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“Hey, Emory, shouldn’t we be heading further west? Why are we stopping here?”

Adrian asked as he eyed the small village in the distance. It was nothing special— just a village that lay at the base of a valley, surrounded by some innocuous farmland. But for whatever reason, Emory had ordered the group to stop here.

Normally, Adrian wouldn’t be so bold to question his leader’s orders. He was the newest member of the Frenzied Five— one of the most notorious groups within the Miststorm Riders.

They were especially dangerous, since they were all A-rank in level themselves. Although Adrian had only just recently advanced in his Class, reaching Level 50 a month ago right as one of the older members of the Frenzied Five was killed by a group of [Hunters] sent by the Mercenary’s Guild.

Such scuffles weren’t uncommon, considering the reputation of the Miststorm Riders. They were the most dangerous bandit group in all of Laxo. Their members were Level 30 at the very minimum— a thousand C-ranks, leaders of their own small gangs, as lackeys. And they had over a hundred B-ranks in their numbers too.

A-ranks were more uncommon, but there were still over a dozen of them within the Miststorm Riders. And the Frenzied Five made up nearly half of their numbers. So each of their members had a hefty bounty on their head.

Honestly, Adrian took pride in the fact that both the Mercenary’s Guild and Adventurer’s Guild were willing to pay out over a hundred gold coins for his death, even though he was a relatively new member of the Frenzied Five.

Of course, the other members were worth significantly more. Jalynn the Savage Swordsmaiden was worth two-hundred gold coins. Lizeth the Twisted Enchantress was worth two-hundred-and-fifty. Gerard the Darkmaster was worth three-hundred. A relatively small increase for each member, up until their leader.

He was one of the most dangerous members of the Miststorm Riders due to how whimsical and cruel he could be. They called him Emory the Frenzied Barbarian. But Adrian never thought the name was fitting, especially with how calm Emory could be.

But it was the fact that Emory was so composed when carrying out such insane acts that terrified even nations. It even somewhat scared Adrian— he had nearly rejected Emory’s request to join the Frenzied Five, but conceded because he was afraid that he might just be killed in his sleep for that.

And that was why Emory was worth nearly a thousand gold coins. It really depended on who was paying out the reward. The Adventurer’s Guild didn’t have active bounties on their heads. They placed the bounty whenever the Frenzied Five or the rest of the Miststorm Riders showed up in a region, but otherwise they didn’t reward hunting down the bandits.

But the Mercenary’s Guild was different. They actively sent [Assassins] and [Hunters] out after the Miststorm Riders. At all times, there was a nine-hundred to one-thousand gold bounty placed on Emory. The same was said for the other members of the Frenzied Five.

Altogether, the Frenzied Five were worth two-thousand gold. It was the kind of reward paid out for S-rank requests. It was almost nonsensical. Especially when taking into account the various rewards entire nations offered for wiping out the Miststorm Riders— an A-rank bandit group. Surely any S-rank with half a brain would accept such an easy reward.

And one of them had even tried. She was called Fay the Fabled Sorceress. A Level 62 [Mage]. She was renowned all across the world, having gone to Willow’s Academy of Magic and Monsters— the most prestigious magical institution in Lax.

She had heard of the Frenzied Five’s notorious reputation and hunted them down. Perhaps not for the reward, but for the justice of it all. And after a long and grueling battle, where she killed four of their original members, she had… failed.

Emory the Frenzied Barbarian had killed her. Somehow, even though he was only a Level 56 [Warrior], he had defeated her in battle. And that sent a warning to every S-rank that dared consider hunting him down.

They realized that this wasn’t an easy job— they could very much lose their lives in battle against the Frenzied Barbarian. So they mostly steered clear from the Miststorm Riders.

It was odd. By every objective metric, the Miststorm Riders could only be considered an A-rank group. And that was their official level of threat as listed by most official sources. But from what Adrian had seen, this couldn’t be further from the case. They were an S-rank bandit group. He was certain of it. He had seen it firsthand.

And he didn’t know why. He just knew that both Emory and their boss were A-ranks who fought as dangerously as any S-rank.

Adrian shook his head, dismissing these thoughts as he eyed the village in the distance. He was just glad that his leader was so powerful. But he didn’t want to invoke the wrath of both their boss, either. After all, this wasn’t their target— they were supposed to meet up with the rest of the Miststorm Riders at the west of the Astrad Kingdom. So he couldn’t understand why they were here.

He turned to Emory, speaking hesitantly.

“The boss said—”

“Fuck the boss.”

Emory replied simply. The leader of the Frenzied Five didn’t seem upset. He just spoke brusquely and stepped forward. Raising a hand, he pointed at the village.

“Do you see that, Adrian?”

Adrian exchanged a glance with Gerard and Lizeth. They both shrugged back at him. The newest member of the Frenzied Five hesitated, but Jalynn elbowed him from the side, forcing him to speak.

“I… don’t.”

“And that’s because you are still green. Still fresh. You don’t see it because you never looked for it— opportunity.”

Emory inhaled deeply, taking a step forward. He raised his hands to the side and exhaled slowly.

“There is opportunity all around us, Adrian. What was your Title again?”

“They call me the Elusive Stormranger.”

Adrian answered, pursing his lips. Emory nodded.

“And right now, you are eluding your growth. Think about it with me.”

The Frenzied Barbarian strode forward, brushing his hands against the tall grass.

“Every village we burn down, every town we destroy, our reputation grows. Even if killing these Level 15 guards won’t give us much experience or levels. Even if there isn’t much gold to steal from some backwater town. Our reputation will still grow. And more mercenaries and adventurers will come after us. More nations will want to hunt us down. And when they come, they’ll bring with them gold and experience for us to grow.”

Emory came to a halt as he tightly gripped a cluster of tall grass. He spun around, yanking out the foliage as a savage smile spread across his face.

“There is an opportunity at every turn, Adrian. Now I want you to seize it.”

Adrian blinked. But the rest of the Frenzied Five nodded. They charged forward, heading straight for the village as the Elusive Stormranger stood there for a moment, unmoving. Emory waited, peering into the newest member of the group.

After what felt like a full minute, Adrian the Elusive Stormranger raised his head, smirking savagely.

“Yes, Emory!” he said, brimming with excitement.

At first, Adrian had been apprehensive. But now, he was just so giddy to join in. He dashed forward as he conjured an invisible bow— one made out of air. He hurried after the rest of his team as Emory waited at the back.

Honestly, it all made sense now to Adrian. He heard the screams in the distance. The shouts of terror that came from the fleeing villagers. He watched as Jalynn sliced a house in half with her broadsword, cleaving the family inside into paste with that single strike. He looked on as Gerard vanished into the shadows of a group of guards, jumping from one shadow to another, before appearing at the other side. The guards exploded, diced into pieces as the Darkmaster flicked his dagger with a grin.

The previously peaceful village had erupted into chaos in such a short amount of time. In the face of a single A-rank threat, they would have already been utterly crushed and trampled into dust. But there were five of them now. The Frenzied Five themselves.

Lizeth raised a staff, conjuring a thin blanket of mist over the village. It wasn’t poisonous or dangerous. But Adrian knew its effects— it would discombobulate anyone who was standing inside of it. Their senses would be disrupted. They would get lost because of the illusion magic permeating the spell.

Staring from the outside in, Adrian could make sense of everything with ease. He saw a young boy, running and crying for his mother. The Elusive Stormranger grinned and raised his bow.

“You will be reunited with your parents shortly, so don’t worry about them,” he said as he aimed a glowing arrow at the terrified child. “Die for my greatness—”

And Adrian’s voice was cut off. The arrow didn’t loose, instead flopping over to the ground. The boy blinked at the metallic sound, turning to face the Elusive Stormranger.

It was weird. As much as Adrian tried, he couldn’t finish his sentence. He couldn’t find his voice. The Elusive Archer tried to open his mouth, but his jaw refused to work. He raised a hand to his mouth… only to find that he had no hand.

That was when Adrian finally realized his forearm had been sliced cleanly off. And that wasn’t just it. But his entire lower body had been taken along with it from a horizontal slash. The Elusive Archer gasped, making a squeaking noise.

And he saw a dark figure landing before him. A brown-haired woman dressed in odd clothing with a torn and tattered cloak sheathed her sword casually. She walked up to the boy and gave him a small nod.

“Get out of here, kid.”

The boy gaped at her, before quickly running off. Adrian tried to protest. But his body fell apart. He collapsed with a thud, his crimson blood pooling on the ground as his last thoughts crossed his mind.

I… am s-sorry… Emory…

 

—--

 

“So Adrian is dead.”

Emory narrowed his eyes, seeing Adrian flop over, sliced in half. The brown-haired woman that killed him casually swept her gaze around the village. The Frenzied Barbarian just sighed as he stepped forward.

“I knew he wouldn’t last more than a year. But a month? Come on, now I’ll have to find a replacement again…” he trailed off before tapping a finger on his chin. “I could rename us to the Frenzied Four— that would still work.”

He came to a halt before the brown-haired woman as he mused to himself. She looked like an adventurer of sorts. Probably an S-rank considering how easily she’d killed Adrian. And judging from the way she dressed, she was certainly as eccentric as one.

“Jalynn, Gerard, Lizeth,” Emory called out to the remainder of the Frenzied Five.

They immediately stopped what they were doing and faced him. Their gaze landed on the brown-haired woman as she eyed him with a frown.

“So, what’s your deal?” she asked, raising a brow. “Parents didn’t give you enough love? Some kid bullied you in middle school? Got rejected by your first crush?”

“My deal?” Emory folded his arms with an amused look on his face. “That’s the first time someone’s asked me that. Usually they’re too busy begging me to stop slaughtering their village or imposing some nonsense about justice. Who are you, mysterious woman?”

“I’ll take that as all of the above, then,” the brown-haired woman snorted. “I’m Amelia. And I’m going to kill you.”

The Frenzied Barbarian blinked. He stared at Amelia as she spoke flatly, giving a threat so casually. Emory tried to work his jaw for a moment, before breaking out laughing. The rest of the Frenzied Five joined him with their laughter.

“Oh, you’re going to kill me?” Emory said, wiping the tears from his eyes. “So many have tried and failed. But go ahead, I’d like to see you try—”

And Amelia appeared next to him, blade raised to his chest. The Frenzied Barbarian froze. He felt the warm liquid pouring down his skin. He felt the cool touch of the sword’s edge at his chest and his back.

“W-what…?” Emory mustered out, finally realizing what had happened.

He had been stabbed through his heart. Amelia drew her sword back and flicked the blood to the side as he dropped to his knees. The rest of the Frenzied Five stared in shock as she shrugged.

“Sure,” she said simply. “Thanks for the free hit.”

Jalynn, Gerard, and Lizeth looked on for another second, before finally breaking out of their stupor. They roared in anger as Emory collapsed to the ground, watching his blood pool beneath him. His vision darkened, and he heard the sounds of fighting echo in the fading distance…

…until he heard the Void’s call.

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