Sila traveled from Zhongsuyuan City’s outskirts to the south . The environment slowly changed from a dry landscape to green plains, and along the way he eventually started walking down a road rather than across grass . The further he went, the more trees he would see . The amount of sunlight that reached him gradually decreased . Continuing his journey for several minutes, he stopped his feet at a crossroad splitting the road into two, not including the one he was on, with both still leading to the south . The reason why he stopped was due to a certain realization that the vision in front of him was nothing more than an illusion .
A second later, Sila sensed that he was being watched and inspected . He looked up and found two people hiding in the trees .
“Umm . Are you the Mountain Thieves League members? My name is Sila . I want to ask for directions . ”
The two men in the trees whispered to each other for a bit before throwing a rope ladder down . Both of them climbed down while Sila calmly waited for their descent . Touching the ground, the two stared at Sila one more time .
“It’s really you, Mister Sila . We have seen you before in Colossia City,” one of the two said .
“My name is Toron, and this is my friend, Chak . We’re members of the Mountain Thieves League . May I ask what you want from us?”
Chak seemed a little friendlier than Toron, who was quite on guard . Sila politely informed them of his intention to grind levels in the Summer Forest .
“Grinding levels? Now of all times?” Toron wondered and started whispering to Chak . At this distance, Sila easily overheard their conversation even though he didn’t mean to .
“How does he know?”
Toron shook his head . “I’ve no clue . Should we bring him to the vice-leader?”
Sila waited for the two to finish discussing . Soon, both men turned their heads to him .
“We can’t decide that ourselves . Could you please spare some of your time and follow us to meet the vice-leader?” Chak asked in an apologetic manner .
Honestly, Sila wondered why he had to ask for permission just to hunt monsters . He agreed to go with them without asking this though .
“By vice-leader, do you mean Elso? I have him on my contact list . Should I just call him?” asked Sila .
“Ah, no, Vice-Leader Elso is responsible in other fields . When it comes to internal affairs, Vice-Leader Nednapha is the one that handles them . She is in the guild’s base right now . ”
Truth be told, Sila hadn’t gotten as close to Nednapha as he had with other Mountain Thieves League members . Maybe it was due to the fact that she always seemed serious and busy .
“This way, please . ” Chak knocked a certain rock three times, then waved his hand to an area without footpaths between the two roads . Toron led the way, followed by Sila and Chak respectively .
Even though it was known among players that the Mountain Thieves League’s important base was located within the Summer Forest, it was rare for anyone unaffiliated to be able to reach said base . That was because the Mountain Thieves League implemented a special device to conceal the entrance . In the case that someone took one of the two roads leading south, they would waste as many as three days taking a detour around the forest before ending up back in the same place .
Once inside, Sila felt several hidden presences . Although their strengths weren’t notably high, they had a synergistic effect with each other . He could somehow tell that this was some kind of profound formation . If he were to engage in a battle with them, their positions would support and supplement each other, elevating the overall strength of the group to four or five times that of their combined individual might .
The Mountain Thieves League’s base in Sila’s imagination was different from the one he was witnessing right now . They seemed more militant and rigorous than he had expected . Dozens of tents, varying in size, were scattered around the area . Aside from the differences in sizes, each tent had no unique characteristic that set them apart, including the leader’s tent . Sila guessed they must have arranged it this way in order to camouflage where the leader slept . He tried expanding his senses to pick up the most powerful presence, but realized he couldn’t find it . Based on the Mountain Thieves League’s level of wariness, he bet that the pattern of how the tents were scattered was a profound formation as well . It must be a formation that helped conceal the positions and strengths of anyone within the area .
Toron and Chak brought Sila to one of the ordinary-looking tents . Chak went inside, before the entrance flapped open once more and Nednapha stepped outside .
“Welcome, Mister Sila . Please come inside,” Nednapha greeted Sila in a friendly manner before inviting him inside her tent .
Sila obediently followed her . Toron also went inside, closed the curtain, and waited near the exit along with Chak .
Nednapha turned back to Sila . “First things first, allow me to ask you this question: Mister Sila, how did you know about the secret regarding monsters?”
Sila frowned . “What secret?”
“No need to feign ignorance, Mister Sila . Killing monsters during a war event normally doesn’t give items or experience points . The fact that you came to hunt monsters implies that you already know the secret . ”
Sila was still confused . He hadn’t participated in the previous war event . Well, he could faintly recall that Bluebird had explained the special rules that apply during the war to him at one point . Nevertheless, Sila had let most of them pass through his ears as he found that they were not important back then .
While observing Sila’s reaction, Nednapha continued .
“It’s nothing much . I’m just wondering how much you know . Maybe we can exchange information . ”
Still clueless as to what Nednapha was talking about, Sila decided to seize the chance to obtain intel . Mimicking Bluebird, he showed a solemn expression .
“If we’re going to exchange information, could you, as the host, please tell me what you know first? Think of it as giving me, a guest, a small favor . If I know anything that you’re unaware of, I’ll fill in the gaps . ”
Nednapha considered the proposal briefly, then nodded . “Agreed . Well, you already know this much, so I doubt you will get anything new from us . ”
“I won’t be so sure about that . ”
Nednapha showed a faint smile as she opened her system window . “Just recently, before the war event started, there were two strange key phrases that showed up in the forum under the name of this person . ”
Sila took a look at her system window and found that it was showing a certain public forum . Nednapha was visiting a particular discussion thread created by a user with the name “The Head Maid”, which was obviously an alias .
Seeing Sila’s eyes glued to the contents of the thread, Nednapha quickly explained, “You don’t have to stare at it . The contents of this discussion are encrypted . Aside from the user, it’s unreadable . ”
“Unreadable?” Sila became more doubtful . He wondered if Nednapha was playing some prank on him . For him, the thread was fully visible and readable .
“Yes, we can only read some highlighted words: The Law Breaker and the Seal Breaker . ”
Sila began to get the gist of it . The clues linked to each other like dominoes . The Law Breaker . The Seal Breaker . The Head Maid . And the reason why he could read the supposedly unreadable texts .
Sila remembered he had once asked Bluebird to search for information relating to the Law Breaker and the Seal Breaker a while ago . Considering Bluebird’s carefree personality, the man must have passed the work to Julia . At Bluebird’s request, Julia must have sought information from many sources, including asking people in the game’s public forums . Apparently, after everything was done, she seemed to conclude her findings in the discussion and wait until she was asked about it .
The reason why Sila could read the supposedly encrypted thread was because Julia was his AI . Everything she did was considered to be done by him .
Sila opened his system window to prove his theory and found that his account name in the relevant forum was indeed ‘The Head Maid’ . It seemed Julia had searched far and wide, then summarized the obtained intel in one discussion . It was still quite long, nevertheless .
Seeing Sila trying to read the texts by sweeping his eyes down the system window, Nednapha didn’t comment on what she considered futile . She simply continued, “Even though we can’t directly read the contents, we investigated what we could and found that some ‘laws’ had indeed changed . Strangely, unlike other times, the system didn’t announce the changes as if it wanted players to discover them ourselves . In addition, monsters throughout Monster Soul started exhibiting suspicious behavior . Some became more aggressive while some became reserved . Some even suddenly disappeared . I believe that this strange phenomenon is due to the Seal Breaker . ”
Not wanting to take advantage of Nednapha too much, Sila proposed, “I have information regarding the Seal Breaker and its meaning . If you can tell me everything you know about the Law Breaker, I’ll tell you what I know . ”
“In that case, okay . To be honest with you, our investigation has reached a dead end . We still have no clue who the Law Breaker is . However, the laws have surely changed . Not many players have noticed the changes yet, but it’s just a matter of time .
“The first change is that monsters still give away items and experience points upon being hunted, even during the war event . In fact, they give more experience points than usual . ”
“More than usual?”
“Yes . The weird thing is . . . monsters in the same place normally had the same level as long as they were of the same species . However, their levels vary now . I speculate that they became capable of leveling up . ”
“Eh? Couldn’t monsters level up on their own even in the past?”
Nednapha shook her head . “No . No matter how many players they killed, their levels always stayed the same . Only monsters with the King or Queen title were exceptions to this law . As the boss monster’s level went up, the number of its minions would increase, yet the minions’ wouldn’t grow any stronger . I don’t know why this is happening . However, if this goes on, it will soon become a big problem . ”
“What kind of problem?”
“Think about it . A forest, where you normally encountered only Level 500 Squire Rank monsters, suddenly became a place where each monster can level up and become a sub-boss or even an additional boss . With the increasing number of bosses, so will the number of minions—who similarly can level up and possibly become the next boss . If this cycle were to unfold . . . Can you imagine it?”
Sila finally got the hang of it . He didn’t know what kind of laws Montra broke, but the surest thing was that misfortune for players had been a result of his actions .
In truth, the law which Montra “broke” was the one that involved the privileges given to humanity by the Goddess of Humankind, Cynthia . Monsters were normally suppressed by the system intervention, preventing them from growing too fast . That was in order to ensure some degree of safety for players in the New World . The locations unvisited by players would stay unchanged . However, after Montra’s wish, monsters were no longer bound by the law . Each of them had individuality, could collect experience points, become stronger, acquire skills, and had the right to become the king or queen of their species .
Humans hunted monsters for experience points, while monsters could now do the same .
The changes might be unnoticeable as of now . However, it was almost certain that the world of Monster Soul in the future would become even more brutal .
And that was the result that Montra desired: a critical situation where there was no way out of a predicament . Players would have no choice but to abandon their grudges and hatred towards each other, then join forces as one to fight back the threatening monsters . Past enemies would become comrades-in-arms while vengeance would transform into friendship . Conflicts would change into unity . Although Monster Soul represented a brutal world during the dark era, humans would be the light of hope illuminating the darkness . It was Montra’s utopia emphasizing ‘equality . ’ There would be no factions or sides .
Only “the human side” would remain .
Montra had a belief that humans have the potential to change for the better, though a suitable environment is necessary . For a candle to show off its light, it must stay in the dark . The world where humans can live together without inner conflicts is precisely one that is filled with chaotic conflicts .
Nednapha added, “What’s more, we discovered that how items drop has changed . Many have yet to notice that items drop differently than before . Originally, in team play, items would automatically enter each player’s system window according to the amount of contribution or how the party had set the item distribution method . However, recently, if the number of players in the party is more than one, items will drop on the ground . It was as if the system intends to test our greed . ”
Sila always fought alone, so this particular change went totally unnoticed .
Nednapha sighed . “It must be lacking, but that is all we know . ”
Sila nodded . “That was plenty . Now is my turn . Firstly, the Law Breaker is Montra . As for how he made all of those changes . . . I guess it must be related to the Impossible Quest from the Goddess . ”
Nednapha paused for thought . “I guess so . For the changes to be this impactful, it must be related to a quest of that caliber and was done by a player of Montra’s caliber . The game become harsher, so this must be the aftereffect . Montra might have obtained some dreadful S-grade item, and its downside negatively affected all players in the game . ”
Sila shook his head . “I’m clueless as well, regarding what kind of reward he got . ”
Listening to the conversation, Chak expressed his thought, “For his own benefits, he caused the rest of the players to become victims and suffer . Montra is a selfish bastard!”
About to reveal that he was the Seal Breaker, Sila stopped short . Looking from others’ perspective, the fact that Montra and he waged war in the game indeed brought trouble to others . In the end, he swallowed his saliva and didn’t reveal the Seal Breaker’s identity . Still, he explained to them the meaning of the title and what it brought about, all of which he had heard from Kiryu .
Nednapha became even more frightened than ever . “Mister Sila, you mean . . . Emperor Rank monsters are wandering around the world as we speak?”
“I have met at least two of them, by the way . Well, monsters at Lord Rank or above can take human forms and have individuality, so it’s hard to tell them apart from players . Anyway, I don’t think they like to meddle in our affairs unless it’s necessary . ”
“Why do you think so?”
“Try putting yourself in their shoes, Miss Nednapha . If you’re Level 1,000 Emperor Rank, would you like to spend time hunting some Knight Rank monsters?”
“I guess I wouldn’t . ”
“Well, as I said, it also depends on their personalities . Some of them may disdain humans or maybe they’ll just feel like killing us . On the other hand, some may be lazy and don’t want to get involved with us even when we challenge them . The surest fact is that we can’t predict what might happen . We don’t know which monster races got their Emperor Rank rulers back . If we thoughtlessly attack monsters, their Emperor might come at us for revenge later . ”
“In conclusion . . . we have no way of knowing what will happen?”
“In fact, something might have already happened and we just haven’t realized . ”
Nednapha was deep in thought . “This news is even more fatal than the Law matter . Thank you for sharing it with us . At the very least, for any of our future hunts, we’ll try to investigate whether there is an Emperor Rank monster guarding the place . In return for your valuable information, I’ll have Chak and Toron lead you all the way to the inner part of the Summer Forest . It originally had only Knight Rank monsters, and the strongest right now are Marquis Rank Silver Griffins, so I doubt they will give you any trouble . Think of these two as guides or porters . We, the Mountain Thieves League, are willing to buy any items you don’t want . We have ways to resell them . ”
Sila didn’t see the need to decline, so he bid Nednapha farewell and followed Chak and Toron outside, preparing to enter the Summer Forest’s inner area .