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“AHHH! MY FUR! MY FUR’S ON FIRE!”

Kayden was rolling around in agony, desperately trying to put out the hungry fire that threatened to consume every part of him. In his pain, however, he failed to notice that rolling around on literal magma wasn’t helping his situation the slightest bit. Even when Hel tried screaming in his ears to get off the magma, he couldn’t hear it over his own pained shouts, resulting in even more chaos.

Eventually, for who knows how long, he rolled over to a nearby area where the surroundings lay untouched by flames allowing him to get some much-needed respite. What was left of his body was a charred pile of flesh that vaguely resembled the shape of a bear. It certainly wasn’t a pretty sight.

“It hurts…”

“[If you would have stopped shouting and listened to my words, you wouldn’t have had to go through that. Transform back, you fool! Your true body should still be unharmed.]”

“Oh.”

Hearing that, Kayden couldn’t help but feel dumb. Sheepishly, he turned back to how he looked before, a spitting image of the beautiful side of Hel. He then looked over at the notifications at his side.

“Oh right! I leveled up twice!”

Recalling the entire reason he even attempted to do something like this in the first place, he took a look at his new stat page.

Name:

Kayden

Title:

Pest of Babylon

Level:

18

Health:

164/216

Mana:

54/121

Status effects:

Mana poisoning (Death)

 

[Stat points remaining: 3]

“Mmmm… Looking much better already!”

After confirming that there wasn’t anything worth doing with his stat points, he took in the surrounding landscape. After surviving that hellish explosion, the landscape changed drastically. No longer was there a barren land with mountainous cliffs. Instead, what lay in its place was a sea of flames that was just now starting to die down.

The adventurers, who had remained relatively safe behind their barrier, were now putting out the flames with their magic. It seems that quite some time had passed since Kayden had taken that plunge.

Scattered a few meters away, he could see the remains of the Naga, or at least what was left of it. While the bones were likely resistant to fire and didn’t burn away easily, they certainly were crushed into smithereens. Kayden took a while to admire his hard work.

After that, it was time to go back. Surely his party members were worried sick about him at this point, and Kayden couldn’t wait to return to a round of praise and applause. So without wasting any more time, he sprinted towards the adventuring crowd, careful to avoid any burning surfaces on the way.

Once he reached his destination, Kayden no longer needed to worry about the hazardous ground. Additionally, he had come back to roars and applause from the adventurers, excited for his triumphant return.

“Yes! Indeed! I did that!”

“[… They aren’t cheering for you… Idiot.]”

Eh?

A short distance away, Kayden could hear Aisha raising her voice.

“Adventurers! Today we celebrate a glorious victory over a fearsome foe! Give a round of applause to everyone that participated!”

That garnered her a thundering ovation and triumphant cheers.

“Ah. That’s right. All I did was steal the kill…”

“Now listen up!” Aisha continued, “Now that the Naga is dead, the dungeon is now free to explore! Unfortunately, my party and I are dead tired after that fight,” she feigned a small yawn. “We’ll be retiring! Whatever treasure lies inside the dungeon… It’s all yours!”

Gasps of shock broke out from the crowd, but they quickly saw an opportunity. Once the Crimson Menace was out of the picture, they had everything to themselves. They would be competing on even grounds again.

Immediately, the adventurers agreed with Aisha’s decision to leave, and the greediest lot actively shouted words of encouragement. Some of her fans were sad to see her leave but understood her reasoning and wished her the best anyway.

Kayden shook his head. These adventurers sure have tunnel vision! Not that he had any right to say that…

With that, the journey has come to a close. Kayden and the rest of the group made it back to Dragonsteel city safely and earned quite a bit from selling the map. Overall, the journey was tough, but they all learned some important lessons from it. With the gold earned from their loot, Kayden managed to pay off his debt completely, and lived happily ever after…

Like that would ever happen.

***

“Hold it! Don’t you try to leave! Remember the deal we had?” A furious voice called out to him.

Ryan had just received a nasty surprise. It seemed that the thief really did try to go back on his word, but it mattered not. He would reveal his identity here and now, forcing him into a tight spot. Once he did that, the thief would be forced into a corner, guaranteeing his victory.

But things didn’t go according to plan.

“What deal? I don’t remember a deal! Even if we had one, after giving you a free map to the dungeon, are you really in a position to demand more? Right, guys?” said Kayden as he posed like an idol and gave a cute wink.

The surrounding adventurers were drawn to the argument between the two, forming a peanut gallery that did not help Ryan in any way. They were currently leaning toward the side of Kayden, but Ryan was sure that it wasn’t going to last long.

‘Ah, I see what you’re doing. Learned some tricks from the Crimson Menace, huh? But you’re forgetting something, you’re not actually a girl!’

“Fools! She’s not actually who you think she is! This… imposter here is actually the disciple of the Raging Alcoholic, Morgan! Don’t be deceived!”

“Okay… where’s your proof?” Kayden demanded.

“Hmm? Oh, uh, Erene! Tell them your abilities and reveal his true form!”

Ryan called out to the surrounding adventurers, and after a short while, they parted and made way for a girl who walked into the middle of them with a confident gait.

“My ability allows me to see the truth! Not only can I see through illusions, but I can also tell if someone is lying! As such, I can confidently say that not only is uh… Kayla… innocent, Lizardface over here has been lying this entire time!”

“WHAT!”

Ryan burst out in anger. Was this another illusion? But her voice was still the same. He had already figured out how Kayden was masquerading as this… Kayla, but it took his illusion magic and the voice of a girl in his party. As far as he knew, Kayden did not possess the ability to mimic voices.

‘No! Wait! I can’t just assume that! This girl must be an illusion!’

It was very simple to prove that someone was an illusion. All he had to do was grab onto them, and if his hands passed through, it would immediately prove that—

“Eeeek! Oi! What are you trying to pull?” Erene screamed in outrage.

… It turns out she really was real. And now, the adventurers were beginning to dismiss him as some lousy pervert.

‘Ah… this is getting worse and worse… Thankfully, Brandon’s knocked unconscious after that fight with the Naga. If he were here, things could get messier than it already is. Seems like I have no other choice but to retreat…'

And so Ryan came to a decision. He would allow them to leave, for he really had no other choice. The other adventurers were now looking upon him with unkind stares, and whatever reputation he had built up for himself just recently was already crumbling into pieces.

“But this isn’t over, little thief! I’d watch your back if I were you!” he spat, before angrily stomping off.

He decided that he would first discuss it with the others, Brandon and Zhang, before taking action. Now that the thief had broken their agreement, a peaceful solution between them was now completely off the table. Brandon would get the revenge that he oh so desired, and it wouldn’t have to take long.

From his pouch, he plucked two more vials of his special, healing potions. One for Brandon, and one for Zhang. With their wounds healed, they could give chase easily and fulfill their mission, once and for all.

***

Kayden was now safe from the duel with Brandon, albeit temporarily. He knew that if he were to fight Brandon now, his injuries, mana poisoning, and fatigue combined, would guarantee his defeat. As such, he needed to postpone the duel for as long as possible.

There was no way in hell Ryan and Brandon would let him rest and recuperate, and so he took matters into his own hands. Back when he had knocked Erene out, he already had this plan in mind. He bribed her with the promise of treasure, ensuring the only person here that could see through his illusions would be on his side.

Making the deal itself wasn’t difficult either. Since no one but her could see through his illusion, conducting a secret exchange, even in front of a massive crowd, was laughably easy. Best of all, he didn’t even need to offer up any gold! Just the premium, non-edited, version of the map.

Kayden was glad that the woman was very profit-driven. These kinds of people are very easy to work with, and thanks to that, he was saved.

Without wasting this precious opportunity, he and his party hurriedly left the area before anybody could force them to stay. After waving goodbye to the rest of the adventurers, be they fans or otherwise, they couldn’t help but heave a sigh of relief. They were definitely out of the woods for now and got a well-deserved break after the various incidents that happened.

Both parties were silent as they traversed the difficult terrain back toward Dragonsteel City. First up was a mountain, which they climbed and descended easily enough. By the time they reached the other side, they were completely exhausted, and the moon now hung high up in the sky. Nighttime approached, and they began to set up camp.

It was only now that they dared to talk.

“H-holy crap… that was nerve-wracking…”

“A-are you crazy, Kayden? That random woman’s your insurance? There were so many ways that could have gone wrong!”

“R-relax! It worked, right?” Kayden tried his best to calm his anxious allies. “M-more importantly, is anyone following us?”

He looked over at Ezekiel, who promptly nodded his head.

“A group of people, and it’s the people you expected. Though I’m surprised Zhang is coming along. I assumed that he would continue exploring the dungeon after our departure.”

It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Zhang, Ryan, and Brandon had some sort of deal with each other, though he didn’t know the exact, full extent of their relationship. Still, he didn’t think that Zhang would go so far as to chase him all the way here, all for what? To help fulfill someone else’s petty revenge? No, something wasn’t right.

‘Ah! I just figured it out… It was probably Erene… she must have told Zhang about the premium map, giving him the incentive to come after us… I take whatever I said back. Profit-driven people are not easy to work with…”

Of course, he had no proof that this happened, but it was very likely. The premium map had already been given to her, which meant that she could betray them whenever she wanted. There was no good way of preventing this because even if he decided to not give her the map, she could still choose to sell them out whenever.

Still, Kayden cursed himself. Who was it that said that adventurers got tunnel vision when they were greedy? There’s a living example right here!

“Hmm… This isn’t good.” The brows on Ezekiel’s face furrowed. “Zhang’s party is with him… That makes seven B-ranked adventurers, and several other D-ranks following behind.”

“I’ll say that that’s roughly equivalent to the strength of our party… assuming we were at full strength. Keep in mind that I have next to zero mana left. My little stunt drained me quite a bit.” Aisha reminded.

It seems that things were getting worse and worse the clearer the picture he got. Kayden couldn’t help but sigh. Couldn’t they just have a break?

“[I’ve taken the liberty of putting their location on the mini-map. You have roughly one hour before they arrive.]”

Just when he thought that things couldn’t get any worse, that damned System just had to prove him wrong. But this wasn’t so bad, they had an hour to prepare, and Kayden just so happened to be a great trap setter. Disarming traps and setting them up comes hand in hand after all, and when it comes to the basic skills of a rogue, Kayden was second to none!

“It’s alright!” Kayden clapped loudly to get everyone’s attention, “There is no need to panic. We’ll simply fight them right here! We may be exhausted, but so are they!”

Indeed, with the right amount of planning and setup, he believed that the fight would be as good as won.

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Kageko

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