Sila—along with Alpha, Isaac and Midnight—rushed out of their headquarters . His badge created a mini holographic arrow pointing to the west . After running on the street for two hundred meters, however, they no longer needed the badge’s search function . That was because they could hear Miki’s shouts from a distance . Ahead of them was a crowd, though they could see Miki in the middle .
She was confronting five men, including the leader of the 16th squad . Sila could tell because the man had a badge like his, except with the number 16 printed on it .
“Miki, can’t you just simply back off? We’re on the same side . Please don’t make it hard on us,” The 16th Squad Leader asked politely .
“No! Not until you admit your team cheated me, Mugen! Your team arrived after I did . How could you get the booze?”
Mugen wore tailor-made fabric armor, perfectly fit for his physique . His long braided black hair reached his back . On his waist were two katana with different lengths . His behavior and speech were sleek . He gave off the vibe of a refined man .
“Erm . . . Miss Miki, this gentleman didn’t cheat, I assure you . I set aside his portion beforehand . ” The man, who seemed to be the shop’s clerk, came out and explained what happened .
“Beforehand? That’s obviously cheating! Your sign here clearly says “No reservation . There are only thirty bottles for sales . ” If it’s possible to reserve, I would have already done that . I wouldn’t have wasted my time getting into the queue . ”
Sila and his squad’s members looked at the sign, which clearly said as much . Still, Mugen didn’t seem like a despicable person, his expression showing distress . Sila and his team were close enough to join and help Miki anytime, so they didn’t act rashly . They chose to wait for further explanations .
The liquor shop was a small business outlet operated by the 15th squad . They often hunted nearby monsters for their ingredients or purchased them from other squads, then brewed liquor that they would later sell, earning funds for their squad .
Now that there was a commotion in front of the shop, the leader of the 15th squad eventually came out . Seeing the man, Sila was thoroughly shocked . It was fortunate that he was wearing a mask, or else the people would notice the change in his expression .
“Is there a problem, everyone?”
Miki loudly expressed her rage . “There is! I’m a regular customer, Wolfe! You’re a leader, so you must take responsibility for letting a swindle happen in your shop!”
The 15th Squad Leader was a man by the name of Wolfe, or rather the person who Sila instantly recognized as Lone Wolf since he wasn’t wearing a mask . His face had many wrinkles and seemed to be older by twenty years . There were dark circles around his eyes, which looked rather hollow like they belonged to an undead . He also had a messy beard . Even Ratri wouldn’t recognize the man if she was present .
Following the man was an elder with a mask covering his face . As things stood, Sila guessed he must be Hermit .
“Actually, this is just a misunderstanding . We could only make these Snow Liquors because Mister Mugen here had brought us a rare ingredient called Snow Dust without charging . He just asked us to keep one bottle for him . Thus, that bottle is the thirty-first one, separate from the batch . ”
With the shop owner’s explanation, bystanders finally understood the situation . In conclusion, Miki was just too quick to snap without asking . Things seemed like they were going to end well, but no, they didn’t .
“The 15th and 16th squads are on friendly terms . Your explanation fits the situation too well . Maybe you’re lying, who knows?” Miki continued to accuse .
Her claim was possible, at least . Still, Sila knew Lone Wolf’s personality . The man wouldn’t do something like that .
“Let’s get Miki out,” muttered Sila, to which Alpha and Isaac easily complied . They moved through the crowd and approached her .
“Let’s go back, Miss Miki,” Isaac told his comrade . He and Alpha tried to pull her back while Mugen and his people opened a way for them .
“Alpha! Isaac! Let me go! They cheated us! How can you guys forgive them so easily?!”
“You’re in the wrong here . Don’t make things up . Quit bringing more shame to our squad,” Alpha bluntly told her . From Sila’s observation, Alpha seemed to be the center of the 99th squad since he was the most reliable out of the four .
Turning his head to Mugen, Alpha apologized, “We’re sorry . Also, about the debt, we will pay it soon . ”
“No problem . Please take care of Miki,” Mugen replied, his voice gentle .
“I can take care of myself! Don’t pretend to be nice!” Miki struggled, trying to break free from Alpha’s and Isaac’s restraints . Her shake-off technique was executed beautifully as if she were the embodiment of a martial arts manual . Since Alpha and Isaac weren’t serious in containing her, she easily broke free .
“You’re so annoying! Isaac, wrap her up!” Alpha frowned .
A long vine flew out of Isaac’s palm . It fastened around Miki’s body and lifted her up . However, she continued to struggle . While Isaac could hold her leg, Alpha failed to catch her, causing her head to knock the ground .
“Ouch! Are you for real? Catch me properly, man!” Miki yelled .
“Just behave yourself . Stop struggling!” Alpha complained as he pulled her other leg .
“Miss Miki, did you become heavier?” Isaac blurted without thinking . Noticing her returning sharp gaze, however, he bowed his head . “Ah . . . it’s all just my imagination, I guess . ”
“Let’s get going . Sorry again for the trouble, everyone . ” Alpha turned to bow his head to the other side .
Miki turned her head around, spotting Midnight and Sila from afar . “Midnight, you didn’t help me again . Oh! Leader, you’re also here . Help me, Leader!!”
The word Leader from Miki’s mouth seemed to come with a spotlight . As soon as she said it, all eyes were on Sila . Some people even paved ways in order to take a look at him . Silently, Midnight stepped aside as if he didn’t want others to misunderstand that the Leader in question was him .
Sila received the intense gazes from everyone . They seemed to alternate between his mask and his leader badge . If each of their gazes represented a matchstick, his body would have been burned to dust by now .
Since the attention was unavoidable, Sila joined the scene and introduced himself, “I’m the new leader of the 99th squad . I heard that my squad has caused a lot of trouble . Please accept my apology . ”
Sila specifically directed his eyes toward Mugen since he knew that Miki had caused trouble for the 16th squad at least twice now .
“Our Leader has come! You all are finished! Let’s do it, Leader! Punish them all!”
Everyone mostly ignored her provocation, everyone except Mugen, that is . The man sensed some kind of expectation in Miki’s tone . Apparently, Miki expected a lot from this so-called new leader, even more so than Alpha, Isaac, or Midnight, all of which had been in the same squad with her for so long . It made him wonder why .
“Please excuse my rudeness . Can you tell me your name again, Mister New Leader? I didn’t hear you very well just now . ”
In fact, Sila had deliberately skipped over his name . He actually wanted to avoid attention until he got his hands on information about the person he was pretending to be, the Thief Monarch Nero . However, it seemed it could no longer be delayed .
“Nero . ”
After hearing his name, no one showed any particular reaction . It seemed Nero wasn’t as renowned as Sila had thought, which was very good for him . Unfortunately, Miki seemed to be displeased at the fact that no one knew about her new leader despite her initial reaction being identical to theirs .
“He is none other than Nero, the legendary Thief Monarch, you dimwits! Let’s do it, Leader . Don’t let them look down on us!”
Sila and his teammates regretted not asking Isaac to gag Miki’s mouth . Things seemed to end well many times, the other side forgiving them time and time again . However, Miki never stopped provoking . Eventually, one of the Mugen’s men couldn’t take it anymore .
“Enough! Our Leader already forgave you many times, but you never stop . This is beyond my endurance . What the heck is a Thief Monarch? I don’t know him . I bet he just made that title up himself . He is just the leader of a crappy squad, so his skills must be on the same level . ”
“Stop!!” Mugen loudly scolded his man, causing the man to bow his head and stop talking .
Mugen turned to Sila, bowing his head . “I’m sorry my man lacks manners . ”
“It’s okay . I don’t care,” replied Sila .
Lone Wolf suddenly interrupted, “I failed to notice it when you mentioned Nero, but the term Thief Monarch Nero indeed rings a bell . I heard of you a long time ago . It’s unexpected that I’m only just meeting you now after playing this game for years . ”
Actually, everyone else also searched for the name Nero from their system windows . They wouldn’t normally do it when they came across strangers, but Miki’s claim that Nero was famous piqued their interest . Still, Nero’s stories were very old . The intel about him was dated several years ago .
“A player from the pioneer era . One of the Ten Rising Stars, the Thief Monarch, Nero . ”
The Ten Rising Stars was a list of powerhouses, made by players back in the early days . The list included Zero and Lone Wolf . The list soon shrunk as it was unreliable, especially when a particular newcomer—Cross—publicly and single-handedly beat two people on the list . In the end, the list changed to Four Emperors . Thus, Ten Rising Stars were like an outdated fashion magazine—unreliable and unhelpful . Just based on the fact that Montra wasn’t included in one of the ten already indicated a lot about their inaccuracy .
As for Nero’s epics, excluding the tale about him establishing the first-ever bandit group, there were only rumors about him and his band robbing other players . Still, he was only in the list because he was a pioneer for bandits . The feats he had achieved in the past could be seen anywhere by now . Even his skills were said to be mediocre, with Magic Arrow seeming to be his only decent move . He tended to fight with a group, rarely acting alone .
Fortunately, the real Nero seemed to be a magic-type, or at least was viewed as one from the majority’s perspectives . Well, it wasn’t strange since most players are prone to try using magic abilities when they first enter the game . Magic points are the only visible energy resource in the initial stage . Magic Arrow is also a basic skill that any player can learn . It is easy to cast and very safe to use, so it suits a new player .
Most veteran players, Nero probably included, tended to avoid selecting their main energy type even when they met the qualifications . They would play the game using standard and item skills . It would appear as if they could use all three energy types this way, but that wasn’t the truth at all . As long as they hadn’t selected the energy type, their rank would be stuck at Squire Rank . More importantly, not selecting the energy type would block them from learning the most important supportive skills—Basic Qi, Basic Magic, or Basic Psychic—which severely hindered the growth of their characters .
As it turned out, Nero also relied a lot on Magic Arrow in his early days . No one, at least in the majority of players, really knew which energy type he belonged to . It wouldn’t even be strange if the real Nero chose to become a magic-type player like Sila had claimed .
Based on the information found in the forum, Nero’s life as a gamer was that of a total loser . He became renowned for the briefest of moments then disappeared like a firework . Whatever he attempted had failed . Trying to play a prank on a new player? The guy turned out to be Zero, and Nero was beaten instead . Trying to flirt with a young woman? She killed him and one of his most important items dropped . The saddest event of them all was that no one even noticed when he had left the game .
Going through the information he asked Zarnak to recite for him, Sila couldn’t help but pity the man . Maybe the 16th member’s previous speech would have infuriated the real Nero . Well, Sila wasn’t Nero . He wasn’t angry, just sympathetic .
“The Shadow Army doesn’t ask about the past . Let’s stop talking about what has already happened . It’s good that we came to an understanding . Please beg my pardon,” Sila ended the conversation and asked to leave . He didn’t want the situation to escalate any further .
Sila beckoned his squad to leave . Nevertheless, the same member from the 16th squad rudely shouted at him behind his back .
“You can run away today, but we will see tomorrow how ‘legendary’ you are!”
Mugen directed his sharp gaze at the man again before saying goodbye . “We have to go back as well . See you tomorrow . ”
The conflict had ended, so the crowd gradually left the scene . Sila and his squad brought Miki back to their headquarters . Some people looked at them on their way back . Sila had a feeling that the situation where they had to carry Miki back like this must have happened before . At the very least, Alpha and Isaac seemed to know where their hands should go in order to avoid setting her off .
When they finally arrived at their headquarters, Sila asked the gang about the meaning behind the 16th squad’s member’s departing words .
“Back then . . . the man said something like we won’t be able to run away tomorrow . What did he mean?”
Alpha shook his head . “No clue . Maybe he was just being a jerk?”
“I don’t know . . . he seemed pretty serious about it . Maybe something will really happen tomorrow . . . ” added Isaac .
Miki continued, “Whatever . If they come at us tomorrow, we will just beat them down, one by one!”
“It’s about the Monthly Re-Ranking Tournament,” Midnight interrupted .
“Ah, that!” Alpha just realized . “We never had a leader, so we never bothered . ”
“What tournament?” asked Sila . Seeing Miki stop struggling, he told Isaac to let her down .
Isaac deactivated his magic, causing Miki to fall to the ground . No one helped her up, but she didn’t care in the least . She got up and wiped off the dirt on her clothing as if nothing had happened .
“It’s the Monthly Re-Ranking Tournament . It’s a system Cross put in place to measure the strength of his members . The Shadow Army was established a while back, but we only seized Colossia City recently . Knowing that the city was once called the Battle City, Sir Zero desired to revive its past glory by reintroducing the Monthly Re-Ranking Tournament . We didn’t have a squad leader so we never bothered to participate,” Alpha explained .
Sila’s objective wasn’t about taking care of the squad . He asked, “Can we not participate?”
“We could when the squad didn’t have a leader, but they said it’s mandatory when that isn’t the case . They want leaders from each squad to get to know each other . We have to at least participate, though I think we can give up halfway, maybe?”
“Should we do this kind of event? We’re at war and are currently surrounded by goblins . It isn’t the time to do something like this,” Sila expressed his opinion .
“No, Leader . This tournament is very important . The members of the Shadow Army don’t fight each other . Our ranking is mostly determined by accomplishments . However, for bottom-line squads like us, we don’t get many jobs to prove ourselves, so the event is another decisive way to promote . It also helps us get to know each other, making us ready to fight external foes . ”
“Are you afraid you will lose, Leader? No worries . We’ll win this for sure!” Miki declared with absolute confidence .
“The event doesn’t only measure the strength of leaders, but also the squad’s teamwork . There are many details . Do you want to read it yourself?” Isaac handed Sila a notice .
Sila flipped through it without thinking . However, Zarnak suddenly spoke up in his head, quite loudly, “My inattentive master, look at the reward . ”
“The reward for placing first is a decent building with a free upgrade ticket, together with a swimming pool and training facilities . It can hold a hundred people inside . ”
“Not that . I mean the consolation prize . Look at the fifth page . ”
Sila hurriedly followed its instructions, looking at the said price . “D-Grade Short Dagger . Light and easy to use . Suitable for use in kitchens . ”
“The image in this book is very small, but I spot Lady Igsia’s symbol engraved on the dagger’s handle . This dagger must have been made by a chieftain-level goblin . It could be a clue to help us find the sword . ”
Sila squinted his eyes, intently glaring at the image . All he could see on the dagger’s handle was a small dot, however . In fact, the paper’s quality was quite bad . It could’ve just been an ink stain .
“Are you sure? You won’t tell me later that you misunderstood it, right?”
“My vision is different than yours . I can see what you can’t . ”
Actually, there were only three real rewards for squads who got first to third place . The other rewards were miscellaneous and were granted to the squads with Best Teamwork, Best Qi-Type Player, Best Magic-Type Player, Best Psychic-Type Player, Most Popular, and etc . As a matter of fact, most squads participated in order to get a better rank for their squads . The rewards were just a bonus .
This was especially the case for the dagger, which was a consolation prize, so no one really cared about it . The condition to get this reward was to rank last in an activity .
Checking his squad members, Sila was relieved . ‘There is nothing to worry about . This reward is already in the bag . ’