TL: Edited 28 oct 2017.
Chapter 23 – Dawn, mountain pathway
“It’s too dark. It seems like it’s a bad time to take a stroll right now.” Brendel said with a smile.
His eyes quickly swept over everyone, and he walked straight to the center of the twenty-odd people in front of him.
The young guards subconsciously parted to let him cross. Bannett gripped the sword in his hand tightly. He glared menacingly at Brendel, but also refrained himself from taking any action, as he knew he would not be able to suppress the commotion if they fought. One of his men at his side tried to rush up to Brendel but was held back by Bannett’s other hand.
The tension in the forest was as taut as a bowstring.
But Brendel kept walking to the other end of the forest before he stopped and spoke.
“Bannett, the things that you learned in the guards included disobeying orders? Well, I’ll tell you now that your plan is shit. All of you should know Captain Marden’s temper well enough. Why do you even bother to try forcing him to agree to your petition? If it was up to me, I’ll just bring everyone out secretly and leave one person behind to inform him.”
Everyone looked at each other with a loss for words.
Bannett’s hand on his sword shook a little. A streak of suspicion flashed in his eyes, involuntarily wondering what the cocky bastard in front of him was planning.
“Quickly now, go ahead and tell me when you’re going to move out to attack Madara, so I can decide when to move as well.”
“…… Before the Crimson Star disappears.”
The young vice-captain thought for a while before replying. Even though he was wary of Brendel’s motives, his plan did sound more enticing, and the possibility to execute it was much better.
“Then you should go to the clearing of the ‘Fox Forest’ and hide there. That particular area should be the nearest and safest location to attack the Madara’s undead army. I’ll pick up a piece of paper, write up your excuses, and bring it to Marden to let him know what you’re up to after you’re gone.”
“Also, be focused when you fight against the necromancers, their magic spells will only work against people with weak willpower!”
“Brendel, just what exactly do you want? How did you find Zeta and Ryan, and how did you manage to beat them?” Bannett asked darkly as he took his hand away from his sword.
“Alright, this might be our last meeting after we part. Whether we are rivals or simply hate each other’s guts, it’s possible that everything will become memories after this. In the end, we’re Aouine’s citizens, so I’ll wish you luck.”
Brendel waved his hand to indicate what he thought was not anything worth mentioning.
Bannett watched him leave silently.
Leaving Marden’s fury at Bannett’s actions aside, the old veteran found that there was no way for him to attack the Madara’s undead army any longer. He could only arrange for Freya to gather the villagers to form a defensive squad and prepare to break the siege at the River of Daggers in the north.
And right about this moment, Jonathon, who had lost his hand, was seeing Brendel and Romaine off. Little Fenix accompanied by his side to see them off too. Because of Little Fenix’s age, Freya forced him to leave the militia. He was dissatisfied with her decision, but he recovered quickly when Brendel praised him a little and insisted on following Brendel to Fortress Riedon.
Of course, Brendel did not agree to his request. He figured that he would probably be stabbed by Freya when he reached Anchorite if he allowed him to join.
Little Fenix was just too young and unsuitable, even though he indeed needed one more pair of hands.
Brendel stroked the brat’s head.
On the other hand, Jonathon was at the sides, opening and closing his mouth without saying anything. He looked at Brendel in shame. He knew that he survived because of him.
“I-I’m sorry…… Brendel, Thank you….. For saving me at that time.” He finally stuttered.
“It’s fine. Everyone has their moment of confusion. Jonathon, the militia is willing to bring you back because they believe you will return to them. Alright, concentrate. Don’t let anyone else look down on you any longer.”
Brendel nodded and looked up in the sky. The stars were beginning to fade, signaling the arrival of dawn. It was the darkest time of the night as the stars and moon disappeared, but it was going to be fine. Sunrise was coming soon.
He took his gaze away from the sky and lit torches together with Romaine. Even though it was a little unwise to light torches to travel in the dark with Madara’s undead around, they were leaving the area. If there were beasts that appeared, the biggest threats were probably going to be just mere wolves. He was certain that he could handle five of them easily.
The two of them left from the camp’s south and passed through the dense trees. The most common black pine trees in Grinoires appeared everywhere as far as they could see into the distance. There were occasional animal shadows that flitted in the light but quickly vanished.
They slowly walked past two hills, and the path became steep as they descended from the slope.
Anyone who saw their surroundings would be puzzled as to why the trees there were decaying. Many rugged and sharp boulders jutted out from the slope, and the valley in front of them was filled with such rocks.
“Brendel?” Romaine asked, suddenly finding the environment to be a little frightening.
“It’s nothing. Just follow me closely.”
Brendel knew his destination was getting closer when he saw this scene.
He had traveled this pathway in the game before. It was a very famous place amongst the players, and remarkably dangerous for anyone below level twenty.
He could not help but recall old memories of this place.
The Zevail mountain pathway started at the southern Beldor forest area, and the trees extended all the way to the Pine River. This area was excavated in the past to transport forest logs down the river, but the logging mills were mostly abandoned due to Madara’s expansion in the region.
The Zevail mountain pathway was disused and turned into a haven for illegal merchants who smuggled using the mountain pathway to avoid checkpoints.
Sometime later, a Golden Demon Tree set its roots in the area, taking the earth’s nutrients away, and the entire forest surrounding that area started to decay. It also killed all creatures which carelessly entered into that area, and the area was slowly perceived by people as a place of certain death.
The level 31 Golden Demon Tree had evolved to a ‘Rank Two creature’, and had the strength of a Silver-ranked Swordsman or a Wizard. Even the kingdom’s formal army did not want to go against this troublesome enemy.
Since it did not stop the communication between Fortress Riedon and Bucce, the kingdom’s knights chose to leave it alone.
But this location was a famous grinding spot within the game. The Golden Demon Tree remained undefeated in the game for the first three years, and the NPCs even made a wooden post in front of the entrance, where the Dwarven, Elven and Aouine’s common language were written on it:
“Beware! Those who enter this area should give up on all hope.”
Of course, some short-sighted players wanted to challenge themselves. However, these solo players who went in alone did not even get see the appearance of the boss and perished. It was about a year in before people started going in with parties to adventure there, but the furthest they went in was to the stretch of the Pine river before they were forced back.
This continued to the latter half of the second year, and there was constant news of entire parties who died there circulating in the bars, turning into a hot topic during meals. When the ‘War of the Black Rose’ happened for the second time, the parties that entered the mountain pathway dwindled down, but in exchange, they were much stronger.
Brendel recalled that he entered the mountain pathway around that time. His experience in the game was quite plain. He was neither aggressive nor was he conservative. He managed to go to the Pine River and witnessed the unending bleak scenery filled with dying trees and dark shadows.
What gave him the deepest impression, was not the sudden change of Bucce’s lush greenery to the death-like area here, but the strength of the enemies and unbelievably high encounter rate. His party was in a state of fatigue every day, and the party was finally dismissed when they could not continue onwards.
But two months after his stint, a guild called ‘Freedom’ completely tackled this area. They became very famous for a period. However, people realized afterward they were not that powerful, and simply found a special method to engage the enemy by luck. This method was released as a recorded video onto the internet by enthusiastic players and brought about a craze where players soloed the Golden Demon Tree.
Brendel was one of those people who benefited from the footage that was released, and managed to grind out an item called ‘Heart of the Golden Tree’.
The average level of the players back then was level 27.
But what he wanted to do here was simply to cross the mountain pathway and skip the Golden Demon Tree boss. He had the Ring of the Wind Empress, as well as the Thorn of Light that had a purification effect against the undead, so he might have a chance to survive.
He reminisced about his gaming years with relish. The prices of the magical equipment in the past did not go down for an entire year, and he did not think that he would be able to cross this pathway with his equipment stats over 10 OZ at such a low level.
Indeed, the godlike equipment he had now was something that he could not imagine.
Due to his knowledge in his past life, the facts that he owned two godly equipment from the very start made him feel surreal. If he was fortunate enough to escape from this disaster…. He felt a little-hotblooded thinking about the future.
Precisely because of that, he had to cherish the chance in front of him. He gripped his sword a little tighter and called Romaine to follow a little closer to him.
The future merchant girl seemed to have an aptitude for adventuring. She nimbly jumped onto the sharp boulders on the way down to the valley without any trouble.
Even though dawn had probably broken by now, the darkness around them did not seem to lift. The only sources of light came from their burning torches, illuminating their rocky surroundings with long shadows.
If one were to look at them from afar, they would appear like two stars within the forest.
Brendel recalled there was a plateau nearby that allowed them to avoid encounters. It was too dangerous to enter the Zevail pathway currently, so he decided to travel in the daytime where it was a little safer to cross the pathway, and they were also likely to be out of the range of Madara’s undead army by now.
The earliest undead army to reach Fortress Riedon in history was Kabias’s division in the morning of the third day. This would mean that he had a full day to arrange his plans. The time remaining was plentiful.
He raised his head up and saw the outline of a sign in front of him.