“The task you and the second unit have to complete is simple. While the Head Cutters try to eliminate the Hoarder, you need to comprehend his full power.” The co-captain of the Iron Lion Clan pushed back his hair as he recalled the words that their leader, Iron Lion Ivan, had said. After their total defeat on the Five Mountains of Penances, the Iron Lion Clan’s reputation as a mercenary guild had been damaged. It resulted in some disturbances within their order, and the other mercenary guilds they had enjoyed close relationships with began to distance themselves. Some even tried to take over the Iron Lion Clan’s spot.
However, Ivan wouldn’t accept this, and believing that it was a good opportunity to get rid of trash, he pulled out his own sword. Although the losses were great, the mercenary world grew more organized, and Ivan proceeded to create a mercenary alliance.
His explanation was that the atmosphere of the Tower had grown abnormal, and so the mercenaries needed to unite. But unless you were a fool, it was obvious whom Ivan was targeting.
‘Will the captain’s plan to resist the Hoarder and those helping him work?’ Jonathan didn’t believe it was a good decision to be at odds with the Hoarder.
A mercenary needed to live as a mercenary. If they weren’t free to do as they wished and forced into doing things, then what was the point? Ivan was going against the entire concept that made being a mercenary an attractive job. It might be because he wanted to retrieve his son or recover his hurt pride. However, considering the Hoarder’s abilities, as well as the abilities of his companions and protectors, things wouldn’t be resolved easily.
Ivan knew this well, so he sent his co-captain to investigate the Hoarder’s power when he reappeared in the Tower after a year.
‘What a headache.’ Jonathan was rubbing his temples when about ten or so players walked towards him.
“Haha. The weather is quite nice. Isn’t it perfect weather to slice someone’s throat? Haha. All forces have gathered.” Each of them exuded a fierce aura, and the one leading them had the eyes of a maniac.
The group of ten or so blood brothers were Head Cutters, who were well-known among rankers. They had a habit of cutting off the heads of their targets and using them for decoration. They were cruel, and because they had many enemies, they lived in the shadows. However, they received many jobs because of their capabilities.
Now, they were moving according to Ivan’s request. As they’d discussed previously, they all chose the white team in the forty-second trial.
Jonathan was displeased by their swaggering attitudes, but he didn’t make a fuss over it. If they were the kind of people who cared, they wouldn’t have accepted a suicidal job to hunt down the Hoarder.
“Did you find where the Hoarder is?”
“Heehee. There wasn’t any need.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s a shadow monster blocking the path to the black team. What else would that mean?”
Jonathan’s eyes flashed. “He’s taking a whole team for himself?”
"Bingo! Our greedy target is being greedy again. Although it’s easy to choke if you bite off more than what you can swallow. Heehee.”
They were busy laughing among themselves since that meant Yeon-woo would be taking on the debuff from the insignias on his own. In contrast, the white team had a total of sixty people, including the Head Cutters, other hired killers, and the second unit of Iron Lion. The debuff was spread thinly through them, which meant that the Hoarder stood no chance.
They already had the advantage of numbers, and if the Hoarder wanted to debuff his own skills, they welcomed it heartily. It seemed like he was planning to die.
However, Jonathan suddenly felt anxious. ‘What’s his plan? Why is he doing this to himself?’ he rubbed his right arm with a grimace. The section that the Hoarder had sliced off still hurt. He knew that the Hoarder wouldn't purposefully weaken himself without something up his sleeve. He was as sly as a snake.
However, the Head Cutter and the other killers were busy giggling as if they already caught the Hoarder, ignoring Jonathan’s worries.
“I hope the stage trial starts soon.”
“I’ve heard so many rumors about the Hoarder, I wonder what he’s really like? He probably makes the same sounds as other bastards when his throat is cut.”
“What sound should we force him to make? Keekeekee!”
[The team selection time is nearly over. Please finalize your decisions.]
However, at least they seemed to be taking their job seriously, because as soon as the countdown began, they bustled around. The Head Cutters got into their usual hunting positions and the other killers checked their weapons. The ones who dealt with poison confirmed their flasks, and the assassins used cloaking skills to hide their presences.
After thirty seconds passed, the darkness around them began to lighten, they soon saw the bright stage. It was a vast forest, but the members of the white team found that there were different types of terrain contained within it.
The forty-second stage had four territories with three large paths and twelve smaller ones that intertwined together intricately. There were canyons, fields, marshes, and cliffs spread throughout the territories, and with each round, the terrain changed randomly.
Because of this, it was imperative for players to learn the terrain as soon as the mission began. By doing so, you could ambush other teams using shortcuts or find places to hide.
Additionally, there were hidden pieces that helped in battle. This was where Pathfinders and Junglers were crucial. The mercenaries of the second unit who were assigned to be Pathfinders slowly stepped forward. A few of them had Elven ancestry, and they were highly skilled, as to be expected of people personally chosen by Ivan.
“Before we start, I have some words to say.”
The Head Cutters stopped scanning the terrain beyond the darkness and turned to Jonathan with annoyed expressions. It wasn’t the first time that Jonathan had gotten on their nerves with his useless nagging.
“We don’t know how the Hoarder will appear, so be—”
“Look here, co-captain.”
The leader of the Head Cutters, Executioner of Ions Paratane, smiled coldly. “After we take a job, it’s entirely up to us how we do things. It’s not your place to give us orders. I know what you’re worried about, so just sit there and watch.”
Jonathan pressed his lips together. His angry subordinates tried to step in, but Jonathan raised his hand and shook his head.
Paratane thought Jonatane was just like a dog with a tail between its legs. He turned to his blood brothers and giggled. “Iron Lion, Iron Lion. They used to be all the rage, but looks like they’re toothless now. Scaredy cats. Tsk!”
“It’s natural for the old generation to be replaced by the new, isn’t it?”
“Haha! Should I try to take the throne of the mercenary king?”
“If it’s you, definitely. Why don’t we cut the Hoarder’s head off and carry it around as an accessory? We can even create a mercenary guild while we’re at it.”
‘Damned fools.’ Jonathan glowered at them.
“Well, we can take our time to consider things slowly.”
The countdown was nearing zero, and the darkness was almost completely gone.
[The countdown has finished.]
[Players who haven’t chosen a team will be randomly assigned to one.]
[The trial is beginning.]
[May you be victorious.]
“All right, shall we go slice—!” Just as Paratane stepped forward confidently, his head was cut off. Swish. It rolled on the grund.
“C-Captain…?” The Head Cutters who had been speaking boisterously with Paratane just moments earlier didn’t realize what had just happened and stood there blankly. Then, when Paratane’s blood spurted on their faces, they quickly tried to retreat.
However the gust of wind that came from a swinging sword blew their way, and their heads fell to the ground one by one. The killers who were farther away tried to escape, but they met with the same end.
“Wh-what is this…!”
“Let go! I said let go!”
Dark forms stretched out of the shadows to hold down the killers, the Spirit Guai’s eyes looking as though they were curved in happiness.
“Let go! Please!”
The players struggled to push the shadows away, but the Spirit Guai just tightened their hold and sucked the players into the shadows.
「You should know what you’re going up against, you miserable idiots.」 Space opened and Hanryeong appeared with ferocious eyes. He growled as he held his sword. 「Eat them all.」
At his command, the shadows rose like a wave and covered the white team.
* * *
It wasn’t just the white team’s territory that was in uproar.
“Faust! How is a Lich using Faust’s magic…!”
“Run away! Run away!”
“My magic! It’s not working! Aaack!”
Magicians dispatched from the magic alliance of the five Magic Towers had joined a different team as war mages. Among the different fields of magic were those that specialized in battle magic, and war mages were renowned for their prowess.
The magic alliance had given them a remarkable amount of artifacts and ordered them to bring the Hoarder back. But as soon as the trial began, they were powerless to resist the sudden attack. No matter how much they tried to set up barriers or resist, the magic power in their bodies didn’t budge. They learned why when it was too late: a magic circle had been set up high in the sky. It was Evil Circle, the barrier that hobbled the magic power of those who were inside its area.
Faust, whom all magicians revered, had invented it, but the barrier had disappeared along with him. And yet it had mysteriously appeared once more.
Over the barrier, Inferno Sight looked down at them, and as soon as the magicians locked eyes with the owner of Inferno Sight, they stiffened, paralyzed like mice in front of a cat.
The war mages realized their fates had already been decided even before the trial had started. The owner of those eyes had known their location and prepared a trap for them in advance. They had no way to avoid the magic attacks that came at them from the other magic squares that popped up.
Even if they tried to escape, there was no way around the storm of shadows and souls, and the hand of death tightened around their necks.
「Impertinent…dimwits.」 Boo raised the output of his magic power to sweep away all the fools that dared to injure his master. After the Demonism left, he lost his memories and identity as Faust, but he still retained some of the less significant memories. The Lawless Book whirled quickly.
Eeeeee. There was a shrill cry as the Spirit Guai dashed among the magicians and took their skeleton insignias.
[Hundun watches the battlefield.]
* * *
[You have collected ‘Skeleton Insignia × 5’ from the white team.]
[The debuff is being applied.]
[You have collected ‘Skeleton Insignia × 5’ from the blue team.]
[The debuff is being applied.]
[The power ‘Combat Instinct’ has successfully relieved the debuffs.]
Yeon-woo felt his body grow heavier, but the power he received from Ares managed to push most of it away. Combat Instinct had an outstanding ability to remove anything that interrupted his ability to participate in battle.
However, he left the battlefield to his subordinates, and was greeting another visitor. “Welcome.”
“It’s been a while…no, I suppose I should be more respectful now, as you are His Majesty’s close friend. Greetings, Cain.”
The prime minister of the Blood Land, Monstrous Duke Tuan Tien, extended his hand with a smile.
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