Within the Lonely Forest.
This place had once been a beautiful forest, but five years ago, a mysterious curse had struck the land, transforming it into a deadly area that was off-limits to any living creature. But to Laban and his demon bandits, this place was actually the safest haven, a land with flowing milk and honey.
At this moment, hundreds of demonic bandits were dancing, eating, and drinking around a roaring campfire that was situated right next to a small stream running through the Lonely Forest.
They were not wearing the demonic masks that they normally used to conceal their identities. Actually, they celebrated just like regular humans.
Laban sat on a nearby large rock, holding a leather wineskin that he kept refilling. He had drunk a little too much, and his vision was unfocused. Even so, he refused to let the leather wineskin slip from his grip.
“Bart, go and bring that woman over to me,” Laban suddenly yelled out in high spirits.
An old bearded bandit replied, “Leader, our boss said that we can’t do those kinds of things.”
“Pei!” Laban slammed the rock he was sitting on. “There’s so many of us here. If we aren’t allowed to touch the women, then how will we go on living? Should we use your holes instead?”
The group of bandits behind him began to chuckle lasciviously.
Laban waved the wineskin haphazardly and roared, “Hurry up and bring her to me!”
The old bearded bandit had no choice but to comply.
Very quickly, a young woman was brought before Laban.
She seemed to be around fifteen years old. Her dress was long and elegant, and it was obvious that she was of noble upbringing. Even though she was a prisoner, her proud demeanor remained. “Let me go, you vile scum! Don’t touch me with your dirty hands.”
“No problem,” Laban said with an amicable chuckle, “I won’t use my hands to touch you, but I will use my member to receive you.”
The bandits all laughed uproariously.
“Pei!” The woman’s personality was surprisingly fiery, and she actually spat at Laban.
Laban jumped off the rock, picked up the woman, and walked off into the forest. “I like your personality......”
The woman thrashed and kicked violently, but that only further aroused Laban. “Yes, baby, just like that. I hope that you’ll keep this up for a while.”
“I also hope that you’ll be as excited in a few minutes as you are now,” a voice coldly spoke out from behind him.
Laban suddenly froze.
He turned around, only to find that a black-clothed man was standing not far away from him.
His entire body was shrouded in dark fog. It was impossible to determine his appearance or even what his true voice sounded like. His entire being was shrouded in mystery.
All of the bandits simultaneously stopped what they were doing.
Laban shrugged and lazily tossed the woman to the side. “Hey, boss. Why are you here?”
“There were some things that I wanted to delegate to you, but I didn’t expect to be greeted by such a fascinating scene,” the black figure replied, “I remember telling you not to do anything like that. If you want to bed a woman, then just go to the city’s brothel.”
Laban spread his hands in a show of helplessness. “I hate going to the city, and this broad is very beautiful, don’t you think? You’d never find something this top-quality in the city’s brothels.”
The black shadow remained silent.
Laban said helplessly say, “Alright, boss, this was my mistake. Since you’re here, I’ll leave this broad to you. What do you think?”
The black figure calmly replied, “That’s your response? You disappoint me, Laban.”
Laban’s embarrassment gradually gave way to anger. “Hey, don’t threaten me. So what if you’re the boss? I’m the leader of these bandits! I’m only willing to listen to you because you’ve helped us, but if you continue blabbering on like this, then don’t blame me for......”
“Don’t blame you for what? Killing me?” the black figure sarcastically countered.
Laban snarled with laughter as he shot back, “You might be the boss, but don’t forget that all of these brothers roll with me.”
The black figure glanced at the bandits behind them. “Do you all think so as well?”
The bandits remained silent.
Internal conflicts were quite common amongst bandits. Most bandits were fighters through and through, and their chosen career reflected their opportunistic natures.
They knew that the black figure was definitely strong in his own right if he was capable of being their boss, but none of them knew just exactly how powerful he was. Laban’s challenge to the black figure was a perfect opportunity for them to determine their boss’s strength and see whether he truly had the authority to boss them around.
They wouldn’t just follow whoever had the most money.
The black figure seemed to understand what the bandits were thinking and chuckled in amusement. “You want to see how strong I am? I’m afraid that you all will be disappointed. Laban, I will give you one last chance. Are you sure that you want to challenge me?”
“I want to give it a try,” Laban replied with a steely glint.
As he spoke, he unsheathed the blade tucked into his waistband.
As a level three warrior, Laban had the right to be confident in his own strength.
The black figure nodded. “Very well. You’ve just relinquished your last chance of survival.”
Laban hefted his blade. “Whatever you say, man. Even though you’ve tried to keep your strength hidden, I can still tell that it’s quite pitiful. You are merely a level one warrior.”
“So you could still tell.” The black figure clucked its tongue and nodded before continuing to say, “I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that you noticed despite my best attempts to keep it hidden. You must have discovered it a long time ago, which is why you dared to ignore my commands tonight. But Laban, you also seem to have forgotten who it was that allowed you to survive in this forest without any worries.”
“Of course I haven’t. That’s why I won’t kill you. Once I defeat you, I’ll keep you by my side so that you can continue producing that medicine that allows us to avoid the effects of the curse for us,” Laban replied with a dark chuckle.
“Very good. Since you’ve said as much, I will not kill you when I get the chance to,” the black figure said with a sigh.
There was no need for any more words.
Laban leapt into the air as he unleashed a powerful slash with his blade.
The momentum behind this slash was exceptionally heavy and it carried with it the full physical might of a level three warrior. Its form was also flexible, allowing it to adapt to whatever defense it faced. In fact, it was even strong enough to withstand a parry from a level four warrior.
Unfortunately, he had made one fatal miscalculation.
The black figure gently waved his hand.
Laban suddenly felt a powerful itching sensation overcome him. It was so intense that he was immediately paralyzed by the immense physical pain.
This explosion of pain seemed to break out everywhere at once, making his entire body feel like it was being subjected to this torment.
“AH!!!!” Laban began to howl like mad, and he even threw his blade aside as he rolled back and forth on the ground.
It was as if something was gnawing at his insides. His face, arm, and chest were all decaying away by the second, slowly but surely revealing the pale white bone underneath.
“How is this possible?” All of the bandits were immediately terrified by the sight.
“It’s the curse! It’s the curse!”
Some of the bandits cried out in understanding when they realized what had happened.
They suddenly remembered that what Laban was suffering through was exactly what the curse did to those without protection.
But didn’t the medicine that they drank protect them from the effects of the curse?
Could it be......
The bandits all turned around to glance at the black figure again.
The black figure calmly answered their thoughts. “Yes. Even though I’ve given you medicine that can withstand the curse’s effects, I can also neutralize it at any time. And because you all have inhabited the Lonely Forest for far too long, your bodies are irrevocably stained with the curse. As soon as the protection from the medicine vanishes, the built up curse will immediately explode and devour your bodies. Don’t worry, though. I did say that I would keep him alive.”
With a wave of his hand, Laban’s body stopped decaying.
However, the wounds that he had sustained did not recover. Laban lay there, weakly moaning in pain. If he didn’t receive additional medical care soon, he would likely succumb to his wounds.
One of the bandits was bolder than the rest. “How can you control the curse to this extent? Could it be......”
The black figure chuckled. “Even though you are all scum, you aren’t stupid. Yes, that’s right. The strange situation in this forest was orchestrated by me from the very beginning.”
So he was the creator of this curse.
The bandits all fell to their knees in despair.
Any thoughts of rebelling were crushed in the face of the man who controlled this malicious curse.
Laban was still mewling pathetically. “Spare me, spare me! I am willing to serve you with all my heart!”
The black figure replied, “You will indeed serve me, but not as the leader of these bandits.”
He strode forward, the black fog pooling at his feet.
He stood over Laban and emotionlessly said, “Did you know that there is another kind of technique that I am skilled in? I can create quite the formidable puppet. A crippled level three warrior is the perfect base to make a puppet. If I use your body as the main ingredient, then I should be able to refine a puppet that can even hold its own against a level four warrior if I use the right supplemental materials.”
“No! Don’t!” Laban howled in terror upon hearing his fate. “Spare me, and I can continue to serve you. You need a leader, one who can lead the rest of the bandits! Only I can do this!”
“I don’t think that’s true,” the black figure said with a slow shake of his head. “You are not a talented leader. In my view, even a woman would be a better leader than you.”
As he spoke, he carefully bandaged and treated Laban’s wounds. Of course, this was not out of the goodness in his heart, but rather so that Laban would be a useful material in the near future.
“You’re the creator of the Lonely Forest’s curse?” A voice suddenly spoke from behind him.
“Hm?” He turned to face the speaker.
It was that woman.
By this point, she had already stood up, and was currently staring at him fearlessly.
The black figure was amused by her audaciousness. “Yes. Why does it concern you?”
The woman loudly declared, “Help me kill someone.”
The black figure stared at her quizzically. “What did you say? Help you kill someone?”
“Yes!” the woman replied, nodding sincerely, “As long as you help me kill that damned woman, I’ll give you anything you want.”
“I have no interest in your body,” the black figure replied dryly.
Even though the woman was beautiful, the black figure didn’t seem to put her beauty in his eyes.
“I’m not talking about myself,” the woman replied.
The black figure’s interest was finally piqued.
He turned to glance at the woman seriously. “Then what else do you have to offer?”
“My name is Isabella Gwent, the first heir to the Gwent family. Not long ago, I had my title of heir stripped from me. As long as you use this curse to kill the thief who stole my inheritance, I will be able to regain control of the Gwent family. When that happens, all of the Gwent family’s treasures will belong to you.”
“A classic power struggle, huh?” the black figure remarked as he glanced at Isabella.
Isabella tactfully added on, “The Gwent family is one of the three wealthiest families in the duchy.”
Even so, the answer that she received left her disappointed.
The other party shook their head and simply replied, “I’m not interested.”
How could you not be interested?
You’re the leader of a bunch of bandits. How could you not be interested in money?
Isabella felt a sense of despair overwhelm her.
“But perhaps there is something else that you can do for me.” The black figure’s words once again rekindled hope within her.
“What is it?” Isabella asked hurriedly. She vowed in her heart that, no matter what opportunity was presented to her, she would seize it.
“Become the leader of these bandits,” the black figure answered.
Isabella was dumbfounded.
As were the bandits.
“That’s right. Become the leader of these bandits, lead them well, and demonstrate your worth to me that way. This will be the last opportunity for you to take revenge,” the black figure stated.