Chapter 338: The 99th Squad
Colossia City used to be a city full of merchants, fighters, and travelers . Areas within buildings had always been in high demand and fully rented . However, those rental zones were now occupied by the Shadow Army’s members . Each zone’s luxuriousness depended on the squad’s budget . The squads with higher wages could spare money to upgrade their rooms .
The low-digit squads were more reliable, meaning they were more likely to get jobs with better pay . Such a system encouraged competition within the Shadow Army . Each squad tried to improve themselves without the need to follow any traditional training program . There might be some conflicts among squads, but that was quite normal for every army .
Yardpirun came up with only a single rule for the Shadow Army: “If a person causes another person to die, the number of their squad will immediately be demoted by ten . If the squad’s number is within 90-99th, the whole squad will be expelled . ”
Sila was assigned to a small squad, which people nicknamed ‘the miscellaneous squad . ’ Its rank was the lowest, so the squad couldn’t expect any important tasks . With the mercenary system, it was difficult for the members to get to show their abilities and be promoted, so the 99th squad technically had no future . The Shadow Army had no qualms in members transferring between squads, so the newcomers often chose to enter other squads .
There used to be a certain building located in the northwest corner of Colossia City . It had been destroyed and returned to an empty plot of land during the previous raid, however . The size of the area was around sixty square meters, surrounded by three-story buildings and city walls . To approach the area, Sila had to pass through a narrow alley with barely any room between his shoulders and the walls .
Thankfully, he had been informed that his badge had the ability to search for his teammates . The badge pointed him around the area, making him walk in a circle for a minute before he noticed a hole in a wall next to a plain-looking building . Walking through the hole, he came across a note that had “The 99th squad” scribbled on it
Sila had heard from Yardpirun that there was nothing much for him to expect . However, seeing the place with his own eyes, he came to realize that her speech was completely an understatement .
The squad had literally nothing, really .
Well, to be fair, there were a few miscellaneous objects . The open area was small in width, surrounded by walls in all directions . Midday would be the only time when the people living inside could see sunlight without leaving the hole . There was an extinguished bonfire in the corner, seemingly used for cooking . The opposite corner had four sleeping bags, while yet another corner had a DIY dining table, apparently made from stone debris .
Immediately after Sila entered the hole, all of the room’s occupants paused what they were doing and locked their gazes on him at the same time . Based on the number of sleeping bags, the squad must have four members, and all of them were present .
Two males were playing a game of chess on the ground, with a female spectating . As for the last member, he was leaning against a wall, his eyes blurry as if he was half-sleep .
The sole female member of the squad stood up and walked toward Sila . She had long black hair, which swung behind her in a braid . Both of her fists were wrapped in bandages . Sila had lived in a dojo before, so he noticed right away that the bandages were properly wrapped for combat . Thus, he guessed she must have some training in martial arts . Her outfit was quite plain as it seemed to be made from fabric, barring the left metal shoulder guard that was quite eye-catching .
She pointed to the south . “Are you lost? If you want to visit the Quest Building, you have to walk a bit further that way . ”
The member who seemed like a sleepyhead wore a black magician robe . In the entire squad, he was the only one wearing a mask . Resting on his shoulder was a cross-shaped mage staff, though the tip was sharp, meaning it could also be used as a javelin . From Sila’s perspective, he saw black magic power leaking from the man’s body, though the quality was mediocre .
Believing that Sila was lost, the two chess players resumed their game . In any case, Sila noticed that the man on the right secretly moved a piece using his magic power .
“Hm?” The man’s opponent tilted his head in confusion . “Mister Alpha, when did you move this rook?”
The man, whose name was Alpha, acted innocent . “It was always there . Are you feeling unwell, Isaac?”
“Is that so? That’s weird . I remember it was there before . Well, my eyes must be playing a trick on me, then . ”
Alpha seemed to be a magic fighter . He had short hair and orange eyes, which subtly glowed with magic power . His outfit was tidy, a dagger hanging from his waist . Aside from that obvious weapon, there were magical rings on his quick fingers . Sila guessed the man’s fighting style must be similar to Revin’s, directly relying on the attribute of the element to strengthen a part of his body . Still, Sila couldn’t see through what kind of magic the man wielded .
Isaac was the same . His neat light green magician outfit indicated that he was also a magic fighter . He had white hair, not too different from Montra’s . He had no weapons on him, but that hardly implied anything since he might keep them in his system window . There were rings on his fingers as well, though the quality of them seemed to be subpar compared to what Bluebird or Alpha wore . The magic power that leaked from the man was green in color, which Sila had never seen before .
Sila was deep in thought, so the young woman assumed he was still confused about where he was . She pulled his hand and wrote a map on his palm using a permanent marker .
“See? We’re here . You have to go back and turn right . The buildings all look the same, but the Quest Building has a wooden sign in front of it . Keep your eyes open and you won’t miss it . ”
Looking at the map on his palm, Sila frowned . He scratched his head . “Is this the 99th squad?”
“Eh? Is this place your destination, really?” The young woman belatedly realized her mistake . She took out a wet handkerchief to rub Sila’s palm . “My bad, my bad . Not many people come to visit us, so I thought you were lost . ”
Sila’s palm became stained . He jerked his hand back and rubbed it against Beggar’s Cloak .
“It’s fine . I will clean it myself . ”
“Well, what did you come here for?” She asked . “Wait . I think I know! You have a job for us, right? Wow . What a surprise . We rarely get jobs . ”
“That’s not it . I’m—”
“Hm? Are you from the 16th squad, then? I told you I would find a way to compensate! Don’t rush me!”
“That’s also not it . I—”
“Still not it? How about—”
The young woman repeatedly interrupted Sila, not giving him a chance to introduce himself . Knowing her personality, Alpha put a stop to the cycle of interruptions .
“Miki, why don’t you just keep your mouth shut for a second and let him talk?”
The young woman, whose name was Miki, turned to send a sharp gaze at Alpha, who simply stared back at her . Meanwhile, Isaac swept his eyes across the chessboard, searching for a way to turn the tables .
Noticing an opportunity, Sila quickly introduced himself, “I’m this squad’s new leader . I was appointed just a moment ago . ”
“The squad leader?” The three of them repeated the words simultaneously, their tone clearly coated with suspicion . On the other hand, the other member said nothing . In fact, Sila thought the man had fallen asleep .
Sila pointed at the badge on his cloak . “I’m not lying . ”
Alpha took the chance to move another chess piece while conversing with Sila to misdirect Isaac’s attention .
“Oh, no . We didn’t think you were lying . Our squad ranks dead last, so no one would want to claim to be our leader . We’re just surprised that we got a leader . ”
“Had this squad never had a leader?” asked Sila .
“Kind of . Our squad rarely has work . We mostly join other squads to help with their work, asking for some gold in exchange . Whenever we get new members, they become bored rather quickly and ask to transfer to other squads . For example, there is the 40th squad that focuses on quantity . I heard they have around a hundred members already . The members’ abilities are mediocre, but they always get the tasks that require manpower . ”
Miki reached out and shook Sila’s hand . “Alpha, you have no manners . We should introduce ourselves first . Hey, hey! My name is Miki . That’s Alpha, and that’s Isaac . The one sitting over there is Midnight . What about you, Leader? What is your name?”
Sila silently panicked . He quickly tried to come up with a name . Sadly, thinking of a proper name proved to be a difficult task for him .
This time, however, someone came up with one for him, though time would tell whether it was a stroke of good fortune or bad luck .
“Nero, right?” Midnight finally started talking, his voice quite hoarse, like he was sick .
Miki turned to Midnight, asking, “Do you guys know each other?”
Midnight shook his head . “No, I don’t . I’m just guessing from his gear—Beggar’s Cloak and the Thief Lord’s Mask—that he must be the Thief Monarch, Nero, who was infamous during the first year after the game launched . He was the one who established the first bandit gang in Monster Soul . Well, I heard that he lost to the leader of the Blue Pigeon Guild and left the game afterward, causing the members of his band to break into several small bandit gangs . ”
“Is that so? You’re a renowned person, then . Unfortunately, I just started the game, so I don’t know early players like you . ” Miki blinked .
Isaac seemed uncomfortable . “So . . . you’re a bandit?”
Seeing that Isaac’s attention was elsewhere, Alpha secretly moved yet another chess piece . “Hey, easy . We of the Shadow Army don’t mind the past and you can’t discredit anyone because of it . Wearing a mask is optional, but no one will force you to take it off . That’s the kind of army we’re in . The past isn’t important . What’s important is that the Shadow Emperor guarantees to protect us as long as we abide by the rules . ”
Sila realized immediately that the Thief Lord’s Mask had been taken from someone else by Yardpirun . As for his Beggar’s Cloak, it wasn’t that rare of an item . Well, since he didn’t need to bother coming up with a name, he followed along . Exactly as Alpha described, the Shadow Army always overlooked one’s past .
In fact, this regulation was what Sila personally came up with, in order to prevent people from asking about the Sword Prodigy’s past .
“That’s right . I’m Nero . Well, let’s stop with old stories . ” Sila quickly made a declaration, preventing someone from asking him about a past he hadn’t lived .
Miki smacked her fist on her palm . “I see! You used to be the leader of a bandit gang, so you were appointed as a Squad Leader . I guess it makes sense . What do you think, guys?”
Midnight fell silent, a light snoring sound coming through his lips . It was as if his participation just now was his sleep-talking . Alpha and Isaac had no comments while Miki had a ‘whatever’ attitude . Apparently, having a leader held no meaning for them .
Not that the squad would get a job simply because they had a leader anyway .
Having introduced himself, Sila wanted to slip away and survey the city . Zarnak suggested that he investigate the Colosseum or the blacksmith workshop made by goblins, searching for clues . While he was at it, he would try to understand the city’s structure and the Shadow Army’s mercenary system . He had declared he would negotiate with the goblins . It would be awkward if he knew nothing about his own side .
Written in the Story of A Hundred Swords, Pumin remarked that, for a negotiation to come out successful, both sides had to possess equal levels of strength and power . What we offer must benefit the other side while the same applies to us . Maybe the goblins were trying to raid the city because they wanted something in particular . If he found what it was, he might be able to solve the conflict .
However, it turned out that he didn’t get to follow his plan . Two hours later, Sila was still in the same place . Miki half-forced him to witness the chess match between Alpha and Issac while telling him about the squad’s backstory . She even took out a bottle of strong liquor and offered to treat him . Funny enough, both chess players snatched it from her hand and poured it into their mouths . Alpha seemed to be fine, apparently having reasonable tolerance for alcohol . On the other hand, Isaac’s face turned red, his eyes hazy . Of course, Alpha didn’t miss the chance to cheat . Frowning, Isaac admitted defeat . It was already his fifth defeat .
“I will go get booze . I heard that the 15th squad just got a new member who is very good at brewing . I have to get at least one sample . Leader, stay here . Don’t go anywhere . Got it?”
Miki rushed out, not even asking whether Sila wanted to drink with her or not . In fact, she would drink it all herself even if he were to decline .
Isaac summoned peanuts using his magic power and tossed them into his mouth, chewing happily . He was more or less already sober . He set up the chessboard again for another match .
“Will it be fine letting her go alone, Mister Alpha? She just got involved with the 16th squad the last time she left . ”
“It’s gonna be fine~ We have no connections . The most she can do is get into the line . She can’t buy it . ”
“Is there anything I should know?” asked Sila .
Alpha set up the chess pieces on his side and started to explain .
“Ah . . . about that . . . ” Alpha explained, “Miki’s nickname is the Rampage Girl . Don’t get her wrong . She is quite a good person, just a bit too talkative . However, when she is drunk, things get a bit hectic . The last time, she even stormed out of our squad, going on a rampage at the 16th squad’s headquarters and breaking a lot of things . Fortunately, the 16th squad’s leader understood that she was drunk, and as we’re in the same army, he didn’t take matters seriously . He only asked for 1,000 gold as compensation, which is already very kind . Still, we have no money, so we have been putting it off . ”
“Why don’t you go out and hunt monsters?”
“Monsters won’t drop items during the war event, so we told them we would pay for it after it finishes . ”
That reminded Sila . The fact that monsters dropped items normally was still a secret . Well, it was only a matter of time before all players realized it . In fact, he believed that many leaders of other squads must have discovered it already . It was just that no one bothered to inform his dead-last squad .
Sila changed the subject . Based on Miki’s previous introduction, everyone in his squad seemed to be magic-type players .
“You all seem to have strange magic . ”
Peering at the chessboard, Isaac started the first move . “Well, it’s because Unique Magic can be easily acquired in the Magic Kingdom . Mine is Wood Magic, allowing me to summon various kinds of vegetation . Alpha’s is Weapon Enchantment Magic . He can temporarily add special options to his weapon . Miki’s is Curse-Bless Magic, which passively reverses the effects of any blessings or curses she receives . As for Midnight, he only has traditional Dark Magic . It seems he has yet to receive the quest for acquiring Unique Magic . That’s regretful . ”
Alpha also moved his own chess piece . “Since we are at it, what kind of power do you use, Leader?”
Sila summoned a magical sword . “I can convert my magic power to weapons . It’s called Artifact Manifestation . ”
“Quite similar to mine,” Alpha commented as he observed Sila’s summoned sword . “It turns out Midnight is the only one with basic Element Magic . Well, Unique Magic is popular right now since everyone can acquire it . ”
Sila didn’t bother to fix Alpha’s misunderstanding that his magic ability was some kind of Unique Magic . It was better this way . He intended to make this Nero persona be as distant as possible from his actual self .
Suddenly, Sila’s badge vibrated . He didn’t understand its function, so he wondered what happened . “Hm? My badge suddenly vibrated?”
“Is that so? Is it malfunctioning?” Isaac tilted his head .
“Is it some kind of hidden function that only leader badges have? We have never had a leader, so we don’t know . ”
“If a squad member is injured, the leader badge will vibrate to inform you about it . That’s all . ” Again, Midnight’s speech sounded like someone talking in their sleep . The remaining three turned to him, noticing the man was brushing off dirt from his clothing . He prepared the cross-shaped javelin and stood still as if waiting for anyone to say anything .
“Who is injured? We’re all here, aren’t we?”
Alpha sprung up . “Miki!”
Everyone else also sprung up . Except for Midnight, who was walking leisurely, the three started to run in the direction that Miki had gone .
A day hadn’t even passed yet, but it seemed the squad—which normally never got jobs of their own—was already adding to Sila’s workload .