“Fuck! They noticed us too soon. I’ll have to steal this guy’s Tokens while Blood Sword and Foxy Tail are distracted. And his artifacts too, if I can.”
Franc and his minions were among the most active scavengers in Section E. They were very fond of their job. Although they were mostly after Tokens, they also robbed players of their riches, artifacts, and other valuables. They divided artifacts among themselves to increase their battle prowess, and on lucky days, they even managed to find skill books.
Tokens could be sold to top rankers at very high prices, and there were several places that needed live players to be exploited as laborers, slaves, prostitutes, livestock, and even guinea pigs for experiments. There were so many uses for live players that they didn’t have to worry about finding buyers. No one would turn this kind of lucrative business down.
It was even better that this guy was the teammate of high rankers like Kahn and Doyle. No one knew how many Tokens he might possess or what artifacts he might have received from those two. Although it was risky sneaking around Kahn and Doyle, Franc expected to get a great deal of return. He was so nervous that his mouth was drying up. And as expected, Kahn and Doyle didn’t notice their approach, and their target was so frightened that he only crouched by the fire, unaware of his imminent fate.
In moments, Franc and his minions jumped out from the bushes and slashed at the back of the man in the white mask. ‘I’ve got him!’ Franc thought to himself. But he quickly realized that something was wrong and his eyes widened. His sword had slashed at nothing, as though the masked man had only been an illusion. Instinct told him to look up, and he saw the white mask, which landed in front of him. Two eyes flashed like a will-o’-wisp. Franc couldn’t even speak, and a terrible chill ran through his body.
Slash! A dark red line appeared from the top of his head to his groin as a dagger carved its way through his body and knocked him to his back.
"Wh-what the hell?"
The rest of the scavengers behind Franc faltered for a moment, and Yeon-woo took advantage of this to turn and throw himself at them. Swish!
The figure that glided through the forest under the dark sky reminded them of a ghost. It looked like a disembodied white mask were floating in the darkness, making the scavengers shiver in fear. Their prey had turned into a predator who’d killed Franc with one slash, and the intense expression in his glowing eyes made their flesh crawl.
Clang! One of the scavengers at the front managed to fend off Yeon-woo's attack. The atmosphere suddenly changed. ‘Wait, maybe he isn’t that tough! Maybe Franc’s carelessness let this guy get the better of him. We outnumber him, so it can’t be that hard to kill just one guy if we all attack at the same time, right?’ All the scavengers had the same thought and rushed towards Yeon-woo in unison. Swish!
"You son of a bitch!"
"Die, you motherfucker!"
But of course, they had only managed to fall into Yeon-woo’s trap. With his dagger tangled with his opponent’s weapon, Yeon-woo quickly spun to the right and darted under the scavenger fighting him. At the same time, he drew another dagger with his left hand and immediately sliced across his neck.
Spurt! Blood sprayed upward like a fountain as the dagger severed the jugular vein. Yeon-woo threw the dagger through the fountain of blood, piercing another scavenger’s head. He ran back to the three scavengers sneaking behind him and swiftly slashed their waists, necks, and shoulders.
"H-how the hell…urgh."
The scavengers realized that they’d fallen into a trap and wanted to retreat. But it was too late, so they tried to pressure and exhaust Yeon-woo. Unfortunately, Yeon-woo only went on a rampage, annihilating each one of them. He parried a knife that flew towards him and stabbed their necks, waists, and hearts. He blocked a spear headed towards his blind spot with his arm, snapped it in half, and cut off the head of the scavenger who’d thrown it.
Yeon-woo’s inhuman movements made them think he had eyes all over his body. Every time the scavengers attacked Yeon-woo, he dodged all their attacks and even counterattacked them at the same time. The scavengers collapsed, their blood spilling all over the grass. They felt as if they had been possessed by a ghost.
"R-run!" They finally realized they had messed with the wrong guy and tried to make an escape.
Swish! Puck! Yeon-woo threw a dagger at the head of the first one to run away, and quickly chased after the others. He was too fast and he ran in such an unpredictable way that the scavengers couldn’t do anything other than helplessly wait for their deaths. It was as though fear had grabbed them by the ankles and begun eating them up.
* * *
The three of them managed to kill twenty-one scavengers. It was more than anyone expected. Kahn asked Yeon-woo all of a sudden, "Why did you let them come near?"
"The more Tokens, the better."
"Man, you are seriously out of your mind." Kahn clucked his tongue lightly at the realization that Yeon-woo had been luring them close from the start so he could kill them in the same place. There were other players in Section E who used a similar tactic, hunting down scavengers by disguising themselves as lone stragglers. However, this tactic only worked against small groups. No one wanted to face more than twenty scavengers moving together in sync. Even high rankers couldn’t handle overwhelming numbers, but Yeon-woo treated it as though it were nothing. Was it because he had trust in Kahn and Doyle, or because he was confident in his skills? 'Maybe it’s both.'
Meanwhile, Yeon-woo had been looting Tokens from the scavengers’ bodies. "Eighty-one? Seems like they’ve been in this business for quite a long time.” Yeon-woo was dumbfounded by the number of Tokens he had found. The underlings had been carrying a couple while the ones who looked like leaders held the most number. Even with strengthened senses, he had only found five Tokens in the forest.
"It's been a while since new players have entered Section E. This is just probably what’s been left over after selling most of the Tokens. More than a thousand people were here looking for Tokens and fighting for them. It’s not really a big number if you think about it that way." Doyle provided an explanation with a smile on his face. "It’s only possible because they were scavengers. Most players probably have ten Tokens or less.”
"The rich get richer, the poor get poorer."
Yeon-woo thought it made sense. Section E had a winner-take-all system. The strong player minority would take Tokens from the weak player majority. Weak players had no choice but to give up their Tokens to survive. Even if they found more, eventually their Tokens would get stolen again. ‘They might even be enslaved and forced to hand in the Tokens they find.’
On the other hand, the strong could just take it easy and still pile up Tokens at a rapid pace. That was the reason why there was a huge gap between high rankers and the other players. Yeon-woo had known about this system and expected scavengers to attack them sooner or later.
"Anyway, collect as many Tokens as you can. They can be used to gain karma, as well as purchase items from the mysterious merchant. The top-ranked players usually don't go to Section F right away even if they have the ninety-nine Tokens required. They will try to hoard as many as they can."
Yeon-woo nodded. ‘Come to think of it, is it at the end of Section E where the mysterious merchant will appear again?’ Yeon-woo remembered what his brother’s diary said. He didn't want to buy anything from the mysterious merchant, but it would be good to keep it in mind.
"Oh, by the way, you can have all the Tokens."
"Hmm?" Yeon-woo looked at Doyle in surprise. Eighty-one Tokens were quite a lot to give away. He didn’t understand why.
Doyle smiled and said, "We didn't pay you a deposit when we made the deal, did we? Think of it as one."
"What about Kahn?"
“He's really simple, you know. He’ll do whatever I ask him, so don't worry."
"You two also need karma."
"Haha! Are you worried about us? We have enough for ourselves, so really, it’s OK."
"Well then, thank you." There was no reason to turn down their offer. Yeon-woo put the Tokens inside a pouch he had made from Troll hide. He had too many Tokens, so he didn’t dare swallow them anymore. 'This is easier than I expected.' Yeon-woo couldn't get rid of the suspicion that things were too easy.
If he tried a little harder, he could move on to Section F, although he wasn’t going to do that. There was nothing important in Section F that would help him gather a lot of karma. Section E was the last place he could collect karma in large quantities. Also, he had another reason for sticking around. 'That guy will show up here, too.’ The guy that Yeon-woo wanted to find even before he entered the Tutorial. The one who only appeared at this specific time. He had to kill that guy before going to the next section. 'Doing so will significantly increase my magic power. Then, I will be able to complete the succession process.'
Since Yeon-woo had acquired a solid vessel in Section B, Section E was the place where he’d be able to fill it up. Yeon-woo licked his lower lip. ‘Once we kill the Lizardman King, I’ll have to go straight to that guy.’ He already had a plan mapped out.
* * *
Yeon-woo’s party was able to reach their destination, the northern swamp, the following day. It was very hard to walk as the swamp was full of soft mud. Their feet sank into the muck with every step, and they sank deeper as they moved into the depths of the swamp. At one point, they even had to climb up a tree and jump from tree to tree to move forward. They also experienced several fights whenever they came across a Lizardman settlement.
Lizardmen were reptilian monsters with the ability to walk upright. These monsters could wield swords and were highly intelligent. They even knew how to hunt. They attacked with a hit-and-run style to exhaust intruders as much as possible, then they’d gang up on the intruders as their final attack.
However, this method did not work against Yeon-woo’s party at all. They showed no signs of fatigue even after a series of battles and simply wiped out every single Lizardman they saw. Yeon-woo also looted materials from the monsters’ carcasses.
"What else are you going to take this time?"
"Their eyes. Lizardmen's eyeballs are a very useful item for making artifacts that need a certain buff."
"Yeah. Of course. Well, there are bodies lying everywhere around here, so go ahead. Help yourself.” Kahn shook his head in disgust, and once Yeon-woo started to saw off the spikes on their tails, he no longer spoke a word.
‘I need their eyes to forge the artifact, Gyges’ Eyes.’ It was an artifact named after a giant that was said to have hundreds of arms and thousands of eyes. Yeon-woo swore to himself that he would possess the artifact one day and continued to move on. Thanks to his unrelenting search, he now had eighty-nine Tokens in his possession.
After they destroyed a couple of settlements, they finally reached Hargan's Lair.
"Wait, is this…?"
"Yeah. Looks like they already had some guests." Doyle looked at Kahn with a worried expression.
Kahn nodded gravely, and Yeon-woo frowned. There were bloodstains and other traces of battle along the way leading to Hargan's Lair. Other players had been here already.