Chapter 349: The Puzzle Maze
A commotion overtook the scene as some players protested that there had been an unexpected turn of events, causing dozens of squads to be ousted from the competition . Meanwhile, most squad leaders didn’t mind the commotion . They quickly sent messages to their members, asking them to patrol the city for potential threats .
The female NPC summoned her system window . She could watch recordings from any angle and any point of time since it was her duty to inspect problems . Watching the replay, she subtly glanced at Sila then closed her system window .
“There are no anomalies, ladies and gentlemen . The tournament shall continue as planned . Allow me to explain the contents of the next round . ”
“Wait! What do you mean?! You should explain to us what happened back there! We have the right to know!” One of the eliminated participants shouted .
“You’re absolutely right, sir . Everyone has their own rights, and it is my duty to preserve that,” replied the NPC .
“What do you mean?” The same person persisted .
A brown-haired man in a leather jacket, his appearance clean and handsome, stepped up . He carried a round shield on his back while there was a sword strapped to his waist . Seeing the man’s badge, Sila identified him as the 9th squad leader, making the man the first single-digit squad leader he had met so far .
“Don’t you understand? It means the previous outburst of power was done by a particular participant . Directing people’s attention to somewhere else while hoarding all the marbles . We should have expected you to rely on such a trick, Mister 99th Squad Leader, the Thief Monarch . ”
All gazes eventually shifted to Sila . They didn’t recognize him at first but the whispers going around changed that soon after .
Sila silently pondered as he didn’t understand . He was sure his actions went unnoticed, yet why was it that this man managed to determine that it was him?
The NPC smiled mildly . From the replay, she knew Sila really didn’t make any mistakes . However, some psychic-types possess skills that allow them to see past events or even catch a glimpse of the future . If their mastery is high enough, they can even record it, just like how Asura recorded Montra’s encounter with Kimon . The 9th squad leader had a similar skill .
Other people half-believed the 9th squad leader’s claim at first, but they were convinced by Sila’s silence .
“Given your ability, it’s not strange for you to be appointed as a squad leader . Miss Host, you may explain the rules for the next round . ”
“Thank you, sir . The next round will start exactly at midday . Each participating squad leader will have to select one member from their squad to escape a maze . ”
A crystal ball the size of a bowling ball appeared on each squad leader’s hand, including the ones that had been eliminated from the tournament . The crystal ball was projecting the scene of an empty room .
“You may observe your selected member, but you can’t assist them unless you pay some marbles . I will explain this in more detail later .
“There are a total of two hundred rooms in the maze, all connected to each other . In each room, you will find six doors, one on each wall, one on the floor, and one on the ceiling .
“Please note that some doors are locked . In each room, the number of doors that can be opened varies from one to six, meaning you can exit through any door if you’re lucky . Every time a member passes through to the next room, their squad leader will immediately get a non-numeric marble as a reward . On the other hand, if they try to open a locked door, the squad leader will lose a marble . Do know that you can’t simply return to the previous room through the door you used to enter your current room . ”
“What if we run out of marbles?” asked one of the participants .
“There will be no problems, sir . You will immediately get one marble if you open the right door, but if you choose wrongly, the system will only note it . The number of marbles will be deducted at the end of the round . You only have to possess at least one marble at the end of the round in order to proceed to the next round . This round lasts three hours, by the way . ”
“You mean . . . we don’t even have to exit the maze?”
“Yes, sir . Your squad will pass the round even if you’re still inside the maze, so long as you have the marbles . Exiting the maze will give you fifty marbles though . ”
These rules called for different lines of thinking . Not exiting the maze at all but farming marbles by continuing to go through the right doors became a viable strategy .
“Even the squads that were eliminated from the preliminary round can participate in this round, though we will ask you for thirty marbles at the end of the round as a fee for re-entering the competition . Be warned that the layout of the maze will change every half an hour . Also, your squad will be deducted one marble if the member stays in one room longer than ten minutes . ”
The duration of the round was three whole hours, meaning if they were lucky, they might have an overwhelming number of marbles at the end .
“There is one more rule about additional points . Every time a participant chooses a locked door and loses a point, that particular room will absorb the point they lost . If another participant exits that room by choosing the right door in their first try, they will get the room’s accumulated points as a bonus . Please know that you can’t inflict damage to other participants . If you do, your squad will be disqualified . ”
By now, some squad leaders had already been discussing the rules, especially those of psychic-type since they were generally good at finding loopholes and exploits . The host’s previous statement meant they could do anything as long as they dealt zero damage to their target .
“Lastly, those with numeric marbles will have a special privilege . You may spend numeric marbles to bring more people from your squad to the maze . One marble per additional member . You can do this whenever you want, but the new member will always start in your starting room . ”
Having more members naturally increased the chances to gain points, though it also increased the possibility of losing them instead . It could be a difficult choice to make .
“That is all, ladies and gentlemen . You may take your time to prepare and choose a starting member . Please ask them to assemble in this location three hours from now . ”
All of the squad leaders split up, returning to discuss the next round with their squads . Miki cut through a crowd to Sila and jerked his cloak .
“Hey! Hey! Leader, did you really do what that guy claimed you did? Awesome!”
“It’s not good enough . If it was truly awesome, no one should have noticed it . ” Sila waved his hand .
“Wow~ Our rank will soar to the top at this rate,” Isaac said happily .
Alpha shook his head . “I doubt it . Our points may drop down to the bottom in this round . It sounds very luck dependent . And our squad has bad luck . ”
“It shouldn’t be totally luck dependent, I guess,” Midnight muttered .
“You’re right . It must be some kind of test, determining our decision-making ability . Who among us is the most suitable for this kind of mission?” asked Sila .
Alpha voiced his opinion, “If it’s about decision-making, that would be Midnight . He is not talkative, that’s for sure, but he’s competent . ”
“Mn . Let’s spend one marble, sending Midnight and Alpha into the game . ”
“Ehh?! Just the two of them?” Miki argued, “I want to participate too!”
“Two people should be enough . Although the rule forbids participants from harming each other, it’s still possible to hinder competitors by other means . With two of you, you will be able to help each other . ”
“What do you want the rest of us to do?” Isaac was secretly delighted that he didn’t have to directly participate .
“Miki and Isaac, you two have to act as my envoys to negotiate with other squads . Tell them that I’m willing to exchange marbles with them as long as their offer is satisfying . My aim is to trade our numeric marbles for their future non-numeric ones . Both of you must know a lot of places and where each squad lives . Tell them I’ll be waiting on the second floor of the restaurant in front of the Colosseum . ”
“Why should we exchange them, Leader? Wouldn’t it be better if we keep them? At the end of the final round, we will surprise everyone with bonus points,” Miki expressed her disagreement .
“About that . . . the host mentioned that the post-round deduction would take marbles away, not points . If we happen to lose this round, we will have to pay using our precious numeric marbles . Instead, we should trade some of them away for non-numeric ones . ”
“I see . The numeric ones are worth ten points but still count as one marble . They will lose their value if we have to give them up . It’s better to trade them for ten one-point marbles . ” Miki finally understood .
“Yeah . Also, the ones that match the other squad’s number are only worth ten points for us, but fifty for them . Considering their value, I think we should be able to exchange each of them for at least thirty non-numeric marbles . ”
“Their net score will increase though,” commented Midnight .
“True . Still, it’s better to have a lot of marbles . We should be concerned about who we are going to trade with though . If they lose the round, we will get nothing from them . Come to think of it . . . Do you know anything about that guy just now? That 9th squad leader, I mean . ”
“Oh! That’s Mister Saharat,” Isaac replied almost instantly, “A psychic-type player . He is Miss Risa’s big brother . I heard that he is quite skilled . He has been playing Monster Soul for a long time . He doesn’t play full-time, however, so he isn’t as well-known as most players of his level . ”
Alpha yanked Isaac with his elbow . “Oh, boy . You’re always quick when it comes to that lady . Though you’re so slow in one aspect, not hitting on her already . ”
“I am not . I simply answered the Leader’s question,” Isaac argued, embarrassed .
Miki snorted . “He is nothing but a stalker . What a psycho . ”
“That’s harsh, Miss Miki! You better call me the Silent Follower instead . ”
Sila secretly probed Zero’s reaction, but there was nothing to see . This meant that the previous time was either Sila’s imagination, or Zero had learned how to control his magic power to not fluctuate because of his emotions .
“Let’s spend our time wisely, then! Leader, you may head to the restaurant . The four of us will spread the word . When the round is about to start, Midnight and I will go to the area . ”
Everyone scattered . Sila casually walked to the restaurant, entered it, and sat at a table near a balcony . This restaurant was the same one in which he had celebrated his victory in the past . Only a few months had passed since then, but it felt much longer to Sila .
Sila ordered the wonton noodle soup . The more time he spent in the game, the less time he thought he had . He hadn’t eaten food for a very long time .
Sila slightly lifted his mask up, showing only the lower part of his face, and slowly chewed on the noodles .
“Eating simple noodles, huh? I thought the Thief Monarch would be richer than this . Please let me treat you to a proper meal, then . ”
A newcomer ordered several dishes and asked the waiter to push the tables together . He leisurely sat opposite to Sila, a confident smile hanging on his face .
Observing the man, Sila noticed that the newcomer was a magic-type player wearing a magician’s robe . His eyes were ocean-blue . A calm and soothing sensation could be sensed from his magic power . His badge implied that he was the 4th squad leader .
“I joined the army only recently, so I don’t really know anyone else . Could you please tell me your name?”
“Hm? The legendary Thief Monarch is more humble than I thought . This is unexpected . ”
The man deliberately shot off sarcastic comments, calling him the ‘legendary’ Thief Monarch . The term sounded like a compliment, but the man had investigated Nero’s background and found that the Thief Monarch was actually a loser . Aside from the fact that he established the first bandit gang, everything Nero had done was unsuccessful and humiliating .
Sila hadn’t studied Nero’s background yet . He only knew a little about the man, though he could detect sarcasm in the newcomer’s tone . Fortunately, he wasn’t the real Nero, or he might have fallen into rage otherwise .
“Experience . Time . There are many things that can change a person’s life . You may consider me to be a completely different person from the Nero that played Monster Soul when it first launched . ”
“Who knows? Maybe you really aren’t the real Nero . ”
“We’re in a virtual reality game . We’re always pretending to be someone we aren’t . Don’t you agree?”
Following Sila’s comments was the sound of clapping . Sila didn’t even need to shift his gaze to know that Lone Wolf was approaching his table . Lone Wolf joined the conversation without asking for anybody’s permission . He simply sat down in the chair next to the 4th squad leader . Hermit, wearing a mask, also accompanied him .
“You’re absolutely right . Exactly as Nero said, we don’t have to be ourselves in a virtual reality game . By the way, Undine, there is a lot of food, I take it that you don’t mind me joining the table . What about you, Nero?”
Sila finally learned the name of his sudden conversation partner . He was still clueless about why these people approached him so fast, however . Considering the time, his members shouldn’t have spread the news too far, meaning these people actually followed him here .
“The food isn’t mine . You’re free to eat whatever you want,” Sila replied as he continued to eat his noodles .
Hermit volunteered to cut the food into portions and share them equally between the people at the table . However, except for Lone Wolf, no one had touched the shared food yet . An awkward silence overtook the table for a whole minute .
“I suppose you aren’t here to simply watch me eat, no?” Sila asked after he put down his empty bowl .
“I don’t know why these two came, but I’m here to negotiate . If things go well, both of our squads may pass the round with the highest scores,” Undine explained .
The conversation was interrupted by a flood of people entering the restaurant . The restaurant owner naturally welcomed such a sight and asked the waiters to set up more tables . Apparently, some squad leaders had heard the news and decided to gather in this place . Some of them even blatantly joined Sila’s table .
The restaurant owner approached Undine . “Excuse me, sir . Do you want us to prepare the same set of dishes for the other guests?”
Undine smirked . His 4th squad was wealthy as they got many high-paying jobs . He didn’t mind spending some cash to show off his broad mind . Who knows? Some of the talents in this restaurant might be interested in joining his squad in the future .
“Never mind the people at this table, I’m willing to treat every customer . A single meal won’t affect my squad’s finances in any way . You can eat like this every day if you’re in the 4th squad . ”
Hearing his words, some people admired Undine’s generosity while some found him irritating . The 40th squad leader at the next table, in particular, stood up and shouted .
“Oi! Didn’t you hear him? Sir Undine the squad leader is not poor like us plebeians . He can easily afford to treat us all . What are we waiting for? Call every off-duty person to this place . Their meal is free!!!”
A few dozen other squads followed the man’s example, asking their members to assemble . The restaurant owner eventually had to bring out more tables, even setting them up on the street . All of the food kept vanishing as soon as it was served . Since Undine didn’t set a budget, the owner took the chance to continue serving dish after dish .Please download our sponsor's game to support us!