Ordinarily, it could outrun those wolves easily. They were so slow and it could run like the wind. But the wolves were cunning. Sometimes they would approach only after surrounding it completely. And so the animal stared around once again. Finding no sign of those wretched wolves it stepped forward, pleasure and hunger obvious in its eyes.
How could it have known that today there was another kind of predator waiting for it!
Suzaku watched with bated breath as the stag slowly moved towards the trap he had laid. He was hiding quite far away and if the stag avoided his trap, he knew he wouldn't be able to match its speed.
'This time...I will succeed!'
Suzaku had been trying to catch this stag for the last three days. He had forgone sleep in his attempt to catch the 'most difficult animal to catch' in this forest. He had tracked it, learned its habits and prepared many plans.
'I was lucky to find a stag in the first place, there is no way I am letting this one go!' It was true that stags were exceedingly rare. So rare that even the people of the island, who were far more capable, were also not able to find it, let alone catch it. If he could do that, then he would no doubt become famous. Who knows how much money and prestige he might gain. He may even get some contribution points.
As the stag approached closer and closer to the trap, Suzaku almost forgot to breathe. And then,
The ground gave way underneath the stag and it fell down in a large deep hole bleating furiously.
"Yes!" Suzaku shouted and ran towards the hole. He could not make it so deep in his limited time, but he had made the walls steep. Animals with toes should not be able to climb up like that. Or that's what he hoped.
But his hopes were dashed. An amazing jump and the stag clearly came out of the hole.
"What!" Suzaku stared wide eyed at this sight. Three days of following this beast, several stupid bug bites, losing sleep and the animal just jumped! 'Shit! It's a waste now!' Suzaku stopped running and stared at the animal which at any moment now, would dash away.
But it didn't.
'What's going on?' Suzaku narrowed his eyes as he inspected the stag, which was now looking at him with it's horns lowered, like waiting for an attack.
'It injured it's leg!' His lips curved upwards. 'Heaven has given me another chance!'
Suzaku took out his sword and moved forward deliberately. The stag won't go down easy but atleast it was not going to run away.
'I just need to be careful of its horns...' A stag's horns were big and pointed. It was also joined like a shovel. And one thing was sure. His whole Life would be insufficient if he gets hit by them. These horns were far more dangerous than bug bites. Somehow in this situation, Suzaku's smile became even wider.
He carefully stepped forward and reached closer. The stag followed his smallest movements, cautiously assessing the new danger. It had never encountered two-legged before, but others in it's herd had. They always made fun of the two-legged calling them slow and blundering idiots. A stag's speed was its pride and the two-legged were far too slow. But they had also warned that perhaps the two-legged were also the most dangerous things in this forest. Anyways, injured as it was, it had no choice but to face this most dangerous predator.
Suzaku tried going around the stag but it moved accordingly not giving him a chance to avoid the horns. Suzaku feinted an attack and took a step forward but then immediately took another step back. Seeing him move closer, the stag moved it's horns slashing at him but found that it slashed at empty air.
'Hmm...the attack is quite fast. Avoiding it will be difficult.' Actually if the stag had been able to use it's legs, there was no way Suzaku could have avoided that attack. Right now, the animal had only moved its head but it was still fast.
After deciding something, Suzaku moved forward again, his sword by his side. And as he moved, his chi gathered near his feet. The stag attacked again but instead of stepping back, Suzaku jumped forwards at an angle. The chi exploded under his feet, granting him sudden speed and he reached the side of the animal. He thrust his sword at the neck of the beast, his chi suddenly appearing around his sword and turning into fire.
"Fire sword." He said.
The stag was shocked and tried to turn but it's injured leg got in the way. It could not match the speed of the sword thrust. The burning sword sliced into its neck cutting arteries and nerves. It felt a fiery feeling and then it dropped to the ground, not even feeling the pain of death.
"Haha...." Suzaku laughed at his conquest. He had defeated a stag in just two moves. But even if it were just two moves, he did not get arrogant. These two moves were the result of constant practice and understanding how magic worked in this game. 'Wonderful! You can actually do magic. Unlike other games where you shout a chant or do some ridiculous movement and the system would do some magic for you. In here, I can actually do the magic I want to. Why isn't this the game's usp? The company's marketing dept. sucks!'
But he didn't have time for reflection. He quickly readied his stance and waited. The bloodlust had just begun.
Suzaku was one of the few players who could deal with the bloodlust effect on their own. The rest of them often had to make parties or head out together in teams. But even then, it was said that players always died facing their first bloodlust effect. Without exception! Maybe the first was special.
Suzaku was no different. Even he died when he first faced it. But then, the next time he was ready for it. And since then he could always face the bloodlust with a calm mind. Not that it wasn't dangerous anymore but it was like if you survived once, you would survive again and again. If you did not get careless, that is. After all, this was still a forest with fearsome animals. Even Suzaku had died once because of his carelessness.
But that was the only times he died, once because of the first bloodlust effect and the other, due to his carelessness. Dying twice was his shame. Though others had died far more times. But he considered himself one of the better players, after all how many of them could face a bloodlust alone! So his standards were naturally higher. He had come to know and meet some of the better players on Ilmentia island. Some of them due to his martial arts skills. And none of them had died a second time.
Soon he heard the far off rustling of dried leaves as hoofs pounded over it.
|Sensitivity increases by 1.|
"Come on!" Suzaku shouted as his sword made swift movements like tides, laying bodies in it's wake. His feet moved forward, back and sideways at just the exquisite time to dodge and counterattack. Here and there his chi would build up on his feet as he closed distance. A flash of red appeared here and there as fire enveloped his sword during his attacks. Someone looking would only think that it was devil fighting in there.
'Shit! My mana's gone!' Even with conserving his mana by only using fire in the instant he attacked, his mana pool was not sufficient to hold out till the end of the bloodlust effect. But it wasn't a very big problem.
'I will just have to hit more.' Suzaku's trained movements could not be compared to these rabbits and wolves.
He constantly kept flitting his eyes to keep track of the various animals. Getting surrounded is the kind of stupid mistake he didn't want to make. He strategically moved, always keeping his back covered by trees or some such obstacle. When any animal reached his range, his sword flashed like lightning striking their weak points.
'Oops!' He stepped on a hidden root and stumbled. Quickly, he regained his balance but the damage had been done. The animals had surrounded him. A two headed wolf behind and two wolves covered from the front. There were more wolves on the side but they were still some distance away.
The wolf at his back attacked. Suzaku was watching carefully and as soon as it reached he took a big step sideways. But amazingly his upper body remained in place for an instant more, enticing the wolf into attacking this space. And the upper body also moved. The wolf was astounded for just a moment before it started turning towards Suzaku. But he was ready. In a flash, his sword went forward, piercing into the wolf's neck.
|Critical hit. Damage increases 70%.|
|Your actions increase your agility. Agility increases by 1.
A sword was a really good weapon to aim for critical strikes. But he didn't have time to be happy yet. The other two wolves had reached him and his feet moved again.
Anyone watching Suzaku move would have been impressed. Atleast a common person might be. Martial artists would be impressed too but in a different sense. Suzaku's movements were very basic. Although trained to a high level, it consisted of one step only. Forward, backward and sideways to some angle. As martial artists they recognized that moving only one step, though effective in this situation, had many disadvantages. But for now, his movements looked amazing.
'Shit! It's the armadillos!' Suzaku cursed as he saw the new batch of animals. Armadillos were annoying. Covered with their hard shells, his sword couldn't make a scratch on them. The only thing that worked was fire. But his mana tank was empty and the recovery took a long time. But would he give up?
"Catch me if you can then!" yelled Suzaku as he ran between the trees.
Not to mention it was quite a long time after that he finally finished the last animal and then dropped onto the ground exhausted.
"Huff...huff....haa..hahaah..." This was difficult. But challenges were something he enjoyed. If it wasn't challenging, it wasn't fun as he liked to say.
Some time later he stood up and started dismembering the animals, starting with the stag. He also took the stag head whole. 'Who would believe me otherwise!'
Suzaku or Yasuda Mikihiko, as he was known in real life, wasn't actually a swordsman. He was a senior high school student who practiced kendo. Not that kendo is not recognized as swordsmanship but because of the competition rules, it follows a highly limited routine. Like learning a fourth of a sword as one might say.
Atleast, among the kendo practitioners he was quite good. His personal best was the nationals best 4, losing only in the semifinal. He was quite renowned as the captain of the Kendo club. His distinguishing features were his awesome physique and deep eyes which made him look so cool and mysterious, according to the girls in the school. Add to that fact, he was also friendly and without a girlfriend.
"Mikihiko-kun is so incredible..."
"Yasuda senpai is our hero...."
Were some of the comments he used to hear regularly. At these moments Mikihiko simply smiled. Most thought of this as a sign of humility and praised him more.
'So annoying. I am still weak..' were his actual thoughts.
Yasuda Mikihiko wanted to become an actual swordsman. He wanted to train with a real blade. But it was not like you would find a swordsmanship school near the next crossing. In modern Japan, swordsmen were already few. Over the years, people lost interest in learning it, most swordsmanship schools had shut down. The only ones remaining were highly exclusive, with only a few students. Even these students had to undergo all kinds of background checks and character checks before they were allowed to join. After all, carrying swords were banned. How could they allow just about anyone to learn!
But this was also an era of virtual reality games. What he couldn't do in real life, he wanted to do in virtual life.
No wonder he chose sword equipped characters, like knights, swordsman or warrior in the games. There he could do anything and train anyway. In the way, he met many strong people and had many adventures. But there was a limit to what he could learn on his own and from the internet.
"Hey Mikihiko, did you hear about Long Island?" his friend mentioned one day.
"No I haven't. Did another new game come out?" He asked nonchalantly. After all there were many virtual reality games in the market and the launch of a game was not too big of a news.
"Yeah...I think I will go shift to this game. I heard it's amazing. It's just been out a month and not many people play it right now. But the ones who do are raving mad about it. Seems it has a magic system which is out of this world."
"Magic eh..." Mikihiko was not too thrilled. Games which focused on magic often didn't have strong weapon based characters. But even with magic, he wasn't too thrilled. Compared to fighting face to face, what fun is there in waving stupid wands and shouting absurd incantations. The system did most of the 'magic'.
"Well anyways, I am not going to create a magic character so not interested." Mikihiko replied.
"Hahaha I thought you would say that, you sword idiot."
Mikihiko thought this was the last he would hear of it. So then, imagine his surprise when a few days later, his friend called and literally yelled on the phone...
"Mikihiko, join this game asap! If you don't you are going to regret it big time!"
This was the first time someone had got so excited about a new virtual reality game, since the first virtual reality game was announced.
'It's not like I don't have the money...so let's just try it out. Only because he is insisting so much...'
Who knew he would get addicted in even less time.
Back in Gurrow village, Suzaku put up a stall and put the stag head on fore front. Stalls in Long Island, unlike other games, were not set up automatically. In fact there was nothing called a stall in this game. Which meant that you would have to set up a table to showcase your stuff and call it your 'stall'. It also meant that nothing in your stall, was safe from theft. Just like in the real world!
The only difference was that player to player transactions of money, followed the trade system. The trade system allowed players to safely transact both money and items but it couldn't be used to display the items safely. If you put out anything, well...it's out there! To trade with npcs, you would still need to do it the normal, real life way.
Still, it was within the village and thievery was a crime. Or rather no one wanted to become a criminal because if you did, where could you run away to? Well, most people chose to sell to the merchants anyway so player run stalls were a minority.
Suzaku bought a cheap table and put it up on an empty corner of the street. Then he put down the stag head on it, proudly displaying his most magnificent prize.
"Selling stag meat!" He yelled loudly. "Selling stag meat!" He repeated.
Many people, especially the people of the island, turned to look. And after seeing that stag head, they went into shock. Silence reigned for a few moments. Even players turned to look at the scene after noticing the reaction of the npcs. Many of them knew, stags were like the top-tier rare creatures but how could they know why it was so valuable!
'Hmm...what's wrong? No one seems to be coming..' Suzaku was depressed. He had decided to set up his own stall, especially to sell this. If no one bought it, what was the point of hunting this most elusive creature!
"Selling stag meat!" He yelled again.
And then it was mayhem.
"10 gold for all your meat..."
"Are you joking...20 gold..."
"Humph you guys are cheaters...50 gold.."
"No..sell it to me... 100 gold..."
"I will take all you have for 200 gold..."
Suzaku was scared out of his wits. Players didn't make much money. Doing jobs was the main source of income. Rabbit and wolf meat actually didn't sell much and was generally used by players themselves to save on food costs. Their pelts sold a bit better as everyone needed clothes but even then it was a saturated market. Also players in Gurrow village were beginners so how much money could they possibly earn! A couple of gold coins at the most.
In such a situation, meat was being sold for 200 gold! What kind of golden meat was that?! Even the players in the capital hadn't been able to earn this much gold!
Suzaku was no different. It was not long ago that he reached Age 14. And since then, instead of going to the capital, he had spent his time hunting. Money vise, he had just 1 gold and a few coppers.
"I will offer 280..."
"Misers...I will offer 400.."
"Who's a miser....500..."
"You had better give up..old man... 650 gold coins! Match that!" A young man shouted loudly. Wearing a green dress with silver linings, he looked like he could pay even more. Others cursed their luck but quickly gave up. They still had to make a living.
"Hahahaa....nice! So young man, let's make it with 650 gold.." The guy in the green dress laughed.
"1000 gold!" Suddenly everyone became quiet. There was absolute silence as everyone stared at the person who called.
"1000 gold, is anyone offering a higher price?" This new guy was a middle aged man with quite a few specks of silver in his hair. His wore clothes of red and gold with a tinge of green. He was surrounded by other people, soldiers, like he was an important person.
The guy in green stared for a bit but then nodded.
"No Lord Despira. All yours." And then everyone went off on their way.
"So show me all the meat you brought." Lord Despira walked forward.
"Yes, sir." Suzaku brought out all the meat and set it on the table side by side. Looking at each piece, the Lord grinned and smacked his lips.
"Ah...so much! I really got a bargain today." He quickly brought forth a thousand gold coins wrapped up in a huge pouch and handed it over like it was chump change. His attendants moved at the same time, carefully wrapping and lifting the meat.
"Say, do you wish to sell the head as well?" Lord Despira asked.
"Um..no sir. I would like to keep it as a trophy."
"Hahahaha....yes that you would. I would also do the same. Well, you are one of the Goddess's children, aren't you? How about this, come to my manor with me. I would very much like to know a person as skilled as you." Lord Despira said.
"Yes sir. I would be delighted." Suzaku replied.
Good luck should not be refused. After all, this was a game!
Suzaku spent a lot of time in Lord Despira's manor. And then at the end, Lord Despira gave him a quest as well. It was nothing major, just some small things but it was a quest with a good reward.
A few months, game time, passed and Suzaku did several such quests. He also moved his base to the capital. In the interim, he often went hunting deep in the forest. He didn't find another Stag but he did find other animals like Toughnut boars. And instead of the market, he sold the meat and the pelts to Lord Despira instead, who offered a very generous price for them.
Once or twice, he would even get items made from the stuff he brought. Like the coat made from the pelt of the boar. Other times, he may get another item instead of payment.
The Despira clan, was an ancient noble clan and it had existed for many centuries. Naturally, they had lots of good items, which could even be considered treasures. Armors, weapons and various other kinds of things. Suzaku had replaced his boots and had got a new chest armor. He had also got some leather leg armor whose quality seemed to be even better than the metal items. Definitely the most expensive item Suzaku owned!
In short it was a very profitable relationship. Suzaku was quite glad to have met this Lord Despira so early in the game.
Then one day,
"Suzaku, is it true that Goddess's children don't die?" Lord Despira asked.
"Um...I am not sure what you mean by that?" Suzaku was confused.
"Well I have heard that Goddess's children, when they die, they actually fade away. But then they come back to life like it was nothing! So they don't really die. Is that true?"
"Um...yes sir. That is true." Suzaku replied.
"Ah...I wonder why the Goddess chose to do it? If you couldn't die then wouldn't it be better if you didn't die in the first place?" Lord Despira was curious.
"Ah see when we die we actually become weaker. So if we die many times, we get weaker so many times." Suzaku explained. Suzaku was quite surprised by this question. It almost felt like the people were aware that the players were not human.
"Hmm...the Goddess is mysterious." Lord Despira simply replied.
Suzaku didn't know what he should say so he remained quiet. After brooding for a bit, Lord Despira spoke again.
"Suzaku, how do you feel about the Queen and her government?"
"Um...I don't know. I haven't met the Queen or any of the government officials. But the island seems nice enough." Suzaku replied.
"True true...but couldn't it become better? After all, it is the birth place of the Goddess's children. It should have the noble aura and blessing of the Goddess herself. Shouldn't it become more prosperous, more grand, more beautiful...." Lord Despira said.
"Um..okay." What did he care!
"Ah...I have a very wonderful vision for this country. A vision where it will be the grandest, most powerful of nations. You share my vision, yes?"
"Ah yes. Lord Despira." Suzaku still didn't know what the Lord wanted with him.
"It is wonderful to know that. So how do you feel if I say I want to overthrow the Queen?" Lord Despira suddenly hit him with that.
Now Suzaku realized. 'So it is a typical scenario. Some npc wants to overthrow some other and the players are getting quests on both sides. Whoever wins will gain a lot, etc etc.'
"Ah my lord, I will support you." Suzaku replied. Win or lose, he had to pick a side anyway. It's a game anyway.
"Wonderful! In that case, I have a mission for you. Have you heard about Raka?" Lord Despira asked.
"Yes, I have." Suzaku replied.
"I have information that Raka may be leaving the island. My best guess is he is a secret scout for the Queen and will be visiting the Khardoum island for the four nation conference. I also guess that he will eventually move towards the Dwarvish island. I want you to take a ship and go after him. There are various plans in action and I am sure he will try to stop them. Do not let him! Can I count on you to do that?"
|[p=center] Stop Raka [/p]
Raka may become a thorn in Lord Despira's various schemes. His schemes need to succeed, if he is to realize his vision and take over the throne. He has asked you to prevent Raka ruining his plans.
Reward: ? (Only if Lord Despira's plan succeeds)
"Yes." Suzaku replied.
|Quest has been accepted.|
"Good. I have a ship waiting for you in Dock 2. You will leave tomorrow. The men on the ship will be under your command."
And just like that Suzaku was headed in pursuit of Raka. He smirked remembering the time when he first heard Raka's name.
He had joined late. Almost a month later. Thankfully, within a month there was a lot of information about the game so he didn't have to struggle like those early players. He had learned language and then enrolled to the Battle school. He was a quick learner though he didn't like using the staff so much. So he cut it off to the size of a bokuto, to practice. Surprisingly the instructors didn't mind. In fact, Lady Altia gave him some pointers here and there as well.
Suzaku respected Lady Altia and her knowledge. She knew about the sword and the few times she showed him a form or two, she was so elegant and refined. Just like a master of the sword. In fact, like everyone else Suzaku also wanted to learn from her and eventually asked her. But she refused.
One regular day, while he was busy hitting a dummy at Battle school, Raka came. Lady Altia's student. From what he knew, her only student. And he was a player. Ofcourse he was curious. But he found out after he had already left. He tried asking other instructors about Raka but even they didn't know much about him. And he didn't dare to ask Lady Altia directly. And then he heard that Raka was also the first person to step out of the village.
Suzaku admired him and Raka became someone who he had to eventually overcome in his journey to become the best. Like a lot of other players, he was also one of the players who ran to the village gate to get a glimpse of him when Raka left. Unfortunately he couldn't.
He immersed himself in practice to achieve his first goal. The Age of 14. The Age to leave the village. Wish that were so easy.
Then he discovered magic. 'Awesome!' He was excited like a kid. This was something beyond his dreams. When he first perceived magic, it was like his birthday. Chi, a spiritual force, which he had only read about. A kind of thing every martial artist talks about, but none know if it is true. A common person like him could only dream about such stuff.
But he had felt it. The powerful force all around him, flowing, reacting to him. He tried to focus chi and he found it was rather simple. All he had to imagine was how the chi would work and it did exactly like he thought. He could make it come out of his feet and jump. He could embed it into his weapon. And then he could transform this chi into magic. Like those wuxia novels he had often read. He could make fire sword and wind sword. His chi moved according to what he wanted, not what the system wanted. For the first time he was so glad to learn magic. So glad that he listened to his friend when he said, you absolutely have to learn magic, sword idiot!
He laughed that day like he never laughed before.
Time passed and videos started being uploaded of other people's quests. Then the big thing happened. The fight with the beastmen. Unfortunately, he hadn't reached the required Age and had to stay behind in the village. He was quite sore on seeing the fight video later. He was one of the very few people who actually realized the kind of magic Lady Altia was doing. And seeing her in action gave Suzaku a hint on how to use his chi in battle.
Then came Raka's video, where he saw more action. But he was disappointed a bit as well. Wasn't Raka supposed to be strong?
Then came the day of reckoning. He had reached the Age. All his practice and all his hard work was put to the test in the wild. The first time, he died. Since then he couldn't be killed. Until the day, he had an unfortunate encounter.
His defeat became his fuel and he rapidly improved after that. In the meantime, he also learned blacksmithing. There was a distinct lack of swords in the market. The reason was because swords were considered a sign of authority. Given to officers to show their status. It was not like people couldn't wield it, rather they didn't have the right to carry it around. How could one expect that they will be handed after graduation. After he graduated magic institute he also got the standard staff. In short, he had to make enough money to buy a sword from the blacksmith. The same rules applied to him, however, and he couldn't equip his sword in the village. He could only take it out of the bag once he left the village.
Then one day he killed the Stag. And his game life changed completely. Leading to the day when he was summoned to pursue Raka.
Suzaku was happy to go after this chase. He couldn't wait to test his mettle. He was confident and not without reason. There was just one regret he still had.
'All this time and I still couldn't find that damn monkey and that green bird!'
Suzaku had only died twice. Once due to the first bloodlust effect. The second time because he was killed by that monkey and the green bird.
Lord Despira was currently sitting in the position of the head at a dining table.
"Father, have you decided to recruit Suzaku?" Von Gult asked.
"Yes." His father nodded.
"Are you sure he is loyal? I mean he is one of the Goddess' children," asked Von Gult.
"Son, remember this. You do not completely trust anyone but family. But to fight immortals, it is better to send immortals. I would have an army of just the Goddess' children but that would be too conspicuous." Lord Despira said.
"Hmm...is that why you have been so nice to those other Goddess's children as well?" Von Gult asked.
"Yes. Eventually I want to win them over to my side. It is important to have strong supporters." Lord Despira explained.
"So do you think, Suzaku can stop Raka?" Von Gult finally asked.
"I don't know. There are various plans I have put in motion so even if Raka stops one or two, it shouldn't affect the final outcome. Suzaku is just to keep him busy. Hopefully, he can keep him from discovering our real goal. At this stage, we cannot let the Queen's supporters find out." Lord Despira said.
And then he sighed. "Von Gult, you shouldn't have lost your temper like that. Maybe we wouldn't have had to deal with Raka then. Remember, make enemies wisely."
"I understand." Von Gult replied grudgingly. He didn't think he was weaker than Raka. It was just that he had been careless. If he had won...well, that was never going to happen. The two Ladies were too close to the Queen.
Von Gult finished his dinner, leaving his father absorbed in deep thought.
'Silly boy. He just doesn't understand. Even we are pawns in this great game.' Lord Despira knew. He knew that he couldn't be greedy. There were far more sinister and powerful forces at play here.