Chapter 351: A Battle of Wits
While most of the players had left, the rest were still willing to negotiate with Sila . There were fourteen squads that agreed to exchange marbles . They promised to give ten unnumbered marbles to him as soon as they had them . This meant Sila technically had 140 unnumbered marbles on him . Coupled with the remaining six numbered marbles on him, his total score was 200 points .
It was unfortunate that, among the twenty marbles Sila collected in the preliminary round, the 0th and 99th weren’t there .
As a negotiation could happen anytime, even during the round, everyone decided to stay in the restaurant . They rarely talked to each other, however, since they were focusing on the round that was about to start .
An image of each squad’s representative appeared on a crystal ball, or more than one person if the squad leader paid for an extra member to be sent in . Sila saw Midnight and Alpha appear in a rectangular room . The two were looking left and right, wondering which doors they should pick .
Sila sensed someone’s magic power . It turned out that Undine was levitating next to a window . There was no sign of other players .
“Did you forget something, Undine?” Sila greeted the man without looking his way . He was focusing on the image of his squad members .
Undine shook his head while landing on a balcony . “I didn’t . The sight of a loser just happens to be my favorite thing to watch . The joy coming from seeing a man feeling hopeless right in front of me is incomparable . A bit disappointed that you’re wearing a mask though . ”
“The round has only just started . Don’t you think you’re jumping to the conclusion too fast? The results of this round have yet to be decided . ”
Undine chuckled . “You’re quite innocent, Mister Thief Monarch . The results had already been set in my head when I heard the rules . In my eyes, you have been eliminated even before the game started . You’ll know what I mean soon . ”
Everyone in the restaurant noticed Undine and heard his speech, but no one cared . Except for Sila, everyone seemed to know Undine’s personality . It wasn’t the time for them to worry about Sila’s squad, however, so they continued to watch their crystal balls .
Sila decided to ignore Undine, thinking that the man was simply bluffing . His 99th squad had the best score right now, so it was nearly impossible for the squad to drop out in this round .
“Oh! It’s starting . Don’t take your eyes off of it,” Undine spoke up as he observed the image in Sila’s crystal ball .
“What is happening?!” Sila was thoroughly shocked . He had shifted his attention to Undine for only a moment, but the situation unfolding in the crystal ball had changed a lot . Alpha and Midnight were bound to one of the doors by a thick white rope with a talisman on it . There was another person in the room, who was likely to be the one responsible for trapping his teammates like that . The system also informed him that his squad had lost two points .
“It’s a checkmate, Mister Thief Monarch,” Undine explained, “You think the round is luck-dependent, right? It’s actually not . The key to pass this round is cooperation . While you sent two members into the maze, my alliance sent one member per squad with an agreement that we’ll help each other while hindering other squads outside of the alliance . Every time we open a door, regardless of whether it is the right door or not, we will leave behind a symbol . This helps our alliance to reliably keep collecting points . ”
Alpha and Midnight’s bodies were touching the locked door, so the system determined that they chose incorrectly and deducted points . Apparently, Undine’s plan involved sealing other squads’ movements right after the round started . There were ninety-nine squads participating but there were only two hundred rooms . Considering that the system wouldn’t let them start in the room near the maze’s exit, Undine speculated that there was a high chance that some of the participants would start in the same room or at least be clustered around the same area . It was highly likely that the participants would stumble upon others after opening a few doors . Thus, if they completely ignored the score during the early stage of the game, it should be quite easy to find members of the 99th squad, which had the highest score .
Undine had enlisted the help of a squad member who possessed a Unique Magic called ‘Mystic Talisman’, which was a magic ability similar to Clute’s Rune Magic and Sila’s Artifact Manifestation . The user could write a mystic symbol on a talisman, then later use it without having to cast the spell .
One of the severe downsides of this magic was that it was expensive to use . A writable talisman was an item that couldn’t be created by players yet, and the system sold them at a high price . Fortunately, the Heavenly Dragon Guild greatly discounted magic items in the Magic Kingdom, so it was affordable . The other downside of the magic was that the written talisman represented the user . If it was destroyed while it was active, the talisman activator would suffer the damage depending on the level of the spell they wrote in the talisman . It carried a lot of risks, so using talismans must be done in moderation .
Undine noticed this particular downside and made use of it . He gave written talismans to everyone in his alliance, fifty of them per person . Each talisman could function for fifteen minutes . The talisman only restrained the target’s torso as they could still move their arms, legs, and even use energy reinforcement . Under normal circumstances, the target would be able to easily tear it apart . However, with the rules that prevented causing damage to another participant, if they destroyed the talisman, their squad would immediately be disqualified .
Every time Alpha or Midnight tried to break free from their restraints, the system would constantly warn them of their impending disqualification, confusing them .
Undine gladly told Sila the effects of the talisman and continued, “There are some psychic abilities that allow the user to remove the talisman without causing damage . However, such skills are rare and all members of the 99th squad are magic-types, so I doubt they have them . It’s already game over for you, Mister Thief Monarch . ”
Sila’s expression changed under his mask . His squad’s score continued to fall every passing second . He eventually decided to spend ten points in order to send a short message to his members in the maze .
“Alpha, Midnight, don’t move . The system judges that you are choosing the wrong door every time you move, deducting points as punishment . Also, don’t touch the talisman, or our squad will be immediately disqualified . Just stay still until time runs out . ”
Undine slightly bowed to Sila once before he levitated out . “Getting to see this restless look of yours, I’m glad that I came to visit . I wish you well . Hope you can enter the next round . ”
Sila pondered his mistakes . He had greatly underestimated Undine’s strategic prowess . He always thought he alone could subdue everyone, but he failed to see the truth, that the world didn’t revolve around him alone . Even the strongest can lose a fight if faced with superior strategies .
Zero was a qi-type player with offensive magic ability . He was hiding his strength, so he didn’t choose to dodge the sudden assault . Still, even if he were to get serious, the best he could do would be dodging around . Under the rules that prevented the use of violence, he was at an extreme disadvantage .
The player belonging to Undine’s alliance tried opening several doors . Once he found the right door, he wrote some strange symbols on the floor next to each door he had tried to open . It had to be some kind of code, informing the alliance which doors were locked and which was the right one .
Sixteen semi-transparent marbles floated in the center of the room . They represented the bonus points coming from players choosing the wrong doors .
A few minutes later, another man entered the room . He looked at Alpha and Midnight, read the strange letters on the floor, took out talismans, and put them on top of the previous ones . He then proceeded to the correct door, opened it, and collected all the accumulated points .
Sila was impatient, but refused to let it show on his face . He tapped his finger on the table, re-evaluating the situation . A battle of wits was still a battle . Once fallen, it was difficult to turn the tables . To change the flow of a losing battle, tactics and experience were a must, though Undine seemed to be superior to Sila in both areas .
Sila continued to think until he was sure that there was nothing left he could do . He took out the Story of A Hundred Swords to read, waiting for the end of the round . He slowly flipped through each page as if he was perfectly calm .
For some matters, slower will be faster . Being too hurried might instead cause it to become more complicated and slow things down . Cooling his head and slowly considering his next moves were the best course of action Sila could possibly do . There would surely be a solution as long as he kept thinking .
Three hours quickly passed . Some people in the restaurant felt sorry for Sila while some were disappointed that he was completely crushed by Undine despite the previous show-off .
Although Alpha tried his best not to move, staying still for three whole hours was still too much . Fortunately, Zero could do it at ease, or the number of points deducted would be twice what the final amount ended up at .
Even after considering the points from numbered marbles he got from the preliminary round, the current score of the 99th squad was minus 665 points .
Which meant . . . being eliminated from the tournament, exactly like Undine had said .
The system informed each squad leader to pay their marbles at Colosseum . Sila closed the book, got up, and spoke with the people remaining in the restaurant .
“I’ll be blunt . May I borrow your surplus marbles?”
The question was to be expected . The rules didn’t specify the method to acquire marbles, meaning they could be traded or given away . Unlike Undine’s alliance, the squads in the restaurant didn’t cooperate, so each of them only had around 70-80 marbles . The amount was high since some squads managed to exit the maze . Nevertheless, it paled in comparison to Undine’s side, with even the most unsuccessful squad scoring at least 600 points .
Aqua was the first to reply . “It’s not like we’re against you, but the first round already proved your ‘reliability’ . I, for one, don’t think you have what it takes to return them to us . ”
“I understand . That’s why I won’t borrow them for free . I will double the amount when I return . And if I can’t return them to you, I’m willing to compensate them, each marble for a thousand gold . ”
His declaration shocked everyone . They naturally didn’t believe that someone had that level of wealth .
“A thousand gold per marble? Your squad’s score is minus 665 points, which equals to over half a million . It can be converted to six million in real life . Are you for real? Do you even have that kind of money?”
Sila proved it with actions rather than words . He opened his palm and poured a ridiculous amount of gold coins on the table . “Wanna count?”
A pile of gold made the people’s eyes bulge out, speechless . Some continued to rub their eyes, refusing to believe what they were seeing .
Miki and Isaac had seen a mountain of gold that towered over their heads, so they were not as shocked as others . Still, they couldn’t help but be stunned, wondering when and how their leader had snatched the gold during their short stay in the well . The title Thief Monarch was truly fitting .
Sila took all the gold back as it was only to show them he could pay for the marbles . Some people were still dazed even after the gold had returned to his system window . Mercenaries like them technically worked for money . The reason why they desired higher ranks in the Shadow Army was that they wanted solid jobs with high returns .
Unlike the Merchants Association, however, money was simply a convenience, not their sole objective . While money was an important drive for them, excitement, thrills, and a sense of accomplishment were also parts of what made them become mercenaries .
Sila made contracts, borrowing 30-40 marbles from each of the squads, and managed to proceed to the next round . He was deep in the red, of course .
Sila gave the marbles to the host in the Colosseum amidst the gazes, from many players, that looked down on him, ridiculing his foolishness . Undine observed him from a distance, though the man showed no expression . It seemed his interest in Sila had already vanished .
All of this started because of Sila’s desire to obtain a single dagger, yet already he had put in a lot of effort . Sure, a part of it was because of his ego, but it wasn’t the sole reason . Sila wanted to test his qualities as a leader . The final battle wouldn’t simply be about him and Montra, but between the Heavenly Dragon Guild and the Wicked Union .
A lone man couldn’t accomplish everything by himself . Sila understood this fact .
He didn’t intend to solve problems with money . In fact, the money should be invested in other important matters . He only spent it to buy time . He was confident that he could recoup his costs in future rounds . The next two rounds would test the squad’s teamwork and the ability of the leader, meaning he could directly participate in both of them .
He must regain what he had lost . This was Sila’s current mindset .
The female NPC walked to the center of the arena . “Good afternoon, everyone . You all must have seen the changes in the leaderboard . The second round will start soon, testing your squad’s overall capability and also your ability to acquire information . Please look this way . ”
She waved her hand backward, and a giant monster suddenly appeared in a cage, making many players flinch and unconsciously take a few steps back . On her palm was a transparent small box, a miniature version of the identical monster inside .
The monster’s appearance wasn’t like anything the players had encountered . If they were asked to describe it, they would say it resembled a giant spider, but with four legs, each looking as sharp as blades . Its skin seemed thick and solid, like some kind of high-grade metal armor . There were ancient letters engraved all over its body .
“We will give this box to every squad . Inside the box is a special dimension that you will enter in order to fight a monster similar to this one here . We have adjusted the stats of the monster in the box to a hundredth of the original . Still, I warn you to be extremely careful since it is very strong . Don’t forget to activate the substitution doll we handed out previously . We refuse to be responsible for any deaths that occur . The rules are simple . Before 9 p . m . , you have to return this box to me without the monster inside . Once delivered, you will get 100 marbles as a reward . On the other hand, the squad that can’t kill it will lose 1,000 points . You can only proceed to the final round if your score is a plus . ”
The deduction of points in this round was exceptionally cruel since the system gave a lot of time for participants to gather information about the monster . As mercenaries, they were expected to overcome difficulties blocking their ways . The time was plenty for them to gather information and exchange what they discovered with other squads . Although the reward was only 100 points, they could technically obtain more of them from selling the vital piece of information they found .
‘There is finally this kind of trial . It seems I’m not that unlucky . ’ Sila let out a sigh of relief .
“This monster comes from a particular world called the Monster Realm . The box allows you to see what is inside, but you can’t sense its power . You will have to enter if you want to know what kind of abilities it possesses .
“We won’t give you any information about it . However, there exists a sure-way method to defeat it, and every squad is capable of using this . Ah . . . ?”
The female NPC stopped talking as she saw Sila walking into the cage . “Mister 99th Squad Leader, please stop . It’s dangerous! The one inside that cage is the original, its strength hasn’t been adjusted!”
The warnings entered Sila’s ears, but he ignored it as he was listening to something else . Passing through the cage, Sila entered a special dimension with the monster inside . He opened his palm, showing the Crouching Demon Arrow . It exploded into a smokescreen that blocked all vision .
“He must be too embarrassed by the result of the first round and decided to suicide . Hahaha!” One of the players said loudly, which led to waves of laughter . Only a few remained silent .
Isaac and Miki panicked . Alpha stepped forward, about to follow Sila into the cage . However, Midnight grabbed the man’s hand and shook his head . “Let’s wait . ”
A few seconds later, Sila exited the cage . The black screen in the cage started to subside .
The female NPC checked her system window and discovered a shocking fact . Her expression noticeably changed . The same expression also showed up on the rest of the faces present . The black screen was finally gone, revealing the corpse of the monster lying inside .
Sila declared loudly, “For 50 points, I will tell you how to kill this monster . The price will increase by 50 each hour . Either come early or submit to struggling . As for Mister Undine, you were especially ‘kind’ to me in the first round, so I have a special price for you . It starts at 500 points and will increase by however much I feel like and whenever I feel like increasing it . You can find me at the same restaurant . No need to treat me to a meal . ”
Sila walked away without minding their gazes . The female NPC hurriedly handed him the box, a dry smile showing on her face . “That monster doesn’t count, sir . This box is yours . ”
Sila took it, then collected it in his cloak . Since he had managed to defeat the original monster, it was unquestionable that he could easily subdue the weaker version of it . In fact, the NPC was hesitant as to whether she should give Sila the box . It wouldn’t make any difference even if she didn’t .
“Oh, right . . . ” Sila stopped his feet and turned to Undine . “Watching a loser’s expression isn’t my thing . Since it’s your favorite, however, you can see it in the mirror six hours from now . ”
The sound of bones cracking came from Undine’s clenched fist . His magic power turned cold . Although he still appeared calm on the outside like a quiet ocean, the disturbance in his mind was like a raging storm .Please download our sponsor's game to support us!