As he toured Colossia City during the night to better familiarize himself with the situation and the city’s layout, Sila suddenly collapsed on the ground . His strength left him, rendering him completely immobile like a doll with its strings cut, his head hurting as if someone were banging drumsticks on it . Soon, a light enveloped him similar to when he logged out .
“W-What’s happening?” Sila was shocked .
Opening his eyes, he found himself in a white room with absolutely nothing inside beside him .
“Sorry for such a drastic measure, Sila, but it’s really necessary,” Joshua said as he suddenly appeared .
“Sila, something urgent has come up, so I used my right as a Game Master to temporarily force you to log out . No worry . It won’t take long . I, too, don’t have any time to spare . ”
“What is the urgent matter?” It was the first time Sila had seen Joshua looking distressed . The man’s usual calm demeanor was nowhere to be seen .
“I just adjusted your synchronization rate to its maximum level . I actually have been gradually adjusting it in order to let your brain flawlessly adapt to the new value . However, that would be too slow . Doing this way is faster, but comes with a downside . You will notice the difference immediately . Originally the idea behind virtual reality technology is to initiate virtual movements using brainwaves . By forcefully accelerating your brainwaves, you will feel the burden . I guess you will feel like your body has become heavier and you can’t execute movements properly . Still, it will be fine once you successfully adapt to it . ”
Sila frowned . “Is there a need to do that?”
“Mn . The organization is starting to move . The association doesn’t have much time left . If it’s possible, I want you to end the war as soon as you can . Actually, please don’t make it longer than one month, in-game time . ”
“One month?!” Sila loudly exclaimed . “But . . . our underground raid alone needs a whole month for the tunnel to be ready . This is without mentioning the next phase, when we’ll invade the Magic Kingdom . ”
“If the digging is going to take that long, then you must help them dig, I’d say . I’m telling you this because I wish you well . The sooner the selection comes to an end, the more time you’ll have to cope with the organization . ”
Sila was deep in thought . Actually, idly waiting was never his style . If he managed to solve the goblin problem within a few days, his next assignment would be helping Cross’ raid . There were as many strategies as there were stars in the sky, so maybe he could find some way to accelerate the end of the war .
“That’s all I have to say . Oh, another thing . Don’t trust anyone too much . I know for certain that there is a traitor close to us . It’s unfortunate that I can’t discern their identity . ”
Sila nodded . Before he could say anything, however, Joshua forcefully expelled him from the room .
Still in the same room, Joshua opened his system window and continued his work . In order to not raise Ziz’s suspicions, he mustn’t contact Sila or Montra until after all of this was over .
“This way, Sila’s synchronization rate is now on par with Typhon’s . The rest is on him as to how far he can push himself with it . As for Montra . . . his brain scanner is a normal model, so I can’t directly interfere with him . Still, even if he is not aware of it, Cynthia gave him the special reward . Beyond that, I can only hope that he doesn’t get caught by Ziz . ”
Within the organization, Joshua was one of the core members in the Research and Development Department . He had been spending a significant amount of funds, provided by the organization, on his personal project . Each technology he provided them was a degraded version of the original . For example, the brain scanner that Typhon had used was worse than what Sila was currently using . Thus, the realm that Typhon reached in ten years would be within Sila’s reach after only a few months .
Joshua had done everything he could think of . The future would be decided by the victor of the war event .
Sila reappeared on the cold, hard street of Colossia City . He slowly got up and swept dirt from his Beggar’s Cloak . It took him an instant to understand what Joshua told him . Despite everything being the same, he clearly felt that merely moving his muscles required more effort . It was as if he was an athlete who had stopped working out for years . His senses were still as sharp as before, but that only made the sluggish state of his body clearer .
“Well, it’s fine . I have always thought that I need to train harder . This feels like I have weights strapped to my body . ”
Sila tried moving his body around . He discovered that his qi still circulated at its usual speed, and only his movements had become slightly unsmooth . It wouldn’t make much of a difference in normal situations but would prove to be fatal during battles against someone of Kawin or Montra’s caliber .
This made Sila more eager to train himself diligently . He kept circulating qi even when he walked around, staying focused on qi concealment . At the same time, he deliberately gradually released magic power from his skin . This way, from the eyes of high-level magic-type players who had attained the essence of magic, he wouldn’t look any different from other magic-type players .
“There is no need to overcomplicate things . ” Sila opened his system window and contacted Bluebird .
Before Joshua forced him to log out, Sila was preoccupied with how to get his hands on the consolation reward . It was a reward for the squad that placed last, so no one really cared about it . Thus, he planned to bluntly ask Bluebird, the host of the activity, for it . He was willing to trade it for something of higher value .
Listening to Sila’s proposal, Bluebird opened his system window, then he showed a distressed expression .
“Too bad . Sorry, pal, but I can’t do that . ”
“Why not?” Sila didn’t understand . He saw no problem, especially when this was about the reward for the last place .
“You still don’t get how Colossia City’s tournament system works . The host like us can request the system for the type of tournament and add rewards, but—to prevent cheating—the system will handle the rest . You can say it’s like we’re sponsoring the system to hold a tournament . We can add rewards, but we can’t withdraw them . ”
Sila frowned . “Is there a cheating prevention measure? Why now? Back then when I participated, Cross cheated me time and time again . He had no issues making my life harder . ”
“The Royal Armament Guild didn’t cheat you over the rewards . They just bent the rules, which can always be adjusted . The system will ask for the participants’ permissions though . Do you remember?”
“So I have no choice but to participate, I guess . ”
Bluebird looked up the details of the tournament . “Mn . By the way, this tournament is not a direct fight . It’s more about measuring each squad’s overall ability . Even if you try your best, your squad might get last place anyway . There should be no problems if you’re aiming for that reward . . . Ah?”
Sila was about to feel relief that things were going well . Noticing Bluebird’s sudden frown, however, his worry grew .
“This is bad . . . Who included such a rule? Boss, maybe . ” Bluebird swept his eyes across the details again, sighing . “Tough luck . There is no leeway for this . ”
“Listen, about this tournament, it’s okay for your team’s score to be the lowest . However, at least half of the team’s members must advance to the final round in order for the squad to be able to obtain any reward . In your case, your squad has five members, so it should round up to three . ”
“It depends on the other members, then?” Sila became more worried . He was very confident if the result would be decided solely by him . On the contrary, he didn’t know what he could expect from his teammates .
“Some squads have many members while some don’t . I guess Boss included this rule to make it a fair game,” speculated Bluebird .
Sila started reading the details again . They were written in small letters and could be easily overlooked . Nevertheless, the rules indeed stated this much .
“What kind of activities are included anyway? This notice doesn’t explain much . All I know is that the tournament will measure members’ abilities, the squad’s performance, and the leader’s ability . ”
Bluebird showed a distressed expression again, “Honestly speaking, I also have no idea . We’re busy with many things, so we leave everything about the tournament to the system’s care . Unlike other events in other cities, Colossia City’s tournament can be randomized, which I guess is for the sake of excitement . Well, it’s a lot cheaper, so we let the system randomly decide what kind of mini-events the tournament will contain . ”
“Random? Won’t that be dangerous? The Shadow Army shouldn’t risk competing against themselves too much . What if there is an accident and people die?”
“Easy, man . It’s gonna be fine . We already informed the system about it and they said there is no need to worry . There won’t be any fights to the death . In any dangerous mini-events, they will give each participant a substitution doll . It’s an event-exclusive item . When one dies, it will break, and the owner of the doll will live on, but be eliminated from the event . ”
Sila sighed . He had been talking to Bluebird for quite a while but got nothing useful . Since he didn’t have to sleep, he planned to use his time wisely, finding more clues in the city .
“Whatever . I will find a way . Maybe I will try to purchase it from the squad that gets the prize . ”
“Oh, smart move . That should be easy . My role ends here, right? It’s late at night, you’re not being considerate at all . I only slept for a few minutes before you came along . ”
“You can sleep in my mansion, you know . That place has a high recovery rate . Sleeping a couple of hours there will refresh you,” suggested Sila .
“I don’t want to feel refreshed! I want to sleep! The more I sleep, the less I have to work . Who in their right mind would want to work a lot?”
Sila was close to Bluebird, but he was still fed up with the man .
“Up to you, then . One last question though . Are there strange things happening in Colossia City? It can be anything, even trivial matters . I’m searching for something that might or might not be hiding in Colossia City . ”
Bluebird yawned, wiping a teardrop from the corner of his eye . “Are you looking for fireflies?”
“Outside of the city in the north, there is a small grass hill . Fireflies have recently been coming out at night there . The view is exceptionally beautiful with them around . It has become one of the ten most romantic spots in Monster Soul . You’ll get a good score if you bring your date there . ” Bluebird gave Sila a thumbs up .
Sila felt it was rather dumb . “Anything else?”
“Well, you should already know this, but goblins are setting up camps on the west side . Be careful if you plan to go in that direction . ”
“Thanks . Before you sleep, please send me the information about fireflies,” Sila requested as he closed his system window . He had expected to hear useful intel from Bluebird . However, as it turned out, he got nothing aside from the sudden appearance of fireflies .
“Zarnak, are fireflies related in any way to the Goddess Igsia?”
“I think not . ”
The intel soon arrived in Sila's system window . It was unexpectedly well-written . Key messages were highlighted and the document was well-organized . It was the kind of work that Bluebird wouldn’t do .
“Fireflies didn’t just show up yesterday, so they shouldn’t be related to the release of Demonic Armaments . Some people have already investigated the spot but discovered nothing . They can only speculate that the area is somehow special since monsters have never shown up . ”
“Such a phenomenon means that the area is under Lady Cynthia’s divine protection . Most human habitats are like that . ”
“I guess so . Well, I heard that monsters have been invading some cities lately . I’m starting to wonder whether the Goddess is really protecting humanity or not . ”
Sila walked slowly to the north of the city . The world was at war, so the atmosphere was quite tense . He could spot members of some squads stationed on roofs and walls . Fortunately, he had the leader badge, so no one came to question him . This was the first time he was thankful for the fact that he was appointed as a squad leader . At least he could roam free in the city to some degree .
The main gate located on the north side of the city was shut tight, but a small gate next to it was still open for entering and exiting, albeit having a security check . The Shadow Army didn’t care about people’s past or their real identities, so guards only checked the validation of the badge . One of the guards came to touch Sila’s badge once, then let him go .
The grass hill had a gradual slope, glowing under the moonlight and several groups of fireflies . Some couples had chosen to take some time off, escaping from the brutality of the war to enjoy the mesmerizing sight .
Sila heard a whistle . This place had many people, so he didn’t expect someone to call him .
“Nero— I mean, Leader! This way!”
At first, Sila forgot that his alias was Nero . It took a couple of seconds before he realized it and turned his head to see the speaker .
“As expected of our Leader . You even tracked us to this place,” commented Isaac .
Surprisingly, all of his squad members were there, leaning on the city wall . Sila approached them .
“I thought you were at the headquarters,” Sila greeted them . As a matter of fact, he didn’t use the search function of the leader badge . Coming across his squad members was a total coincidence .
“It’s no fun there . Come, Leader, sit with us and watch the show . ”
Sila sat down, next to everyone . Alpha turned to Miki . “Leader is with us this time . Don’t make a mistake . ”
Miki showed a victory pose and grinned . She donned a mask and a cloak, then approached a particular couple . Confused, Sila was about to ask what she planned to do but was stopped by Alpha .
Miki stopped in front of the couple . She sobbed . “Seeing you happier this way, I can finally be at ease . Farewell, my darling . I will never forget you . ”
As the couple were thoroughly shocked and didn’t know how to respond, they couldn’t stop Miki before she ran away, her eyes gradually tearing up .
Sila wondered . “Erm . . . Why did she do that?”
“For the sake of our job . Just wait and see . ”
The couple started to fight as expected . The woman slapped the man and rushed back to the city while the only action the man could do was call out at her . He actually tried to follow her, but stumbled on the grass, falling .
Sila noticed that Isaac had controlled the grass to catch the man’s ankle beforehand . By the time the man had gotten back on his feet, his girlfriend was long gone .
Alpha calmly approached the man . “Did your girlfriend catch you having an affair? Too bad, bro . ”
“What? I’m not having an affair . This is just a misunderstanding . I will explain it to her later . ”
Alpha tapped the man’s shoulder . “Man, seeing this sure brings back painful memories . You know what, bro? I also broke up with my girlfriend because of a misunderstanding like this . Women won’t listen to us when they’re angry . ”
“Oi? Really? Will this dumb misunderstanding lead to us breaking up?”
“From what I saw just now, I think she really isn’t going to listen to you . How about this, bro? My squad is quite free . Do you want me to explain it to her in your place?”
The man’s face was brimming with hope . “Can you? Thanks! I will return this favor later . ”
“There is no need for that, bro . I just want to help . By the way, I’m Alpha from the 99th squad . This is my name card . You can keep it . ” Alpha handed the man his name card and agreed to meet again later in a restaurant .
Alpha returned to the team . He didn’t have to see through Sila’s mask to know that his new leader was making a doubtful expression right now .
“No need to worry, Leader . Miki already followed that woman . She will apologize to her for mistaking her boyfriend for someone else . ”
Isaac explained, “This way, later when he has some trivial jobs, he might ask us to support his squad and share some of the earnings . ”
“Have you been doing this a lot?” asked Sila .
“If you mean ‘this approach’, then no . We don’t always do this since the success rate is rather low . We have to observe whether the woman is hot-tempered . Most of the time, we let Isaac run in front of a caravan and cry like a little girl, asking for compensation . Other times, we let Midnight act depressed in a restaurant, begging for sympathy,” Alpha explained .
“I didn’t cry like a little girl!! I was just completely immersed in the character!” Isaac argued loudly .
Sila shook his head, wearing a dumbfounded expression . Apparently, his squad wasn’t just the weakest . Even the squad members themselves were troublemakers . As their leader, he believed he had to do something to fix this .
If he failed to properly guide these four people, he wouldn’t dare to imagine the future when he became the Wulin Lord and had all of the people in the underworld working under him .