above the trees, probably to suggest the image of blood.

A few bats flitted through the woods, with small, red eyes. The image reminded him vividly of the early scene in Dracula where the Count appears without a reflection and attempts to throttle a shaving Harker at the sight of blood. Though a brief and ostensibly simple scene, the combination of vampiric imagery and a primal break in the Count's aristocratic airs was still impactful. Dracula was eventually thwarted by Harker's superstitious last resort of beads, quite like the superstition of Ganféan's court had rendered the tattered King - whose life was cut into pieces - somehow impervious to damage. But the power of Dracula's image remained, and the beads were but a languid reflection of the fear which he inspired, like ashen skin around a branding iron's imprint.

The painting was titled 'Rage In Disorder.'

The author's name was printed in the bottom-right corner: 'Yaroslav Lutye.' Crucis didn't recognise the surname as Russian, so it might be either a pseudonym or an unconventional Anglicisation. Crucis guessed that the background had been partially traced from another image, and the bats had been creatively used to hide errors in this tracing.

As he gazed across the painting, he typed quick instructions to Starfighter. Starfighter asked Kleoboule to show him how large the school area was, and which parts were important, so that he could remember to be careful around there. He said that they were impressed by the flourishing of this new area, and planned to return a few times. Crucis smiled and said that he would stay and inspect the art, which pleased Kleoboule, and that the others could go for a moment if they wanted to look elsewhere. Kleoboule led Starfighter to the entrance of the building, where she pointed out across the buildings and explained the school district.

Now alone, Crucis inspected his inventory. Crucis had earlier seen that Grandos on death dropped nine unsealed envelopes, which turned out to contain students' assigments with written feedback in their margins. The envelopes included addresses, mentioning the students. Most of the assignments were marked positively, except for one which was marked as 'Late' and contained marginal comments in red ink condemning truancy. The truant student was named 'Sergey Lutye,' a familiar surname.

Crucis scanned through the positively-marked essays, then drew out eight of the keys of life which he had received from the Satanic ritual in the palace. He used a piece of string to tie around the keyhole, then taped this to the marked assignment. Using a pen, he wrote 'Congratulations!!' in block capitals next to the key, imitating Grandos' scrawl slightly. He scanned the area outside the art room carefully, and saw that Kleoboule and Starfighter were currently outside the building.

Getting up, he left the art room and used [Stealth Cloak], then slipped these envelopes into the box which students were using to retrieve their examination scores. He then hid behind the box briefly, checking for any signs of a reaction. Seeing that he was in the clear, he shrugged and approached the doorway.

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MOROSE

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