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As he waited for the children's classes to finish, Crucis sat on a bench near a large tunnel entrance. Kleoboule had told him to wait here. The earthy tunnel led Northwards towards the woods, and was located just behind the school buildings. He noticed some activity in the party chat, and joined in.

DicingDevil: akshel said u guys were with some children and teachers? lifelong learning?
Crucis: haha. learning? i never learn.
Starfighter: they were impressed at crucis' greatsword.
Grisier: Can he even use it to fight?
Crucis: no lol
Akshel: so where do we meet? any1 to kill?
Crucis: u r some monster who wld kill kids? zomg!!!
DicingDevil: !!!
Akshel: any1 else to kill?
Crucis: teachers ig? we don't need no education we don't need no thought control
Akshel: ok but can we kill kids after that?
Crucis: nooooo! u know who ripped children apart with bare hands bc he found it funny? hiteler! he ate anne frank, then vomited to become judenfrei!
Grisier: Yes, we should strive not to repeat the ways of hiteler...
Starfighter: he had julimia?
Crucis: yes sad many such cases
Akshel: :(((
Crucis: u r just edgelord. edgelords feel no sadness.
Akshel: reeeee
Grisier: You're all edgelords. You should be respectable like a learned Mage.
Crucis: shut up harry potter. voldimort was such an edgelord that he molested ur parents, haha cry more ******
Crucis: gah chat auto censors wtf what happened to the 1st amendment
Akshel: anyway, so do these guys just stay in safety or leave?
Crucis: the 'school' is makeshift, + it doesn't count for much. kids show up bc nothing else to do, + adults tell them to and it's what they are used to. they can't stop the kids from adventuring sometimes.

There were two players standing guard at the tunnel entrance, one at level 43 and the other at level 30. However, they were standing just inside the tunnel, and couldn't see him on the bench.

He had greeted them before he sat down, and Kleoboule had explained that, since there weren't many guard NPCs around this village, the school was paying some players to keep watch. The guards had no official ties to the school, and weren't paid a lot because the school had used most of its funds on setting up and bringing in teachers and students. As such, the 'guards' were slightly lax and often seemed half-asleep. Crucis guessed that they were strong enough not to turtle in town, but weak enough to avoid adventuring or other more rewarding ventures.

He briefly enquired as to whether him, Starfighter and the 4 DeathGang members would be receiving any backup. If they had the 5 additional players here, including BlazeKeys, then they could probably all kill these guards en masse. However, it would be less easy to sneak those less experienced players into the area unnoticed.

Crucis: where r the other 5 deathgang?
DicingDevil: in kaxil. they say teleports there = only open to under 30s, and slightly out-of-the-way anyway. might be a change bc now starting town. avoid congestion or sth, who knows.
Crucis: bs avoiding congestion? we'll show them how real anti-congestion measures work
Crucis: nero might not have fiddled while setting rome on fire 4 scenery
Crucis: but if he did then he is a master of urban planning
Grisier: How did the conversation turn to Roman history?
Crucis: it's bc u used proper grammar in party chat and everyone thinks wtf is he speaking latin or sth
Crucis: based pedoant wizard
Crucis: *pedant

Crucis had told the DeathGang members to inspect the area to the North of the village, a grassland which soon gave way to thick woods. This was the direction which the tunnel led.

Crucis: did u check the northern woods?
Grisier: Yeah, I bought a map from the village and got these guys to scout. It says there's a boss near the village named 'Wood Scourge,' but there's fencing leading up to it. No way to climb on or walk through that.
Starfighter: so it's probably considered safe.
DicingDevil: yes, but these guys might not know the game that well. they should have had the trees next to this fence cut down. i could climb a taller one and bypass the fence
Starfighter: from what i've seen, i wouldn't expect these teachers to know the game, and even experienced players might miss that trick if rushed
Crucis: they're teachers, it's a miracle if they know anything. anyway, how many of u can climb it?
DicingDevil: me and dion. there's a small gate on the side, i can open it and let the others through. a lvl 45 player is guarding it, but he left his post to check if the boss area is safe.
Akshel: r u sure? no more precautions?
Crucis: ofc not. even the church catholic doesn't protect its children, and the church are men of god
Akshel: if we get in, what shld we do?
Crucis: if nobody sees u, then sneak towards the tunnel and guard their escape route. i'll chase them to u. if not that, then attack straight on
Grisier: Got it. There's a fountain on the path to boss, so I can cast some good ice spells.
Crucis: that's convenient. so do it then.
Crucis: don't look a gift who- um horse in the mouth
DicingDevil: yeah exactly. anyway we're scouting out the guards now, see you there
Crucis: o/
Starfighter: c u soon

As he sat on a bench by the tunnel entrance, he was joined by a group of children led by Kleoboule and a male teacher named [Abacur].

"Hi, sorry to keep you waiting," Kleoboule said.

"Not a problem. So what's through this tunnel?"

"Um, there's some strong monster there whom the kids have problems with. They'd like to see it killed. After that they could train against some of the weaker critters nearby."

"Alright, sure thing."

"We tried something like this yesterday," Abacur explained in a slightly robotic, high-pitched voice, "And the kids gained many levels. I picked out some of the best-behaved students who have expressed an interest in fighting to hunt or support their friends and family, so they are all eager to learn."

Crucis scanned the enthusiastic faces of the children. They ranged from level 15-26.

"Why were these kids playing the game?" Starfighter asked. "It's a bit violent, especially now."

"I asked them," Abacur replied, "they said that it looked good, or they were just exploring because their relative had a copy. The early levels are quite normal, and there wasn't much 'PvP' before. The bug happened while most players were still in the early phase. I guess the age-protection wasn't working on every version."

Crucis shrugged theatrically. "Why do people climb the mountain? Because it's there. It's not the children's fault. Anyway, the early stages in these games are meant to be more comfortable, as a sales pitch. In later parts, PvP is sort of left to work itself out, to reward people for spending more on microtransactions. So that might be a hassle. Are these kids doing alright for gold?"

"Well, some of them are doing okay," Kleoboule said. "People in Kaxil are already stretched for gold and we rely on them to set up the school, so it's difficult for us to spare much on the students. If they have rich families or had some money spent on their accounts, then they're fine. But most don't. A few managed to find slightly expensive items in the wild, but we advised them not to wander too far and they can't find a lot nearby."

"We were hoping that, if we have good results, then we can get more funding," Abacur said. "But it's difficult, and some people are skeptical because they think the kids - especially the older ones - are being sheltered and won't have any idea how to play the game if they're stuck in here for a long time. Some Guilds also forced older kids to leave us, saying that it was a waste of time. But I think that educating the children is paramount."

"Precisely, they're missing out on their usual edication during this time, possibly also on their school friends," Crucis said politely. "This lets them make up for it. Are there any rare or valuable materials nearby? If some of the children learnt to make basic items from them, then you could always sell those, maybe get some into Guilds as crafters? But they'd probably need some combat skills to get the materials."

"We haven't had time to explore, but we were thinking that something like that might be good. So far, the kids have been safe, and people only come by on their way to the Hunting Lodge. So maybe we'll let them explore and gather stuff more if that keeps up."

"Good to hear, good luck with it."

"A few people have visited from Kaxil, but most of those aren't as strong as you," Abacur said. "Sadly, most strong players have moved on, and now use the far-off Western entrance to the Hunting area."

"That's not good news. But this area has some local materials, I'm sure. You could always check on the shops, village shops tend to give a good indicator of local materials. The blacksmith might also have a few items on display which show that. Anyway, shall we go?"

The children had all gathered, so Abacur nodded. Crucis' advice was good, but he wasn't sure that Abacur or Kleoboule would survive to implement it.

"Thanks, that's a great idea!" Keoboule exclaimed, before turning to the children. "Anyway, this guy knows his stuff, so if you're practicing then don't hesitate asking for tips."

The group began to pass through the tunnel. Crucis noticed that Starfighter was more quiet than usual during this episode, possibly because Starfighter's earlier experiences had led to discomfort and lacking confidence around authority figures. However, Starfighter was still able to pass it off to the audience as simply him being reserved by temperament.

As they were walking past a few players guarding the tunnel, Kleoboule began addressing the children. "If you're in here, then it's good to explore and learn the ropes. But don't run off too far, the demon bear will kill you!"

"Come on, there's no such thing," replied a young girl named [HeroinEGirl].

"Demon bear?" Crucis interjected.

"Yes, some of the children said that there was a scary bear with red eyes deep in the forest," Kleoboule said. "They wanted to go on an expedition to find it, but we warned them about it. Ever since then, they've become more cautious about venturing out."

"Yeah, it feeds on young children, it rips their guts out then eats the blood," a young, studious-looking black boy named [OwlR] said.

Crucis wasn't that surprised. The process of domesticating curious children often involved the creation of such fears, converting curiosity and the world outside into a phobia of sorts so that children could be kept away. This could range from bogeymen to stranger danger or the Satanic panic. It was a likely recourse when trying to get children to attend school while inside a game. While resembling superstition, such fear was more crude and limited.

Of course, it raised multiple problems once it took the form of mass panic, especially in modern society. One was that children would grow up isolated from the world around them, especially if cooped up in schools or quarantined, and therefore be less familiar with the adult world. This meant that they had less time to prepare their trajectory, and were perpetually behind the barrage of demands. In Crucis' time, society had plenty of youth who were economically left behind, but society was continually manufacturing new scares and panics instead of allowing people to flourish. For the young peasant or aristocrat, brought up in close connection with the land or adult world, this was less of a problem.

Another issue is that it shaped not only the children, but also the adults. It seems like a form of manipulation, but this 'manipulation' is like a hand from the grave pulling people in to join it. If you look for authority figures who will easily fall into and promote a panic, then you will end up with positions of authority filled with such people. The result will be a society of people digging their own grave, because existence itself frightens them. It would be impossible to direct this to any worthwhile end, and more worthwhile to just end it. As fear gets ingrained into society, eventually it becomes inimical to creativity or thought, and instead turns into a bunker to hide from ever-present bogeymen. It becomes a drab, dull, and lifeless husk.

The use of such fears to delineate a community, especially a newly-formed one, was also a vulnerability. The society's vulnerability was hence given explicit expression within the society itself, in the image of the monster, and in negotiating this society there was hence a killswitch presented at its edge. However, communities would also try to hide this killswitch over time, which did not lessen the effectiveness if it was found. As such, Crucis had already determined from the story of the 'demon bear' and the Lutye painting what his course of action should be, and now sought only the most opportune way of enacting this.

(While introducing long passages of social commentary is no longer à la mode in novels, it is increasingly fashionable in schools. As this Chapter is set in a school, we were hence obligated to include the previous paragraphs due to the demands of hyperrealism. For further information, read 'The 1000% Real Hyperrealist Manifesto,' by Karlus Marcuse.)

First, however, there was the matter of the boss fight.

As the group approached the end of the tunnel, the children began nervously chattering. They let out a muffled squeal as a large creature, with a tree trunk on its back and a face covered with large leaves and a trunk, turned towards them and let loose a low-pitched roar like wind through a tunnel. Thick woods extended from behind it. Crucis saw that it was level 40, and named [Wood Scourge].

He made as if to raise the [Faith Greatsword], but then deliberately hesitated as it hovered near the children around him.

"With this kind of crowd, I should be more careful," he commented to the teachers, as he pulled out a shimmering [Golden Paladin Sword] dropped by Lusray's companion Brendaen. This weak, iron sword was encased in gold which covered its edges and gave it a resplendent glow as it emerged into sunlight. He noticed some of the group alongside him were shading their eyes while looking in awe towards the new blade. A few of the children were disappointed to not see the Greatsword in action, but Crucis' array of dazzling weapons was still impressive.

Starfighter seemed to raise his eyebrows on seeing the weak sword, and Crucis quickly typed in the party chat as the group emerged half-blinded from the tunnel. He continued to chat as the teachers briefed the children on what to expect.

Crucis: this boss will be easy, but we should take our time and put on a show. think wwe-lite tomfoolery
Starfighter: yeah tbh wondered y the shit weapon
Crucis: that is bc u are observant
DicingDevil: yeah tbh everyone was looking forwards to the greatsword
Akshel: ew no greatswords wtf he's asasin [sp.]
Akshel: sry, forgot 2 say 'yeah tbh'
Crucis: idk. its like cloud strife impresses tifa with large sword, then in bed he lets her down. but the italian senate was impressed in 2022. u cant please every1 all the time ig
Starfighter: who tf is cloud strife and does it matter? garbage name, worse than mine
Crucis: no it does not matter, in fact it's cool that u don't know. but don't tell the weebs, they'll arrest you for 'crimes against nippon'
Starfighter: lol weeb police?
Crucis: yea, famously the police live on an 'island lost at sea,' where they risk 'falling into despair' and thus send out an sos to the world. deffo japan
Starfighter: ok i actually recognise that 1
DicingDevil: boss is approaching u guys. wwe chants?
DicingDevil: u suck u suck u suck
Akshel: CENA! CENA! CENA!

Crucis sighed. He should have known better than to reference the WWE around DeathGang. Setting off this string of messages might well be the worst, most twisted and evil thing he would let loose on the world today.

"We haven't fought this guy before. First, we'll have to observe this boss and figure out how to fight it," Crucis addressed the children, with a slight Australian accent.

Approaching the boss, he waited as it slowly clambered towards him. Soon, it unleashed a skill named [Earth Power], releasing a faint green ray from its mouth towards Crucis. Crucis easily stepped out of the slow ray's path by using [Agile Step] and darting behind a tree as the boss attempted to follow him with the ray. Starfighter leapt towards the boss' lowered neck and struck with a sword.

"Clever," Crucis said.

The boss did not relent, and swung its tusks towards Crucis once it had rounded the tree. However, Crucis flattened himself against the tree and edged away. The tusks crashed into the tree as well as Crucis, and Crucis grabbed hold of them as they got caught on the tree bark. He reflected that this slow boss was quite vulnerable, but probably had high HP and damage for its level. Starfighter struck the boss with a blunt [Mordhau] to the neck, and this was enough delay for Crucis to leap onto the boss' forehead using the tusks and stab it with a [Lunge] to the forehead before theatrically falling off as soon as it began to shake.

As he got up, the boss shook off Starfighter and began to charge unevenly at Crucis with its tusks lowered. Crucis leapt to his feet, then jumped without hesitation to the left, dodging the charge before rolling to his feet. Recovering, the boss prepared to swing its tusks at Crucis again, but he grabbed the underside of the tusks and scurried along them until he managed a firm stab into the boss' lower throat, before being harshly kicked away and skidding across the ground.

The children shouted out, encouraging him to keep going. The boss was on 69% HP.

Starfighter approached the boss, and used the Haladie to vault off its tusk and stab the top of its neck, before also being thrown off. Crucis had a brief discussion with Starfighter, and they finished the rest of the battle off quickly. Hovering near the boss' head and using the tusks as grips, they braved some stray kicks and stabbed fiercely at the boss' neck. When it used another [Earth Power], Crucis clambered onto the boss' back and stabbed at its neck, as Starfighter hacked at its face. With a stab to its forehead by Starfighter, the boss let out a loud groan and dropped to the floor.

Crucis gave Starfighter a slight high-five from atop the boss' corpse, then dismounted and walked up to the cheering children. Crucis had ended the fight with 57% HP, while Starfighter had 49% HP. They were both regaining HP now. The fight had been slightly painful, but the boss had been kept in control so most of the pain was from dull or partial strikes and quickly abated.

Crucis glimpsed that the DeathGang members had slinked near the tunnel. It's a wonder that they had managed, after rattling off a series of WWE chants and catchphrases through the boss fight.

Still, Crucis' situation at the moment was fairly comfortable. At the least, he could leave while being admired by this village, and word might spread to Kaxil. This was modest, but alright. However, it was unlikely to remain that placid, as he was well-placed to exploit any available opportunity.

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