Ethan fell backwards as blood spurted out of his head. It happened in less than a second.
"W-what's going on?”
The players panicked over the sudden change. Kahn and Doyle, who had been talking to Brend, hurriedly turned their eyes to the commotion, but Yeon-woo had tightened his grasp on Carshina’s Dagger and was already rushing towards the players Ethan kept close.
“How the hell did he…?” They were shocked that he’d seen through their act, and they dispersed in different directions at the same time.
'How naive.' Yeon-woo laughed at how the players all ran away after just a light push. He had noticed their plan not long after they started executing it since he always kept his senses strengthened in a passive state. He could detect even the slightest changes in his surroundings, and his instincts would warn him immediately about any suspicious activities.
His senses had been tracking the movements and conversations of the players were following them, and they managed to notice Ethan’s look as he observed the three of them, his attitude when he gave orders to some of the players, and the way he talked to Brend while avoiding his eyes. Ethan had overconfidently believed that he was being discreet but his actions only triggered Yeon-woo’s suspicions.
Yeon-woo had expanded his senses, just to be on the safe side, and he discovered that an unidentified group of players was preparing for an ambush in a vacant area not far away. That could only mean one thing: "Scavengers."
It meant that the players who they’d believed were Hargan's victims were actually more wicked than the Lizardmen. Yeon-woo eliminated Ethan as soon as he appeared to put his plan into action. 'I have to strike them first before they can make their move.’
The number of hidden players was more than the three of them could handle. It seemed like they had gathered all the scavengers in the region. He didn't know how Ethan had been planning to signal the hidden scavengers, but he had to kill them before they could act. In any case, even though they were running away, they still couldn’t escape Yeon-woo’s senses.
As he ran, Yeon-woo threw several daggers, which fanned out as they flew through the air. Swish! Puck! The fleeing scavengers fell flat on their faces with a dagger in their head or back. Only two, who were more skilled than the others, managed to deflect his daggers and successfully make their escape.
Yeon-woo was about to chase after them when Kahn suddenly jumped in his path with a startled expression. "Dude! What the hell are you doing?" It seemed to him like Yeon-woo had suddenly lost his mind and begun slaughtering innocent players.
Yeon-woo replied coldly, "Stop acting like a fool and take a look around."
"What are you talking about?"
"If you still don’t understand what’s happening, then just shut your mouth and stay out of my way." Yeon-woo quickly brushed past Kahn’s side. Swish!
Kahn tried to shout at him one more time but soon realized something was wrong as he looked around. Doyle, who was already aware of the situation, was concentrating his mana onto his hand. "Hyung."
"I wasn’t expecting anything like this. Damn it!" Kahn glowered and drew his sword from his waist. They had been surrounded by a group of players, each one carrying a sword or an ax and emitting a murderous air. Brend was the only one who couldn't figure out what was going on. He stammered, "W-what's going on? W-where did you get those weap—urk!”
A player beside him frowned as if he didn’t want to explain and chopped Brend’s face off with his hatchet. "You fell for our trap like an idiot, that’s what’s going on. Ptooey! This is how you were trapped in that human farm."
The ordinary players had already been killed by the players whom they had considered allies. Just like Brend, they hadn’t understood the real stakes. The remaining players, or scavengers, talked among themselves. "It was almost a done job. How the hell did we get caught?"
“How do you think we got caught? Obviously, it was Ethan! That stupid bastard got caught.”
"Quit whining and get ready. These guys are dangerous. We have to hold them off until backup arrives."
"Well, good thing one of them has gone running towards them. Hopefully, they will take care of that guy.”
Since Yeon-woo’s party had the strength to kill Hargan in his second phase, the scavengers had to battle with complete concentration. However, they were sure that they’d win since Yeon-woo and others had to be tired from the big battle. Besides, Yeon-woo’s party was outnumbered, especially once the reinforcements joined them. They even had some top rankers on their side.
"Who the hell are these guys?" Kahn frowned in annoyance while he gathered up his mana.
* * *
“They must be the original owners of the human farm.” Yeon-woo guessed their identities as he closely followed them. Not all scavengers were mere looters, some of them had joined hands with monsters. ‘These scavengers would act as bait and pretend to be hurt to lure players into the trap. They’d pass the humans to the monsters and take the artifacts and Tokens for themselves.’
When we found out that the owners of a human farm providing human flesh to monsters were, in fact, human beings just like us, our team was furious at their vicious acts, and we swore to ourselves that we'd wipe those villains from the Tutorials and the Tower!
‘He said that those who provided human meat to monsters were known as the worst kind of scavengers in the Tutorial. It had been a formidable task to root these criminals out of the Tutorial because their organization was not only huge, it also had the king of monsters watching their back.' If they wanted to hide, they could conceal themselves anywhere in Section E, and whenever they had pursuers, they called monsters out to fight off the players.
Nevertheless, his brother and Arthia had been relentless in their pursuit, and they’d managed to wipe out all the scavengers and completely destroy the organization to prevent their resurgence. His brother had reached second place in the rankings thanks to his achievement. It had been an audacious decision and a remarkable deed. Even after that, he would check the Tutorial every once in a while to make sure crimes like the human farm wouldn’t recur.
They were supposed to be gone for good because his brother said they never appeared again, and so Yeon-woo hadn’t really concerned himself with it. 'But you're back again?' He didn’t know whether they were copycats or survivors who had remained hidden until Arthia was gone. There were only two things he was sure of: the human farms were back, and the scavengers were trying to trap him. ‘The real victims of the human farm have probably been killed by now.’
Yeon-woo’s eyes glittered coldly. Although he had made a cold-hearted decision when he discovered the human farm, he was still human, and the idea of selling his own kind to monsters was utterly incomprehensible. ‘They even abandoned their ally, Hargan, to die. They’re not people I can take lightly. Before they realize what’s going on, I have to preempt them and get rid of them as quickly as possible.’
As he expected, the scavengers he was chasing were leading him to their reinforcements. He hadn't killed the fleeing scavengers on purpose to find where the rest were hiding. As soon as he sensed their position, Yeon-woo threw his daggers at the scavengers who’d outlived their use. Swish!
He plunged into the grassy field.
"They should be showing up any time now. Why haven’t they…urk!" A scavenger was crouching and muttering to himself inside a bush, but a searing pain suddenly appeared in the back of his neck. He tried to raise his head, but before he could even scream, his head separated from his neck and fell rolling on the ground. A puddle of blood formed on the ground.
Splash! After he stepped into the puddle, Yeon-woo didn’t make another noise as he moved onto the next point like a feline hunting. ‘Stealthily but quickly.’ A pair of will-o’-wisps darted through the woods.
* * *
It took a long time before the scavengers waiting for Ethan realized something was wrong.
“Fuck! What’s taking him so long?”
“No kidding. Did he get caught or something?”
“He’s brought small fry before, but he's never gotten caught, has he?”
“That’s true but, shit. I’m just fucking bored.”
When the scavengers were on a mission, they usually covered their faces with a piece of cloth and used numbers as codenames, such as Eins, Zwei, Drei, and so on. It was a way to avoid revealing their identities in front of enemies.
A long time ago, when the whole criminal syndicate was on the brink of annihilation, the surviving players had adopted this method to conceal themselves from Arthia. At least, that’s what the senior players said. But even after Arthia's disappearance, the custom stuck around and was still being practiced to this day. However, although their seniors had kept their identities secret even to each other, the scavengers nowadays knew each other’s real identities. However, covering up their faces and names helped them feel less guilty about breaking the rules.
They were wondering why they hadn’t heard any news from Dreissig—Ethan’s codename—who was supposed to appear with their prey by now.
“Hehe. Blood Sword and Foxy Tail in the flesh. If we can actually capture them, won’t they be the biggest catch we’ve ever had?”
“Except for those crazy siblings Phante and Edora, they're the best team in the Tutorial right now. It’s going to be fun destroying such strong players. Not to mention taking the stuff they’re carrying.”
“Blood Sword is carrying a sword called Dragon Slayer, right? That’s mine.”
“The hell? I called dibs way before, you dumbass!”
“Whatever you say, but finders keepers.”
“You two, knock it off. The boss will take care of the distribution, so stop squabbling. Let’s just talk about something useful, like how we’ll spend the rewards from the Lizardman King.”
After some cackling and chattering, they raised their heads.
“Damn, he’s taking a really long time. I think something’s happened. Siebzehn, try contacting Ethan.” Zwei grumbled to Siebzehn, who was hiding in the bushes some distance away. The communication artifact that scavengers commonly used emitted light, waiting for a response. But there was none.
“Siebzehn? Siebzehn! Where the hell did he go?” Zwei knitted his brows and turned his head.
“Neun, is Siebzehn there? Go ahead and contact him.”
There was no reply.
“Neun? Neun!” Neun, who had just been arguing over Dragon Slayer with Zwei, didn’t respond. Zwei suddenly felt a shiver down his spine. His teammates had disappeared one by one without him noticing it at all. It could only mean one thing. 'We are being attacked!'
Zwei sprang to his feet. He was fifteenth in the Tutorial rankings, and he prided himself on his skills, bragging that they were comparable to those in the top ten. But even a player with his abilities hadn’t noticed the enemy's presence until after his teammates had already died. The enemy’s stealthiness was beyond his imagination.
Rustle! “Where the fuck are you?” Zwei quickly turned towards the sound. However, he only found bushes swaying with the wind and not a single person. "You son of a bitch!" Once more, he turned as soon as he heard another sound. And again, he couldn’t see anyone. Zwei frowned in irritation. "I see you don’t have guts to fight me directly. If you’re trying to break my fighting spirit by doing this, it won't work."
He was talking to himself through gritted teeth, and his words were meant to reassure himself more than they were a threat. The more sounds he heard, and the stronger the wind became, the more intense the chills that ran down his spine grew. Fear rose from his feet to squeeze his heart. His mind was filled with a single thought: to quickly kill the enemy and get out of there.
Rustle! He sensed something at his blind spot. Zwei quickly threw the sword he was holding. Puck! “I got him!” Zwei rushed forward in the direction where he’d heard his sword hit something. But instead of his enemy, he only found one of his teammates, Vier, gasping for air with a sword stuck in his heart. Vier's face was pale and filled with only one expression: fear. "R-run...ghost…!" Vier’s head dropped after his final words.
The fear that had only been squeezing Zwei’s heart climbed up his throat. At that moment, a white mask dropped down in front of Zwei, followed by terror, despair, and finally, death.
* * *
Kahn and Doyle were still in the middle of a tense standoff. "What the hell is Arangdan doing?”
Kahn felt a surge of anger. Arangdan professed to be a vigilante group who kept track of crimes in the Tutorial but they were ignorant of the ones prevalent in Section E. He wondered about Yeon-woo, who was chasing after the fleeing scavengers. He couldn’t have made such quick decisions unless he’d known about the scavengers. But how on earth did he have information that Arangdan didn’t even possess? Kahn switched his focus to the scavenger who identified himself as Eins, who was making a move. The other players were also slowly approaching them. However, as soon as he tried to clear a path with Doyle, there was a whistling sound from the sky.
All the players, including Kahn, Doyle, and Eins, stopped moving and raised their heads. Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! A bunch of unknown objects fell from the sky, one of them rolling towards Eins’ toe.
"What the hell is this?" Eins narrowed his eyes, then he was suddenly frozen, his mouth agape at the object. It was Zwei’s head, his face still filled with fear.Previous Chapter Next Chapter