This chapter was brought to you by AnmesicCat, Boyce, Charles, Lastear, and Lei.
“Huhuhu, since I resolved the quest and even took 1st place, I’ll definitely get a ton of bonus points!”
In the corner of a dark room, Hyun-woo grinned while his fingers tapped on the keyboard as though they were flying. After returning to Jackson, Hyun-woo had immediately logged out and gotten onto his computer. This was because all of the candidates had received an email telling them to submit a report as soon as the event quest ended. But even without the email, Hyun-woo wanted to write up a report right away.
Although he didn’t register in the Hall of Fame, of course the Global Exos planning department would of be aware Hyun-woo had tied for 1st place in contribution. If he sent in a report with the details on top of that, he would be able to make a strong impression. Only now did the vague idea of joining Global Exos feel real.
“I’m definitely in front of the other candidates! Getting into Global Exos isn’t just a dream!”
In just a few minutes, Hyun-woo wrote up a 10 page report and sent the email.
Only then did his fatigue from the past three days hit him all at once.
* * *
“Hahh, I feel like I’ve completely become an idiot.” Kim Gwon-tae sighed with a fatigued expression.
It had been exactly 3 days since the event quest began. Though the same was probably also true for the players who had participated in the quest, he had needed to stay up all night battling with a computer during that time, in order to find out system information related to the quest. But his efforts were completely in vain; surprisingly, whenever the situation changed as the quest proceeded, the related information was locked down anew.
‘This is really a monster.’
Even if it could and did exist within the realm of common sense, it was something that couldn’t be. Despite being a regionally restricted quest, the participants numbered in the hundreds. As a result, there were thousands, tens of thousands, of possible variables. For a single computer to be checking all those simultaneously arising variables and automatically renewing the locks on them… Seeing as the data was being constantly updated on the screen even now, he felt a little fear. A living monster… it could only be expressed in such terms.
‘The only way to make that possible is to put a master key on the highest level of the whole system. But how can the system realize this much freedom with a master key? Just what is it? Where is it hiding, this master key programmed in by the genius game director Park Woo-seong?’
Kim Gwon-tae was the deputy of the Global Exos Planning Department. He was a competent programmer and hacker, a hidden heavyweight who was known to be capable of hacking into even Interpol’s (International Criminal Police Organization) information network if he put his mind to it. Of course, it wasn’t like such rumors weren’t exaggerated, but he was certainly an internationally famous hacker.
Not only was he unable to clear a lock on the game, he couldn’t even identify the location of the hidden program that renewed the locks.
‘There’s only two things I can think of.’
Either New World’s main computer had an AI that was beyond imagination, or Park Woo-seong was continuously monitoring the game as he updated the locks from wherever he was hiding.
If the first option was the answer, then there was hope of lifting the lock one day. But if it was the second, the situation was more serious than expected. Even if they cleared a lock with difficulty, their efforts would go right down the drain if he renewed the lock, and an endless war of attrition would continue.
‘I heard that Park Woo-seong would have received considerable shares if New World went commercial, but why did he go as far as to give up on those shares and pull something like this? Damn it, I’m not really sure but Park Woo-seong is indeed amazing. Designing such a crazy system wasn’t enough, so he threw in all those locks like mines while maintaining the sense of unlimited freedom. It was not something a human can do.’
Aside from fear, respect for Park Woo-seong formed.
‘Hahh, seeing I have to fight such a ridiculous human being, maybe I chose the wrong job…’
It was nothing new, but for the last three days, he’d been forced to feel the piercing truth that he wasn’t a genius.
Kim Gwon-tae turned his gaze onto the monitor beside him. Since there was no way for him to access the system despite being an administrator, all he could do was to go through the scanty information sites and monitor the forum. Quite a few posts of participants who had been logged out in the final battle of the quest were currently being uploaded.
As he pulled out a cigarette and bit into it, his head tilted while scanning.
It was a post written 1 hour ago, but it already had 8,000 views and over 2,000 comments. Even posts put up three or four hours ago didn’t exceed 1,000 views.
‘Just what could it be about…’
When he clicked the info, an attached video started. It was gameplay taken from a player who had participated in the quest.
“What, what is this?”
Staring blankly at the screen, the cigarette fell from Kim Gwon-tae’s lips.
The video showed about three minutes of an unknown player fighting the boss monster.
Visibility was poor due to the fog, but there was someone moving quickly within the murky water. Most of the players were busy struggling to escape, but he was actually pushing back the enemy and fighting fiercely in single combat. He dodged the outrageously swinging iron mace by a hair’s breadth.
The scene of him counter-attacking and pushing the boss back with continuous attacks was the real highlight! With his occasional flashy kicks, it was enough to make someone think they were watching a martial arts movie. The duration was 3 minutes; it wasn’t long, but it had the energy to overwhelm the viewer.
– I saw a player solo the 130+ level boss that 50 players couldn’t beat together. Because he was in the muddy water and was out of range of the [Detect] scroll, I couldn’t check his name or level. I was unable to watch to the end because I was logged out in the middle of it, but it was amazing. I really want to know who it was.
There was a tremendous number of comments on the poster’s thread.
– If he could fight a 130+ level boss on his own, just what is his level?
– Where do you learn the kicking skill?
– I have never seen someone move like this underwater, could it be an NPC for balance?
– Is this maybe a fake?
– It feels like a fake… but it’s amazing if its real.
– It’s me. I defeated the boss monster. Uhahahaha.
-To the person who commented above, as if. Shut up, wash your feet, and go to bed.
Overall, the reaction was that it was unbelievable.
Kim Gwon-tae had a hard time believing it too. That it was a player with a character in New World. He knew, at least, that it was hard to move underwater. In truth, the submerged players in the video were struggling.
Well, let’s be generous and say there was a still unknown item that could remove the underwater penalty. But what the hell was that absurd situation of facing the boss monster head to head?
‘Valderas is an elite boss. That means you’d have to be at least level 300 to face him… in just 4 months? In New World and not another game, is that possible?’
They were mostly aware of the high level players, but there was no player of such a level in his memories.
“Deputy Kim!” Just then, Ha Myung-woo shouted as he burst into the office. “Did you see the video on the info site? Fighting solo against the boss monster.”
“Yes, I was just watching it.”
“Can you find who that player is?”
“I do not know. I would ask around if we at least knew his face… but there is a way to find out. If he really killed the boss, then he would have gotten a huge number of contribution points. Naturally, he would be in the top of the rankings, so his name will probably come up onto the Hall of Fame soon.”
“When does the event end?”
“There are about 30 minutes left.”
“Report to me as soon as you have the information.”
The data that the event quest had ended came up after 30 minutes passed. The lock that had triggered as the Dark Fog covered Jackson Territory was completely released. Kim Gwon-tae hurried to access the database and searched the contribution’s top rankings. But the IDs that were on the message board were all just people he was already aware of.
“Just who the hell is he!”
“Damn it, reporters from the mass media will come out soon. Just how am I supposed to explain this?”
In the end, Ha Myung-woo made an appearance on TV on the evening of the next day and fudged it off with, “It could be an NPC. In order to stimulate more of the players’ thirst for information, we will gradually publicize the exact details.”
Having returned from the broadcast station, Ha Myung-woo spoke as he scratched his head with an annoyed expression.
“I’m sick of making shit up now. Deputy Kim, keep searching for that player’s info. Whether he killed the boss monster or not, if he has that much skill then he’ll definitely have burrowed deep into the system. There’s no way he would have reached level 300 in 4 months otherwise. The media is showing interest in him too, so find him somehow and add him to the entrance examination no matter what. If he wants some kind of favor, then say we’ll support him to the best of our abilities.”
“For now, I will find out.”
But the information Ha Myung-woo was so anxious about was not very far away. A shredder was situated in a corner of the office. Having been judged early as rejected, Ark’s report was being shredded within.
* * *
Around that time, the main character of the uproar that was heating up the Internet, Ark, was staring at the message board in Jackson Square with a displeased expression.
Notice to the residents of Jackson!
The Army of Darkness that filled Jackson with fear has disappeared. We express our gratitude and respect to the countless Warriors who fought to protect Jackson. If not for your sacrificial efforts, we wouldn’t have never been able to see the light of daylight again.
Count Juan, who led the reinforcements from far away, has bestowed the title ‘Honorable Knight’ upon the Warriors with high contribution on behalf of the King. In addition, to the great Holy Knight Sir Alan who led the volunteer troops and accomplished a heroic feat, the shining title ‘Knight of Glory’ has been bestowed.
In order to commemorate their deeds, the Lord of Jackson has decided to erect a ‘Bronze Statue of the 10 Warriors’ in the castle square. From this day hence, the Bronze Statue of the 10 Warriors will bring great respect from Jackson residents and foreigners who come to Jackson and will forever remembered as a true model for Warriors.
Right after the quest ended, he logged in after collapsing into sleep for 10 hours to see that this notice had been put up. It felt like getting hit in the back of the head while sleeping.
‘Aside from the reward from the 3 Great Guilds, they’re even granting a title!’
In New World, a title had significant meaning. First of all, All Stats would rise by at least 1 if you received a title. Moreover, you sometimes gained a new skill or ability, and it could even serve as a chance to earn a top title.
When Ark received the titles Cat Knight and Caretaker of All, the raised stats, skills, and additional abilities created a tremendous additional effect. But Ark’s name was not included in the list of the 10 Warriors written on the notice. That was because he refused to register on the message board. Even if he didn’t register his contribution ranking, he received his proper reward from the Magic Institute. He had just been preoccupied by the message that had come up with the contribution ranking, but if he had known then that a title would be granted, the situation may have changed. He didn’t like drawing player interest, but he would have put up with it if it was for a title.
Actually, not getting a title was fine. That other people had received it didn’t sour his stomach too much either. The thing that really twisted his guts was that Alan had taken 1st place independently with Ark’s registration refusal and had received the ‘Knight of Glory’ title. Thanks to that, Alan recovered his fallen Fame and established footing on growing faster. It really couldn’t be anything but an extremely frustrating situation.
However, Ark then shook his head. ‘Let’s stop. It’s already in the past. And there’s no need for me to obsess too much about profits right in front of me. No matter what Alan gained, it’s fine if I play the game my way and catch up to him.’
Ark’s clinginess in everything was strong enough to be called vicious. But he was also quick to give up on something if it wasn’t possible with effort. That was because he had learned that it was pointless to wave your hand after the bus left through his life that had involuntarily started sooner than others.
‘At least it’s good that I logged in after sleeping.’
If he had personally seen Alan receive the title and get puffed up about it, his mental health would have taken quite the wayward plunge.
But for better or for worse, Jackson was currently as quiet as if a typhoon had swept through it. After the Dark Fog lifted, the ship and carriage sent by the Merchant and Warrior Guilds reached Jackson. Rather than the Magic Institute’s Letter Movement Orb, the Merchant and Warrior Guilds had sent NPCs to escort the players who safely completed the quest. As a result, all the players left like an ebbing tide and the once crowded Jackson felt deserted.
‘Mister JusticeMan and Roco also pushed themselves quite a bit throughout the quest, so they’re probably sleeping like logs right about now… but what happened to Shambala? He shouldn’t have died. Is he still sleeping? Or did he already go somewhere else?’
He hadn’t seen Shambala after being swept away by the rapids. Well, since he had given and received what was proper, it didn’t matter if Shambala had left, but Ark was pretty sad that he had disappeared without a word.
His first meeting with Shambala hadn’t been great. Ark had just wanted to try using his unique skill. But after fighting together, his impression of Shambala had changed a lot.
Shambala was a straightforward character. He says what he wants and keeps his promises. He wasn’t the kind of person to talk smooth to your face while planning other schemes behind your back, like Alan. He did have a slightly prickly side, but Ark preferred that type to a smooth-spoken, good person.
‘Well, it’s fine if he left. I’m not the kind of person to go around with Shambala anyway.’
Ark decided to put those thoughts away for now and opened his stat window to leisurely check the results from the quest.
Cat Knight, Caretaker of All
Art of Communication
Special Stat: Knowledge of Ancient Relics
Black Bear Mouse Leather Armor: Agility 2, Frost Resistance +20
* All abilities will increase by 30% in the dark.
* You have the ability to hide in the darkness (15 minutes duration. Cancelled when you get into combat).
* Resistance Fear, Darkness, Blind, and Seduction spells is increased by 50%.
* You can bring out the true abilities from all types of tools.
When he first received the quest, his level had been 68. In other words, he had raised his level a whopping 10 times in just 3 days! It was a huge leap that couldn’t even be imagined with just hunting.
The monsters that appeared in the event quest gave more experience compared to their level. But the decisive reason he leveled up 10 times was because he had beaten heavyweight boss monsters such as Narak and Valderas.
He had also obtained items of considerable value, like the magic ring he had gotten from Narak, the Resurrecting Spirit. A magic ring itself was an incredibly rare item. In addition, the Mana recovery rate option was such a thankful effect that it brought tears to Ark’s eyes, as he was always suffering from the lack of Mana. Was that all? He had also gotten the Unique iron mace Fire Slayer after defeating Valderas!
It was a difficult item for Ark to use, so he put it up on the auctions before logging in. He’d have to wait and see for the results, but it was on a different level of quality from the items he had sold off until now. It would probably sell for a considerable price.
Huhuhu, there was still more. That wasn’t the end. The reward he had looked forward to most in the event quest! When he returned to Giran soon, he would get a reward fitting for a 1st place in contribution from the Magic Institute on top of it all.
Even if he didn’t receive the likes of a title, for a reward that he had stayed up 3 days for, it was more than enough.
‘That’s right, I can’t hope for more than this.’
Ark shook off his feeling of annoyance and strolled within Jackson Castle. After he finished his business here and returned to Giran, he didn’t know when he would be back. He was of a mind to meet the Jackson NPCs who had helped him a lot and to whom he had much fondness for and say farewell. However, Ark soon had to experience a shocking situation.
“The Lord is busy with official business. Come back next time,” said Cross in a cold voice when he went to see the young Lord.
“What? But I’ll be leaving Jackson Castle soon. Just a moment is fine. I just want to say goodbye and…”
“Didn’t I say he’s busy?”
“Don’t you know my relationship with the Lord?”
“Are you going to use your friendship with the Lord to get your way?” Cross’ voice became a level colder. “The young Lord said he doesn’t want to see anyone, leave.”
“Of course. Even you. No, especially you.”
Ark was shocked. Until now, there had never been a problem when he went in and out of the Lord’s Castle. His friends in the Soldiers had always greeted him amiably, and the young Lord had made time for him despite official business or whatever. But to suddenly refuse entry? In addition, his intimacy with Cross had reached maximum while going through the quest together. But he had suddenly changed and was treating Ark like a person he was seeing for the first time.
‘Did something happen again?’
Ark asked more questions, but Cross wouldn’t answer anymore. In the end, Ark left the Lord’s Castle.
But the change in attitude wasn’t limited to Cross and the young Lord. Even the village NPCs he’d worked up a friendship with looked at him differently. The residents who used to recognize him from afar and approach were sneakily avoiding him. If he approached them first and initiated a conversation, they would flinch as they left without even replying or just brusquely nod.
“Ah, hey. It’s been a while. I’m busy so I don’t have time to chat. See you.”
“Ah… so… um, see you next time.”
‘Just what in the world is going on?’
He understood that the NPCs were busy restoring the ruined Jackson Castle. But no matter how busy they were, Ark couldn’t understand why they were treating him like this when his intimacy with them was high. How could they respond that coldly? Now they were treating him even more frostily than a beginner player who had just come to Jackson Castle. Even Raymond’s son, Tom, had the same response.
“Eh? Tom!” Ark saw Tom from afar and called out.
Holding a large bundle and moving quickly, Tom turned his head, startled. “Ark hyung!”
“Good timing, there’s something I want to ask…”
“No, that is… uh… I’m sorry. I’m busy right now. See you later.”
Tom stammered with an awkward look and hastily disappeared without giving Ark a chance to speak.
Ark was dumbfounded. Tom was an NPC who had revered Ark like a hero. And even just before he logged out, Tom had trailed behind Ark when he was in the village as he sent looks of respect flying towards him. But for him to run away even when Ark spoke to him first? As he stared blankly at Tom’s back, an ominous thought suddenly flashed in his mind.
‘Surely not… did the intimacy fall?’
If Cross and Tom were showing such an attitude despite having been at max intimacy, it was the only thing he could think of. But why? There was no reason that should be. He had never thieved or robbed in the village. Wasn’t there no reason for his intimacy to fall?
‘Could that have been a problem?’
There was just one difference between now and before he logged out. Ark didn’t register his contribution ranking on the message board. Of course he would have been erased altogether from the list of contributors maintained in Jackson Castle. On the other hand, all the other players had gotten their names up on the contributor list, and the top 10 players received a title and were even inducted as the 10 Warriors.
NPCs responded sensitively to information on the message board and to rumors. The reason why players with high Fame could receive good treatment from NPCs no matter where they went was thanks to an internal value, the rumors between the NPCs. But Ark didn’t even register on the message board, and he had always solved the quest while hiding in the back. In the eyes of the Jackson NPCs, Ark hadn’t put in that much effort. If intimacy had fallen, then that was the only reason.
‘Dammit, it’s definitely something like that.’
When he came to that conclusion, something surged within him. Ark had worked harder than anyone all this time for Jackson’s sake. Granted, it wasn’t just for Jackson, but the result was he had played a crucial role in saving Jackson. He just hadn’t registered onto the message board, but their treatment had changed this much.
Until now, Ark had really treated NPCs like people. He sympathized when he saw a pitiful person, and he minded his manners when he met the elderly. It was something another player would snort at, but to Ark, they were more precious than players.
‘However, an NPC is just an NPC in the end…’
Since they were NPCs, of course they would receive the system’s influence. If there was a reason that dropped their internal value, it was a natural result for their attitudes to take a sudden change.
He knew. He knew they were existences made to act this way. But he was also boundlessly dispirited by it. Though it may have been his own delusion, the reality hit him even harder because he had thought of them as real human beings.
‘The relationship between the computer, humans, and NPCs has been that way from the beginning.’
He tried to understand, but there was no way to suppress his bitterness.
But no matter how much he regretted it, it was hopeless. Ark sighed as he headed towards the castle gate. He could use the Letter Movement Orb to fly to the Giran Magic Institute in an instant. However, there was still something he had to take care of in the Jackson vicinity. But just when he was about to leave through the gate, two Soldiers saw Ark and blocked his way, startled.
Ark cocked his head. The Guardsmen watching over the castle gate were also NPCs Ark had accumulated quite a lot of intimacy with.
“You cannot leave the castle right now.”
“What do you mean? Didn’t other people leave?”
“I don’t know about other people, but you can’t for now.”
“Only I can’t? Just why…?”
“If you can’t, then you can’t. We absolutely can’t let you leave until this evening.”
“I do not have time to wait until the evening. There is something I must do. Also, just what sin did I commit to be forbidden free entrance and exit of the castle gate?”
When Ark argued with an unhappy face, the Soldier thought for a while before answering.
“If you’re that curious, I’ll tell you. Actually, someone told the Lord about something related to you last evening. They said there was something suspicious, you know. So the Lord ordered Sir Cross to investigate that matter, and said to not let you out of the castle until the investigation ends.”
‘Is this the reason why the Jackson NPCs treated me coldly?’ Only then did Ark realize that returning to Giran wouldn’t be so simple. ‘Even so, something suspicious? Just what is he talking about?’
Granted, there were quite a few things he was guilty of. There were the items he’d pocketed when rescuing the Silver Arrow crewmen, and also the incident where he had made Alan’s mission fail by making his raid eat the Howling Seasoned Chilies. If a crewman or Alan found out about these and made an objection, then there was a possibility it could become a problem.
“If you’re innocent, then do as I said and wait inside the castle until the investigation ends.”
‘Dammit, this isn’t an intimacy problem. If this goes wrong..’
He could be labeled a criminal and a big issue could arise.
Ark became urgent at heart. He had to leave the castle at once. But if the Lord had issued a command, then there was no doubt he would be denied use of the magic tower as well. Moreover, it was currently daytime. He couldn’t use ‘Stealth’ to leave through the gate. Even so, he was leery about thoughtlessly waiting until the evening. Ark was agonizing with a troubled face when—
“Ark, so you were here.” Cross approached from behind him with three or four Soldiers. “I was looking for you. You’ll have to come with me for a bit.”
“Huh? But I’m…”
“You have no right to refuse. Oi, take Ark.”
Without even giving him a chance to speak, the Soldiers tied Ark up.
* * *
‘Where is this place?’
Ark turned his head around with an anxious look, but he couldn’t see anything because the Soldiers had even thrown a blindfold over him. But judging from the distance they had moved and the sounds he heard around him, it didn’t seem like a prison or a court. Considering his ears were picking up birdsong and he could feel the brush of the wind, he was probably in an expansive, open space…
‘How come I’ve been dragged to a place like this?’
Just then, he suddenly heard a heavy voice in front of him.
“Are you Ark?”
“Yes, I am. But…”
“From now on, answer only to the questions I ask. I won’t permit any other talk. Now, this is the first question. I heard you’ve used your friendship with the Lord to receive the task of guarding the back gate with the Guard even though you came to Jackson with the volunteer troops. Did you think to sit in a sufficiently comfortable position and take credit for participating in the volunteer troops?”
“It’s not like that!” Ark shouted in an angry voice. “It’s certainly true that I joined in with the Guards through my friendship with the Lord. But I swear upon my word, I had not a whit of selfishness. I simply thought I should act in such manner for Jackson, and I always fought the enemy on the front lines even while I was with the Guard. You could verify as much if you check with Sir Cross, the guardsmen, and the Lord.”
“Not a whit of selfishness? Then just why did you go so far as to put your life on the line and fight?”
“I came to help Jackson Castle simply because of a sense of duty.”
“Sense of duty? A foreigner like you?”
“Yes, this place is very special to me. I was friendly with all of the residents and the territory’s Soldiers, and of course with the current Lord, but even the previous Lord treated me, a mere beginner foreigner, like a friend. I felt the sincerity of the Lord and residents of Jackson and was touched. So this is how it feels to have a heart to heart friend. That is how I felt. And even now, there is no change in what I feel.”
“Is that why you went in and out of the refugee camp to nurse the patients?”
“H-how did you know that…?”
As Ark murmured with a shaken voice, he heard laughter in his vicinity. Then he heard the familiar young Lord’s voice.
“Hahaha, let’s stop joking. Sir Cross, remove the blindfold.”
When the blindfold came off, Ark wasn’t able to open his eyes because of the fierce sunlight. As he blocked the sunlight with his hand and blinked a few times, Ark’s face went blank.
It was a broad lot in the corner of Jackson Castle— countless people were gathered there. The young Lord, Cross, the Sylphid Knights, the Guards, residents, and the patients from the refugee camp…
All the NPCs of Jackson had gathered and were looking at Ark. And they weren’t the frosty looks he’d gotten just a little before, either.
They were gazes filled with affection hard to put into words.
“J-just what in the world is this…”
“Ark, we are truly grateful to you,” Said the young Lord as he seized Ark’s hand.
“Huh? What are you…?”
“You led the Guards and Militia numbering only 50 people and accomplished the seizure of the scorch cannon. In addition, the person who blew up the dike in the final battle and drove Valderas into a corner was you, right? We all heard from Raymond, who was controlling the scorch cannon then. Even with that alone, you achieved an astonishing deed. It is not second to the 10 Warriors… no, it is a greater service than them. Honestly, it’s to the extent that I cannot understand how you slipped out of the contributor list.”
That was, of course, because Ark refused registration. But an issue related to the system was something an NPC couldn’t understand.
“However, there’s something else that I am truly thankful for. I knew many of the refugees, who fled to the castle, were suffering from the disease. But there wasn’t much I could do. Also, many volunteers turned away from them as well. However, I heard you went to them every single day even while fighting battles and nursed them with sincerity. Even so, not once did you speak of your own good deeds.”
When the Guard was sleeping like babies, there was no other way for him to raise his contribution. And since contribution came in automatically when he nursed, there was no need for him to run off his mouth and draw the attention of other players. But the young Lord believed it was because of Ark’s sacrificial spirit and had an expression devoid of doubt.
“Thanks to you, many patients have now regained their health. And they came to me and requested, saying they were just refugees with nothing, but they wanted to repay you somehow. You’re not one to flaunt your good deeds, so weren’t you unable to receive a reward from the commander of the reinforcements, Count Juan? While it’s difficult to call it a substitute reward, it would be an eternal shame if we sent you, a person who loves Jackson more than anyone and doesn’t spare himself any suffering for its sake, off with empty hands. Therefore, we joined hands with the residents and prepared a small gathering.”
Cross and the Soldiers smiled sheepishly next to him. “I went and said something harsh while trying to keep it a secret from you. Sorry. Please understand.”
Ark glanced around him with a dumb look. Jackson NPCs were gazing at him with eyes filled to the brim with affection. A war had swept through Jackson Castle, rendering it so devastated that it was painful to behold. On one side of the lot, worn tables that had fallen from somewhere were laid out in rows, and the food the refugees had wholeheartedly prepared had been set on top.
“Being truly grateful to you, these are dishes the refugees made by hand. I thought you might like these more than food prepared by me. Are they not to your liking, by any chance?”
“How could I not…”
The tip of his nose abruptly crinkled. An indescribable emotion welled up.
The NPCs were living within the reality of the game; having endured a war in such a place, a handful of food was as precious as their lives. They had offered it without regret to Ark. It was only common bread, a little meat, and alcohol in crude bowls, but how could he think of it as meaningless? Furthermore, for a whole five years, Ark had never eaten food prepared by another person. However, a great number of NPCs had prepared him a meal inside a game. For Ark alone…
As he looked at each and everyone one of the residents, the sadness that had filled him just a little before disappeared like melting snow. In its place, he felt boundless fondness for those who had prepared a party for him.
“This is a more precious gift than any other I have ever received.”
“I thought you would say so,” said the young Lord as he smiled gently.
As Ark’s eyes welled with tears, a wave of quiet emotion swept through the lot. A few of the residents were following Ark and even dripping tears. Looking at Ark with brimming eyes, Tom wiped his tears as he spoke to Raymond.
“Ah, that’s right. Hey, all of you. This isn’t a place we made so we could sniffle and weep, yes? This is a place we prepared for our true hero, Ark. Everyone raise your glasses. To bless our hero Ark’s future!”
The residents cheered as they raised their glasses high.
The young Lord raised his glass with a pleased face and handed it to Ark. “You aren’t a person who sings his own praises. Even if you do a virtuous deed, not many people will recognize you for it. But look. A heroic deed won’t be hidden if you try to hide it. Rather, the more you hide it, the more it shines; we call such a person a hero. No matter what someone else says, to the people raising their glasses in this moment and this place, you are a hero. A brilliant hero who shines from a distant, high place. I am truly proud to know such a genuine hero.”
It was then. A cheerful tune rang out as a message window popped up.
You have received the title ‘Jackson’s Hero’ from the Jackson residents.
A person who receives the praises and interest of the people is not the only one who can become a hero. Rather, a true hero is someone who does not speak of his own virtues. As you do not boast your contributions, not everyone in the world will recognize you, but a heroic action will most definitely be rewarded. It will also be found out at some point and will impart a deep impression.
Jackson’s Hero is one of the ‘Unknown Righteous One’ titles. This is not known to many people, but it possesses the characteristic ‘Unrevealed Virtue’— many people will quickly approach you with friendliness. The characteristic will induce many changes in a quest’s progression or commission.
* As a title related bonus, All Stats rise by 2.
* Intimacy with all Jackson residents has increased to the maximum value.
* Fame increased by 50.
* As an influence of ‘Unrevealed Virtue,’ there will be a 30% penalty to Fame in all quest rewards from hence forth. In exchange, you will receive a 30% bonus in intimacy with NPCs.
‘I didn’t even register in the Hall of Fame, but a title…!’
Ark’s lips spread from ear to ear.
Jackson’s Hero— what a marvelous title! And it was a top title that raised all stats by 2! It was a bonus he hadn’t even considered.
The one thing that bothered him was the Fame penalty from the title. But the profession Ark had chosen was Dark Walker; to a Dark Walker who lived enshrouded in darkness, Fame was merely a decoration. Rather, it was far more profitable to trade off the unnecessary Fame for an intimacy bonus.
‘When you dig a well, you have to dig deep after all.’
The bellyache that had triggered after hearing the news of Alan receiving a title flew away in an instant.
A merry festival began shortly afterwards. Some residents came out holding instruments and played, and some clambered onto the tables and danced. The young Lord and the Soldiers also went along with them and sang as they clapped in rhythm. For the first time since the Dark Fog had descended, the residents shouted brightly and laughed openly.
“Isn’t that music?”
“I hear it from the lot over there, but just what could be going on?”
“All the so-called shops are closed, too… I can’t see that many Soldiers, either?”
The players in Jackson showed interest as they gathered. But they couldn’t enter because Soldiers were blocking the area around the lot. Having judged that Ark liked the ‘Unrevealed Virtue,’ the young Lord had blocked the entrance of other players. This was an event for Ark alone… it was a party.
As the party went on, Ark received so much food and drink that his stomach was on the verge of exploding as he was dragged around everywhere. At around the time when the fun ripened to its peak, Ark suddenly remembered JusticeMan, Roco, and the Militiamen, the people who had been with him to the end. They had participated up until the final battle despite their low levels, but they had regrettably died and hadn’t been able to receive any rewards.
‘Isn’t there something I can do for them?’
Ark approached the young Lord and gently tested the waters. “I am truly happy that Jackson Territory has regained its peace.”
“Indeed, this is all thanks to you, Sir Alan, and the volunteer troops.”
“Yes, but the Militia’s help was as great as theirs.”
“Of course. If not for them, Jackson might have fallen before the volunteer troops even arrived.”
Tipsy with wine, the young Lord nodded with a serious face.
“Among them, several participated in the final battle and contributed greatly in bringing down Valderas. But unfortunately, they all took great injuries and were unable to participate in the battle until the end. Many volunteer troops will receive their deserved rewards from the 3 Great Guilds, but not a single one of the Militia, who rallied at the Lord’s request from the very beginning and didn’t spare themselves for Jackson’s sake, received recognition for their contribution. It pains my heart so much.”
An NPC recognized a player who died in battle as wounded. It seemed NPCs regarded the fact that resurrection took 3 days, unlike usual, as having taken a big injury, making the recovery slow. Fundamentally, it didn’t hold up to the rigors of logic, but for the NPCs who accepted New World as reality, there was no other way for them to interpret the death and resurrection of a player.
“Mm, you did well to tell me. I too was bothered by that.”
“Though it was difficult for the entire Militia, there were several who didn’t spare themselves until the end— is there no way to give them, at least, the reward their efforts deserve?”
“I wonder… I too am aware of the Militia’s hard work. I also heard the Militia leader is an individual with such outstanding tactics and sense of justice that Sir Cross praised him with spittle flying from his mouth. However, it’s a custom that contribution is only acknowledged for those who end the battle successfully…”
Even when Ark, who had 100%, no, 1,000% intimacy tried to persuade him, the young Lord only sighed with a troubled expression.
It seemed that an NPC really couldn’t mess with the game system. Ark gave up on rewards in the end and changed his direction a little.
“Of course, I know it’s too much to hope for some kind of material reward. But if the Lord would remember their efforts and treat them as such in Jackson, it would be a great help to them.”
Ark had personally experienced just how much profit there was when a high ranking NPC like a Lord paid special attention to you. In some respects, getting their names known by the Lord could yield a greater profit for the still low-leveled JusticeMan and Roco than a reward of several Gold.
The young Lord showed a positive response at Ark’s suggestion. “Something like that is not very difficult, alright… You’re right. As a matter of fact, Jackson Territory’s forces have been greatly depleted from this incident, so I was worrying because there are gaps in our public security. Ark, tell them to come find me when they regain their health. It won’t be bad to try slowly discussing what they can do and what I can do for them, either.”