The civilization of the Versailles Continent dawned approximately one million and eight thousand years ago. Back then, Humans, Elves, Dwarves and Orcs lived together.
Dwarf women with deft hands served as midwives to baby Orcs. Orcs in infancy were christened by elven women, and human women bathed them clean in water. The four races had lived together, each compensating for what the others were missing.
The elf rangers gathered fruit from trees, the dwarf crafters made tools, and human scouts hunted game along with the Orc warriors. As deadly monsters abound in the world, the weak had no choice but to rely on one another to survive.
Orcs, who grew up within two or three years, were fine warriors by nature. Born with unnatural strength and a battle instinct, they sustained the elves and humans.
The Orcs claimed the leadership of the four races both in name and reality as no other race could keep up with the fertility and combat skills of the Orcs.
However, when humans developed agricultural techniques, domesticating plants and animals, they took over the food supply chain, and gradually challenged the supremacy of the Orcs.
The elves, who learned elemental and spirit magic in alliance with Nature, became arrogant and began to distance themselves from the Orcs, who they branded ignorant.
The dwarves advanced metals technology day after day, which gave them a new generation of weaponry to brave the Orcs.
The alliance of the four races was dismantled after a series of numerous hostile disagreements and bouts of jealousy.
The humans built towns, which later banded together to create kingdoms, on rich soil.
The elves moved to the Forest of No Return where the elements and spirits were magnified in effect, extending the domain of their magic widely.
The Orcs dispersed all over the wilderness and virgin soil, hunting the wild and distressing the civilized as they wished, enjoying combat without restraint.
The dwarves stayed holed up in the mountains, mining raw ore and refining their crafts.
Inevitably, human and Orc argued over scarce food, and the elves and the dwarves loathed each other in a struggle to secure preeminence in the Natural world.
This is the history of the Versailles Continent, the forgotten myth of four races.
* * *
The rumor about the odd stranger ran like wildfire through the Citadel of Serabourg.
It was about a beast who had been swinging a wooden sword at a scarecrow wordlessly for four consecutive weeks in the Training Hall.
Weed was swinging the wooden sword in silence. His strikes at the scarecrow showed no mercy. Every time the wooden sword sliced the scarecrow, a heavy sound exploded.
In the earlier days, he was content with barely grazing the scarecrow. As his strength and agility increased steadily, though, the wooden sword had been gathering force.
“Is he really a user?”
“Do you think he’s a real man? Slim chance.”
“Look at him. I bet he’s not.”
“Could it be an NPC?”
“Given his sudden appearance…”
“He should be an NPC connected to a quest!”
The eyes of some users began to glow with enthusiasm and a bunch of users offered food and money to win Weed’s favor, wondering if he was a quest NPC. Too proud to be treated as a beggar, Weed declined them, but they were persistent.
“Come on, please take this… ”
“Want something else? Just tell me. I’ll go find it.”
“Don’t you think a steel sword is definitely better than this wooden sword? I can give you a long sword, and it’ll come in handy.”
They trailed after Weed in the hope that he might introduce them to a special quest. They didn’t know it for certain, though, because Weed repeatedly denied being an NPC, and shooed them away, saying they were disturbing his training. Oddly, this rather strengthened their conviction.
“He’s not accepting any gift.”
“Who can hit the scarecrow not only one or two days, but for four weeks in a row?”
“And he’s a big friend of the instructor…!”
The instructor, who had always looked down upon users as a nuisance, was nice to Weed, going so far as sharing lunch with him every day. To the public, Weed didn’t look like a human.
The only way to tell users from NPCs is when they come out with their identity. This was why Weed caused misunderstanding in other users.
Several high level users saw through Weed’s intentions to improve strength and other stats. They came near and were nice to him. They approached him on purpose, knowing full well he was a user.
“If you join my clan, we will support you to save your disappointment.”
“We will sponsor you until you hit level one hundred. Nothing spared.”
Royal Road has a concept of clans or guilds like other online games, but there is a bigger picture.
The objective of every clan with high-level rankers is to enthrone an Emperor in their midst—to found their own empire on the Versailles Continent, and rule over all creation.
With taxes collected monthly, feudal lords and monarchs can build essential facilities such as granaries and blacksmiths’ workshops in towns under their supervision, or throw in money to enlist recruits and train them well.
Given a ruler who administers the affairs of state, the economy develops, technology advances. Technological innovation leads to better weaponry produced by blacksmiths, and the size of a city depends on its public security and sanitation.
In laying down national and regional policies and setting up diplomatic ties with other countries, the king on the top of a pyramid-like society exercises greater authority than anyone else.
Kings encourage cities and fortresses to expand in their domain, drawing more immigrants who become subject to their rule. Besides internal affairs, there is war.
If and when someone declares war, the armies called up by ambitious kings engage in battle with each other under the command of generals.
Layman users in the position of subjects demand that their user kings are wise and just. Therefore, the cities where they reside will grow more prosperous, and trade of goods will be more dynamic, which stimulates the users to aspire for success in the game.
Still, Weed declined all the clan offers.
Strength rises by 1 point. (+1 STR)
Agility rises by 1 point. (+1 AGI)
Vitality rises by 1 point. (+1 VIT)
Fame rises by 20 point. (+20 FAME)
Life rises by 100 point. (+100 HP)
The wooden sword had not shown any sign of pausing suddenly stopped in mid-air. Then Weed closed his eyes.
“I’ve made it.”
For four weeks, according to the game’s time flow, Weed had improved the stats as much as he could in the Training Hall. To his surprise, he earned a little fame—never hurts to have some fame.
The more fame you have, the cheaper you can buy goods from grocery stores or blacksmith’s workshops, and you can get more respect in talking or negotiating with NPCs.
The instructor, who had been watching him pleasantly at a distance, walked up to Weed and said,
“Good job, Weed-nim.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I didn’t expect you would come so far. Yet you overcame my prejudice. I am very proud of you.”
“I’m indebted to your teaching, Honorable Instructor.”
“Haha! You’re absolutely right.” The instructor laughed heartily.
Weed knew from experience how high a simple word could lift up the instructor.
The instructor handed a sword to Weed.
“What’s this sword…?”
“It is yours. This sword is awarded to a man who completes the basic training program.”
A question suddenly occurred to Weed.
He had learned by accident that he could improve stats by swinging a wooden sword at a scarecrow in the Training Hall.
While combing through online game communities, he had read a posting about it in a forum run by a couple of small-size clans.
Therefore, he had focused on bringing up his stats as much as possible in the Training Hall before he began seriously.
Weed had good reason for it, though he conceded that it might sound inefficient to invest four weeks to improve his stats slowly one by one.
As far as other users were concerned, they would rather waste less lime to acquire an item that boosted stats so little.
“Still”, Weed thought, “it isn’t the same as training hard to strengthen the bottom line stats of one’s avatar. It makes a difference, a big one”
As good luck would have it, you might pick up a good item during a journey, but your original stats will be the same, regardless of whatever items you are equipped with. Suppose you rise forty points in strength, and imagine what it will be like when you wear a +50 STR necklace.
The stats that Weed had drilled in the Training Hall would help him right up to the last minute of the game play.
Weed pondered the meaning of the instructor’s remark and finally asked, “Do you know how many people completed the basic training by now?”
“Sixteen here,” the instructor answered immediately.
“The Continent is vast, Weed-nim. I think there are a total of thirty-eight hundred foreigners who finished the basic training program in all the Training Halls. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has finished the basic training as fast as you did.”
Thirty-eight hundred people! Weed’s eyes flashed fire.
“They are my potential rivals”
His next question broke a brief moment of silence.
“You said this is basic training. Do you provide a higher level of training program?”
“I don’t, but there are other places.”
“Where are they?”
“I do not know where they are located. I heard they were open only to those who were destined to find them. You must finish a basic level to be qualified for the next level of training.”
“Thank you for the information, Honorable Instructor.”
“Don’t mention it.”
Weed was now done with the Training Hall. When he turned to leave, the instructor called to him.
“Weed-nim, do you have a plan?”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“An expeditionary force is scheduled to depart for the Lair of Litvart a week from now. A colleague of mine is the commander of the force. His name is Midvale. If you do not have a better thing to do for now, why don’t you lend your sword to him?”
A Clean-up Operation in the Lair of Litvart
Rosenheim Kingdom has been greatly suffering from the monsters, which have risen in number for the last decade. King Theodarren, righteous and benevolent ruler of Rosenheim, issued a royal degree to order a distinguished knight, Sir Midvale, to explore the Lair of Litvart and root out monsters. Eradicate the monsters in the Lair of Litvart with Sir Midvale and his soldiers.
The instructor’s proposal was a mission that any other user would rush to accept gladly. The Rosenheim Royal Army abounds in well-organized, hard-trained soldiers. The average level for infantrymen is almost thirty, and a knight’s level surpasses 150 generally speaking.
In particular, those knights with their own name among the ranks are revered as Titled Knights. Their levels lie between levels 180-220. This size of force can clear away any lair without complication. The Lair of Litvart is not at all likely to be an exception.
According to Weed’s research, the Lair of Litvart was infested by kobolds at levels in the twenties and goblins in the 50s.
All Weed needed to do after he joined the force on the mission was to stay alive, whether he actively look part in a battle or not. It was a golden opportunity that was offered to him out of the instructor’s goodwill. But Weed shook his head.
“I am sorry, sir.”
You have declined the quest.
“No way. What is troubling you, Weed-nim…?”
“It is nothing. I just don’t have a class yet.”
“O my Freya… you’re right! I acted too rashly. Visit me any time you please. I will let you know if I can recommend a quest that is suitable to you.”
The instructor had not only reached level two hundred, but also kept in contact with the soldiers who were trained by him. In other words, he had established his own network in the Royal Army.
Still, the instructor’s relatively humble position prevented it being tracked by high-ranking officials.
Suddenly, the instructor asked in a low voice,
“Weed-nim, have you chosen what class you want to convert to?”
“I am yet to decide. I have to go to the intelligence guild, and see what class they recommend.”
The intelligence guild gives counsel to users, depending on their stats and skills.
In the early stage, most users walk a similar path, so the intelligence guild classifies them into two groups—combat classes (melee and supportive) and craft classes, including merchants.
On rare occasions, the guild unveils hidden classes. Very rare, indeed.
“I am telling you this only because you are… a trustworthy man who refused the opportunity to convert to such a trashy class as sculptor. Tell me honestly, Weed-nim—do you regret not having taken up the engraving knife?”
“No way, sir! Sculptor, I won’t take it no matter what.”
“Humph, I have never told this to anyone else… you are the first man. Come closer.”
The instructor’s voice dropped to a quiet murmur. He spoke in a whisper close to Weed’s ear. Weed got goose bumps when the Orc-like instructor’s breath brushed over his face, but he kept his disgust in check.
“You are looking for a fine class. I will show you the way. Have you heard of Rodriguez the Sage?”
“Go visit him. Praised as the Star of Wisdom, he is revered as being knowledgeable in all things. He will tell you what profession suits you best, much better than a mere intelligence guild. But…”
“The catch is the Counselor is a queer fish. Worse enough, you never know where he will hop next. He’s ill-natured, naughty and narrow-minded.”
“You can’t see him in person in the usual way. He will not bother listening to you in the first place. But if you give this to him, he will do you a favor, only once.”
Item: Queen Evane’s Handkerchief
“Thank you, Honorable Instructor.”
“Not at all. I feel rather responsible for your decision because I can’t deny that many sword warriors fare worse than moonlight sculptors. I pray to Freya that you will get a fine class. Beware of Counselor Rodriguez. He knows no shame, so you should not tell him what you want until he speaks to you.”
When Weed made his farewells to the instructor on the way out of the Training Hall, a towering man approached him.
The giant’s name was Python, a fearless warrior with a gigantic sword.
“Are you leaving now?”
“Hmm, where are you going?”
“I’ll first find a class, and then I’ll work hard to raise my level.”
”I’m sure you will make it to the top very fast. I haven’t seen anyone as steadfast as you in online games! Though I’m proud of how tough I am, you are literally a man of steel.”
Python was a warrior at level 288.
He had learned a new skill, so he had come to the Training Hall to experiment with it.
When he arrived at the hall, it was crowded with a flood of users, all of whom had gathered to observe Weed.
Python was also a man of curiosity.
Some people got Weed mixed up with a NPC, but when Python, squeezed by the crowd, overheard that a user could improve stats in the Training Hall, he had started whacking the scarecrow right next to Weed.
The force that was released from Python’s massive figure had been shocking.
With a few more users who had participated in the show, Python had unintentionally diverted public attention from Weed.
For the last week, Python was the only user who Weed had spoken to so far.
“Thank you for your compliment.”
“Anyway, I’m looking forward to it! The day we run across each other. You won’t disappoint me, will you?”
“You’ll be disappointed.”
“With your weakness, I’m far tougher than you can imagine.”
Python laughed aloud. As his level was in the high 280s, he ranked among the strongest and was treated with respect everywhere he went. He was intrigued by Weed, who could make cutting remarks to the powerful.
Python’s eyes narrowed a little more seriously.
“I’ll be really looking forward to it.”
Weed said goodbye to him, and headed to the manor of Rodriguez the Sage.
“Rodriguez the Sage, the Star of Wisdom, is omnipotent in knowledge. He will give me guidance as to what class I should get,” he told himself.
* * *
The manor of Counselor Rodriguez was located in the northern section of the Citadel of Serabourg, and soldiers were on the watch, circling the manor.
As soon as Weed walked close to the gate, two soldiers called out for him to stop.
“Halt! What’s your business here, stranger?”
“I am here to visit the Counselor. I have something for him the instructor in the Training Hall entrusted me with.”
“It’s too bad. I understand you have business to be taken care of, but the Counselor does not expect anyone with such little fame,” the soldier answered in a matter-of-fact tone.
“But I have an article the instructor asked me to deliver to the Counselor in person.”
“It is none of my business. Do you think you are allowed to visit His Highness just because you have something for him?”
In short, it requires an impressive reputation, or comparable fame, to pay a visit to Kings or nobles and Weed’s fame was only 20, far too low to enter the Counselor’s manor.
“I personally know the instructor in the Training Hall very well. He once trained me with his own hands. Still, I can’t permit your entry to the manor.”
“If you insist on that, am I allowed to stay here as long as I don’t enter the manor?”
The guards were perplexed by Weed’s question. “Make yourself clear, traveler.”
“I’m asking if you mind if I just sit down on the street and wait for the sage to come out?”
“Not at all.” The soldier added indifferently, “The Street is open to everyone.”
Weed nodded slightly.
“Thank you for your permission,”
“Not at all. But…”
“Beg your pardon?”
“I’m telling you this because you’re an acquaintance of the instructor – the Counselor often locks himself in the manor for a week or so. Especially when an unwelcome visitor knocks on the door, he will definitely keep it shut. Are you still willing to wait for him?”
Liu Bei visited Zhuge Liang three times to recruit him, and he turned out to be the cornerstone in founding a new dynasty in south-western China. Reminded of the famous episode, Weed nodded.
Weed squatted across from the manor, anticipating the Counselor would emerge any second. He sometimes chatted with the guards, and quickly learned that the instructor was well respected among the lower ranks.
“A man who had once dreamed of knighthood, he is now fully qualified for one.”
Meanwhile, the night deepened and the Sage’s manor darkened.
“I’d be a liar if I said I expected to get what I want on the first day. He can’t hide inside forever.”
Weed found it futile to mount guard over the manor because the Counselor was asleep. He withdrew from there and headed for the gate.
A moonlit night intensifies the brutality of monsters on the Versailles Continent. They get stronger by half, and yield an extra thirty percent of EXPs. This provokes a heightened attention from users to avert the risk of death.
That night marked Weed’s first adventure away from the Citadel. On a wide-open field a bunch of users ran after foxes, rabbits and raccoons, a scene created by newbies, whom Weed would soon join.
“So I have something I can use as a weapon…?”
He took out the iron sword given by the instructor, and held it tight.
“Item stat window.”
Hard Iron Sword:
Awarded to those who completed the Basic Training Program. This widely-used long sword is better than basic type weapons that are available in a blacksmith’s workshop.
The sword given by the instructor was one of the finest available to Weed. He swung it a few times, realized that its balance was ideal, and felt comfortable with it. Weed checked the other weapon.
“Engraving Knife Stat!”
Zahab’s Engraving Knife:
A short tiny engraving knife, specifically built for delicate workmanship. This knife is very sharp.
Equip: Increases your chances of scoring a critical hit.
The engraving knife dealt more damage than the hard iron sword, but Weed chose the latter. For one thing, it was longer, thus reaching farther. With the engraving knife, he felt it tricky to work on the enemy. The hard iron sword was more useful in terms of slaying monsters.
Moreover, the engraving knife didn’t wear down easily, thanks to its high durability. This advantage transferred to Weed, who had obtained the repair skill, and the hard steel sword provided more opportunities to sharpen the repair skill because it was comparatively fragile, requiring frequent maintenance.
“Great. I guess I’m ready to go.” Weed swung his iron sword about. “Raccoons, foxes, wolves, bring it on. I’ll take all of you down.”
The moment he went out hunting—
“Excuse me.” Someone spoke to Weed, who was walking in silence.
“Are you alone?” Weed turned around. He saw a cute-looking girl right in front of him. She wore a cotton hat and bluish leather armor.
“A girl,” he said to himself.
“Yes, It’s only me.” Weed lowered his tone.
“Do you want to join us for a hunting mission? We’ve got a mage, a cleric, an archer and a monk.”
Weed looked over her shoulder before he answered. There were two girls in robes and a man who he guessed was a ranger. Once he sized them up, he figured out why they had asked a stranger to join their party.
Those users were all ‘squishies’ wearing clothes and leather armor, limited to long-range attacks, so they needed a missing piece—a tanker who would provide protection for them.
It’s not a bad deal. It’s my first battle, and it’s probably better to start off in a party. Always better safe than sorry, he thought.
Weed readily consented,
“Sounds good to me.”
Weed quickly joined the party.
“Nice to see you. I am Irene, level 7 priestess. I specialize in healing and divine power protection expertise.”
“I’m a level 6 mage, name’s Romuna. Mainly deal with the element of Fire.
The two girls introduced themselves first, and then it was the man’s turn. He studied Weed’s face with curiosity before he spoke.
”I’m Pale, level 6 archer. You have balls, man, going solo on night hunting like that.”
“Hehe, I’m Surka, level 7 monk.”
They told him their names and levels, and now it was Weed’s turn.
“Name’s Weed. Level 3.”
A quiet shock swept over the others.
Pale plucked up courage and asked,
“And what’re you equipped with?”
“All I’ve got is this sword.”
Down to the last dust in his pocket, Weed only had five silvers. Fine leather armor, other than disposables, cost thirty silvers.
Weed had not bothered with ordinary quests, so he didn’t even have enough money to purchase leather armor.
“And your class is…?”
Weed answered, shaking his head dubiously. He sensed something wasn’t quite right, though he could not pinpoint why.
“Gosh!” Pale finally sucked in a breath. He looked completely lost.
“I guess it’s up to you to take your time deciding what the best class is for you… By the way, it looked like you were hunting alone. Is it your first time out here?”
“Yes, I’m new to the virtual reality game.”
“I see. Why am I not surprised to hear that?”
At Weed’s frank response, Irene and Romuna looked at Surka with scolding eyes. Their looks said that she had picked the wrong guy.
Lv. 3, class: Undecided.
As if that were not bad enough, this shabby-looking kid was a newbie in virtual reality.
Lack of experience usually proves fatal when confronted by a monster in your first battle. You simply lose your calm, lose your reason, and then lose your life, in that order.
They were aware of this because they had been through their share of newbie-hood.
These animals, though tailored for beginners within reach of the Citadel, are still comparatively fierce and mighty. Quite a challenge for a single player.
“Whew… I think we’re kind of in trouble.”
Pale didn’t know what to say and made an evasive smile. Weed decided to talk straight in order to save everyone from discomfort.
“I’ll leave the party if you think I’ll do more harm than good.”
Surka acknowledged her mistake and bowed to Weed apologetically. At the second look, she saw he was wearing basic GIs.
“I thought he was strong ’cause he had an iron sword. Geez, where did he get that sword? It looks awfully good…” She said to herself.
Weed broke away from the part and headed to the field alone. Pale and Surka felt guilty having disowned him.
“What should we do now? Look for a replacement?”
Replacements were everywhere. The only commodity that was long on supply on the Versailles Continent was users, and monsters were short in supply.
“Look, we already shook hands with him.”
“If we fight as a team, it’ll work out, right?”
“I guess so, but…”
“Let’s give it a try.”
They caught up with Weed. He was busy staring at a bunch of rabbits and raccoons that were hopping about. He was ignorant of monsters in general, how much damage they could inflict and what pattern they would use to attack.
Pale asked, “Excuse me, if you’re still interested, we want you in.”
“I have a low level. If you’re okay with it, I want to play with you guys,” Weed said cautiously.
“Well, we’re cool. We are now a team. You don’t need to exert yourself on the front, and if you feel like it, you can stay behind us.”
Pale suggested Weed take cover instead of taking an active role in hunting. In their eyes, he was no more than a pure newbie.
“Are you sure about it?”
“Yes. You can’t collect as much experience as you are actually bringing your party down when you’re making less contribution, but your priority at this point is raising your level. Listen, level three to level six makes a lot of difference, even though they’re only three levels apart. If you’re at level three and add all stat bonus points in strength, you’ll get twenty-five. I have forty. Add to it ten bonus points in the course of converting to a class, and the gap between you and me widens drastically.”
Pale omitted this, but additional rewards in accordance with a user’s class were more noticeable.
For instance, take an archer wielding a sword and a sword warrior yielding a sword, the sword warrior can inflict twice the damage as an archer wielding a sword. On the other hand, his arrow will make less than half the damage dealt by the archer. It was, to say the least, a disappointment to the others that Weed was freelance.
“Now, stay behind and watch us take down mobs for now, Weed-nim. When you find room to spare, get in, have a go and leave. It will help us if you just confuse mobs, divert their agro elsewhere.”
Weed nodded. “I see.”
The confusion was settled, and Weed decided to join their party and hunt monsters together. It was a pick-up group designed to handle dull beasts around the Citadel, and his teammates had already been engaged in pick-and-roll without him. The thing is, though, that they had realized it was too risky that only Surka, a monk whose agility in dodging attacks compensated for a low defense level, had tanked on the frontline. That was why they had been searching for a tanker.
* * *
Ahn Hyundo, successor of Bonkuk Kumdo, one of the traditional schools for swordsmanship in Korea, pursed his lips in dissatisfaction. In the dojang, hundreds of teenagers and adults were practicing Kumdo, yelling battle cries, or kihap, in the language of Bonkuk Kumdo.
Ahn Hyundo could hear erupting kihaps and the whistling sounds generated by swords in action.
Once you master swordsmanship, a sound gives you a clue as to which stage a Kumdo practitioner is in.
Ahn Hyundo was ranked the best Kumdo master, recognized worldwide, four-time World Champion of Swordsmanship.
As Ahn Hyundo matured in age, he retreated to his own dojang and dedicated his time and energy to training the next generation of Kumdo practitioners, but his hand and body had never left the sword, even for a second.
“I haven’t seen anyone with the guts. I should have trained that kid properly when he was around. He’s got something, something that could transcend my talent. Plus he’s got the guts and balls…”
Ahn Hyundo used to be satisfied that he had quite a number of competent apprentices. They had enough talent to qualify for a medal in the World Championship of Swordsmanship that was held every five years.
One day, however, the grand master’s perception had been turned upside down.
* * *
A year ago.
A man of about twenty years of age visited Ahn Hyundo’s dojang.
“Hello, I am Lee Hyun. I’ve come here because they recommended this is the best dojang.”
“Son, you handled a sword before?”
“No, sir. That’s why I’m here to learn it.”
“True. You must learn it. Learn and learn until you have an understanding of the big picture of swordsmanship, then we may talk about who’s the best.”
Ahn Hyundo believed it was the end of it, and forgot about the kid for a while. Then one morning, he saw Lee Hyun swinging a sword in a shower of sunlight.
Lee Hyun swung the sword for hours. His movement synchronized with his breathing patterns, and his sword emitted a beautiful sound. He had already reached a stage beyond what a beginner could achieve in a few months.
Ahn Hyundo summoned his subordinate instructors and asked them about Lee Hyun, who turned out to be devoted to ceaseless drills.
“Speaking of that apprentice, he’s got the bug. I haven’t seen anyone who’s more obsessed with training than him.”
“How obsessed is the kid?”
“Once he picks up a sword, he never lets it go, unless we pull it from his hands.”
“You have to pull the sword from his hands to stop him?”
“Yes, master. If we leave him alone, he will swing the sword hard until he’s completely out of breath. The first day he joined the dojang, he kept swinging the sword when his palms were shredded with bleeding.”
“He went so far…”
“Yes, master. Exactly the same thing occurred on the second day. He trained in sword techniques while bleeding until a callus formed, his grip was firm, and his palms were as hard as a rock. So it’s not surprising that he reached this level so fast.”
Ahn Hyundo chose Lee Hyun to be his successor without telling him so.
Talent and work. The apprentice had both virtues, and what really captured the master’s mind were his eyes. When Ahn Hyundo instructed his would-be successor to a duel, his eyes glowed with something distinctive.
It was the will to fight, which an ordinary man whose instinct had been emasculated by civilization could not muster. This was found in Lee Hyun.
It was still a time of trial for him. Ahn Hyundo believed that it was too early to tell his plans to Lee Hyun, which might jeopardize his progress. Therefore, the master had treated his apprentice rather indifferently, motivating him with plenty of objectives and watching his progress from a distance.
Then, one day, Lee Hyun stopped checking in at the dojang.
* * *
—Back to now.
Ahn Hyundo’s sigh deepened.
“I wonder what he’s been doing. I should have made him my successor when I could.”
* * *
Taking cover behind Pale, Weed was watching the battle from a safe place.
“Irene, help me!”
“Roger! Fire ball!” Romuna chimed in.
“Divine power leads us to a triumph, Blessing!””
While Surka the monk was attacking a fox head-on, Romuna, Pale and Irene attacked at the fox from behind.
They adopted this strategy because Surka’s level was seven, the highest among them, and the rest were squishes with relatively low life and defense.
The fox moved swiftly from one place to another. It dodged Surka’s fist with little damage, and the tail attacks when it suddenly spun around were sometimes critical enough to make her back away.
With little stamina left, Surka often found herself at the risk of immobilization. Then, Irene would give her rapid healing to replenish her life and stamina while the others attacked the fox to take the agro away from her.
They’re not bad.
The quartet’s teamwork was emphatic.
They neither lusted for cheap items, nor became worked up over small things. It appeared to him that the chemistry among his teammates had built up over time. Perhaps they had teamed up in another on line game before they migrated to Royal Road.
Still, they had to ratchet up the tension while hunting a fox at level five.
Raccoons and rabbits were easy game, which Surka could handle alone. But a fox was tough, to put it mildly.
Weed easily grasped that this party focused on foxes in their hunting spree. He watched the ongoing battle for a while-until he thought he had seen enough of it.
His sharp eyes analyzed the patterns in movement of the foxes and Surka.
It’s easier than I thought.
They outnumbered their enemy by four to one. The way a fox moved was slow and predictable as far as he could see. He watched it until he gained enough confidence. Then, he held the iron sword and left the cover.
Surka smiled at Weed who was coming up to her side.
“Watch out, Weed-nim.”
“Yup.” His response was very short.
The monster on their radar was once again a fox.
“I’m going to attract her attention first Weed-nim, you attack later. Like when it’s almost dead.”
Surka punched the fox, which jumped on her in a reflex action. Romuna, Pale and Irene rained projectiles, both physical and magical, on to their victim.
When the fox’s life dropped to one third, Weed slid in.
He had little experience of battles previously in virtual reality games, but he was acquainted with real sword fights through hundreds of duels. Plus, he had struck the scarecrow tens of thousand times.
The iron sword drew a shiny-white trace in the air in a fraction of second. At the end of the gaudy semi-circle was the fox.
Weed had timed the attack so precisely that the fox could not even try to dodge it.
A message window that was visible only to Weed popped up. Critical hit!
That only appeared when the damage was doubled as a result of an effective attack, the outcome of exquisite timing.
The fox was cut in half, and disappeared in a flash. It dropped two items. A fox pelt and meat.
You can turn meat to steaks by cooking on a bonfire, and fox pelt is one of the most widely used materials for clothes. This kind of production process requires related skills. Newbies rarely learn such skills as cooking and tailoring. It is more often than not that these items are destined to end up on a shelf in the nearest grocery store.
“Great move! You were lucky this time.”
Grinning, Surka collected the items.
Pale and Romuna, who had been casting the most powerful spells in case of a counterattack, were delighted by their new teammate’s success.
“Weed-nim, we’ll distribute items among us when the hunting mission’s over.”
“Then, I’ll go lure another fox. Everyone, get ready.”
“Okay. Bring a fox full of items again.”
“Shoot. Wish it were up to me,” grumbled Surka comically.
She dealt a punch to a fox that was wandering by, and attracted it closer.
“Blessing. Healing Hand”
Surka put up a tough fight as the fox was moving swiftly. Pale and Romuna pressured the fox persistently.
Weed’s iron sword began to move when the fox had forty percent of life remaining. The sword slid out of the sheath and struck the fox like lightning.
As luck would have it, the fox didn’t drop any item this time, not that items dropped by ordinary foxes were of any great value.
For the third fox, the sword went into action with fifty percent of its life remaining.
A critical hit didn’t burst this time, so the fox survived Weed’s first strike. It was followed by a sequence attack that flowed like liquid. The slain fox left only one item.
“It seems strange.”
“We’re hunting foxes faster.”
“When Weed attacks them, they almost always die.”
A few foxes later, his other teammates detected the pattern.
Since Weed had joined the party, the pace at which they were hunting foxes had picked up. As soon as he pulled out his iron sword, foxes were helplessly slaughtered. They disappeared in a gray flash the moment Weed brandished the sword.
“What in the world!”
Pale’s mouth dropped open, planning to stay there for some time. For Weed slew foxes so fast, Surka was busy drawing new ones from far away.
Even if Pale didn’t bother shooting arrows, the pace of hunting hardly slowed down. This apparently inexplicable situation in the eyes of everyone else in his party was attributed to Weed’s stats.
Initially, Weed had been given ten points in strength at the activation of his account, plus forty points that he had obtained from the Training Hall. He had invested stat bonus points acquired by the two level-ups equally in strength and agility. As a result, his strength and agility were both fifty-five, and stamina fifty.
Moreover, Weed enjoyed ten points in strength from the iron sword he was equipped with. To achieve this level of strength solely by raising your level, you need to hit level eleven as you invest fully in strength.
More remarkably, Weed’s agility, stamina, willpower and vitality were way beyond his current level. It needs at least eight to nine extra level-ups to improve so much.
Weed, level three, rivaled an average Lv. 30 warrior.
A more surprising fact was that he had advanced sword mastery to level four while striking the scarecrow. It translated into forty percent more damage dealt to the enemy.
Weed’s current level in sword mastery was four plus 98 percent. Once it reached level five, the effect on attack power would increase to fifty percent. Last but not least, the iron sword that the instructor had given Weed was a sort of high-powered luxury compared to his level. To sum it up, a fox was no match for Weed.
“That sword must be a unique item.”
Pale immediately became suspicious. Otherwise, they could not come up with a proper explanation for Weed’s uncommon strength. They were still newbies, so they could not see how Weed knew how to come in at the right moment.
In battles in virtual reality online games, as they are based on real-time movements, a martial art maniac is obviously better positioned than a klutz.
Weed utilized the sword techniques that he had trained for during the whole year, down to trivial-looking footwork, which was invisible to the untrained eye. They simply believed that his sword was superb.
Excited, Surka lured foxes one by one.
Weed held the iron sword tight. He was in high spirits because the sword techniques he had examined and learned were proving productive.
“I didn’t waste the year. Now!” he cried to himself.
Many of Weed’s attacks were deemed critical. He predicted where the fox would move, and executed his attack exactly where it went. His yearlong training that demanded sweat and blood was bearing fruit.
Brisk battle cries came from his mouth. He was immersed in his own fight, keeping eye contact with the foxes and swinging the sword mercilessly.
Irene and Romuna giggled at the comical sight of Weed acting and looking so serious. Suddenly, the fox’s paw scratched him on the chest.
Weed’s torso flashed in white. Then, he realized that, even before he received the divine power, the gauge of his life dropped minimally.
Weed called out to Surka, who was running to draw another fox,
“What’s your life?”
“It’s 150. Why?”
“Oh, nothing. I’m just curious.”
A fox could give a maximum damage of 15. Defenseless, Weed had to absorb the full damage, but his life was over seven hundred.
“Okay, Surka-nim. How about I do the tanking for now?”
“Are you sure it’s okay?”
“Yup. So, you keep drawing foxes. Romuna-nim and Irene can’t move far away because their stamina runs out quickly. Pale-nim, can you shoot at foxes in the distance to lure them over here?”
In a short time, Weed had assumed the role of leader of the party.
“Then, Pale-nim, please help Surka-nim bring foxes here.”
Weed moved wildly. When Surka ran back, taking damage from a fox, he quickly took care of it. Those foxes drawn by Pale’s arrows fell immediately by his sword, only to vanish in a gray flash. Weed hit level 4. He decided to invest every stat bonus points in agility.
The higher the agility is, the more easy it is to dodge an enemy attack and more likely you are to hit the enemy. It is directly related to evasion and accuracy.
The iron sword in Weed’s possession was marvelous for a novice, providing extra leverage in strength. So he boldly invested 5 points in agility, instead of strengthening his avatar.
The hunting spree continued. Excited by the fast pace, Romuna and Irene could not believe their luck. They had never experienced such fantastic hunting.
“Surka, bring more foxes here.”
“Exactly. Just leave everything else to us. You can concentrate entirely on the bait.”
Surka was busy drawing foxes to them. So was Pale.
If Weed had hunted by himself, he would have to roam in search of target monsters and often take a rest to replenish his stamina when it ran out. Instead, his party provided bait and a priest for him, which unarguably quickened the pace of hunting.
It’s not like a single play.
Back when Weed played The Continent of Magick, he had always been surrounded by monsters.
Weed used to walk in a dungeon populated by monsters and fight them as he pleased. He had logged on days and nights until he ran out of potions and herbs.
The inventory had been saddled with so many items that it interfered with his movement. Monsters had surprised him everywhere. Weed had fought on in a circle of monsters.
He had killed so many, and in return, been killed as many times.
Weed felt that a group game was far from the way he used to play. It was more effective, and he was having more fun. Their strategy soon backfired.
Surka made a deadly mistake. When she tried to bait a fox, she unintentionally caught a wolf’s attention.
While trying to run away, Surka screamed, “Run away, everyone!”
The wolf was chasing after Surka on four legs. Its monstrous muzzle dripped saliva.
While the rest faltered, Surka was constantly assaulted by the wolf. It was faster than a fox, easily gaining on her. It looked hopeless.
“I’ll rescue her. You should all run away. By the power of the Holy Spirit, restore her health. Healing Hand!”
Irene the priestess rejected the impulse to run for her life, and cast the Healing Hand over and over to refill Surka’s diminishing life.
After a moment’s indecision, Pale began shooting arrows at the wolf.
One, two, three shots. As soon as he loaded an arrow on his bow, he shot it. The multiple shots, his signature skill, flew at the wolf, but it hardly flinched.
Now that the wolf had registered the entire party as its enemy, it would eventually attack Irene and Pale after it had finished off Surka.
Then, what would Weed do? He held the iron sword and stepped forward.
Can I make it? Why not! At first sight, the wolf’s teeth and claws looked threatening.
Weed had bet that the wolf would throw its heavy weight on him and, rather than clawing, bite him in a crazed fashion.
“You’d better deal with me before anyone else,” Weed said, standing in the wolf’s way.
Weed didn’t expect the wolf to understand what he had said, but as if it knew from instinct that the deadliest enemy had just appeared, it turned its eyes on him.
The wolf leapt off the ground, straight at Weed.
Weed rolled to one side swiftly, out of the path where the wolf was charging, and swung the sword. Its teeth nearly slit his throat.
That scratch alone slashed 80 points of his life.
“Weed-nim, run away! My mana ran out, so I can’t help you with Healing Hand,” Irene shouted.
“Shoot. What kind of priestess doesn’t know how to manage her mana?” he said to himself.
Since Irene was fully assigned to healing, she should have always reserved a sufficient amount of mana in case of emergency. If not, someone could end up lying dead, or in the worst scenario, the entire party would face annihilation.
Weed had believed Irene must have had something up her sleeve when she volunteered to come to Surka’s rescue. To his dismay though, all that she, a priestess by nature, had was heart.
The current predicament didn’t give Weed any time to blame her. The wolf was growling at him.
After a few flames from Romuna, no more reinforcing magical power came flying from behind. Apparently, she had run out of mana.
Only Pale was left shooting arrows from a distance. The wolf got bloody, yet Pale’s futile attempts only prompted it to intensify its aggression.
“Bring it on, you bitch!” Weed swung the sword and confronted the wolf.
Yelping, the wolf leapt on him. From that time, Weed’s pose and moves changed drastically.
His legs were glued to the ground while his waist and shoulders rocked back and forth. Like a breeze, Weed let the fierce wolf pass by.
“I’ll be a fool if I die here.”
Weed was capable of predicting the wolf’s next move, and a single wound wasn’t as much as he had been afraid of.
“I know I can defeat it.”
Weed loosened his grip on the sword on purpose.
The wolf groaned in a cry of pain. Even after Weed had sacrificed a portion of his power in exchange for a higher speed, the physical damage delivered by his sword was substantial.
Weed was also wounded every time the wolf clawed at him. His life of 700 fell to 200.
He was already coated in his own blood.
“Sorry, Weed-nim! I can’t pin it down. It’s moving too fast!”
Pale’s low agility made it impossible to make a hit on the wolf, which moved like a streak of lightning.
“I’ll fight, too.”
Surka came to Weed. She had already been injured when she had been chased by the wolf, her life lower than half.
Stumbling with shaky legs, Weed said, “Now, listen. You guys all should run to safety while I can still cover you.”
“It’s the only chance you have. Now!”
Pale and Surka looked at each other, but their legs showed no sign of fleeing.
Then, Weed murmured bleakly, “You fools! What’s the point of sacrificing your life for a stranger?”
Pale felt like crying. For the record, Weed could have escaped death if he had decided to. He could have outrun the wolf to the gate of the Citadel where the guards would protect him from the threat.
Instead, Weed had stepped up, held his sword and his ground, and faced the wolf for his teammates, who he had never seen hours before.
“Weed-nim.” Surka’s eyes were watering. She, innocent and sensitive, was deeply touched by Weed’s heroic act.
Staring at the wolf, Weed said firmly. “If you want to stay here, so be it. I’ll do my best to fight the bitch. Still, you must get the heck out of here the moment I get killed.”
“Promise me you will.”
Surka and Pale walked away, creating a stage, and Weed got down to a bloody fight against the wolf, which still posed a serious threat.
Weed’s life descended to 150 and before long, it went down to 70. The iron sword kept on missing the wolf by inches.
The wolf was bleeding so white that it seemed a single hit could knock it down, but Weed had failed to make the final strike so far.
Irene and Romuna realized that Weed’s life finally reached the life-risking moment, below ten percent.
Pale’s heart raced, and Surka’s pounded. They tried to attract aggression from the wolf, but it knew Weed was the one to kill, entirely neglecting minor players.
One more hit from the wolf, and Weed would die.
If Weed died, he would lose some items from his inventory, drop one or more levels and be penalized by having his access to Royal Road denied for the next twenty-four hours, all because Weed decided to sacrifice his life to save a bunch of strangers.
The wolf snickered, sensing it had the upper hand of his archenemy.
When the wolf leapt to kill Weed with its final strike, his sword, which had missed it repeatedly, finally tore its ribs.
Before Weed’s eyes, a cascade of message windows burst open.
You’ve leveled up!
So many EXPs were pouring from the wolf that his level escalated to 5. Weed shook his head, half wondering.
“What’s the engraving knife technique? Skill window!”
♦ Identification (Lv. 1 0%): Enables you to learn the true value of unidentified items.
♦ Sculpture (Lv. 1 0%): Enables you to carve or engrave various types of materials. Artworks of a high artistic value are worth a fortune. Easier to win a girl’s heart.
♦ Repair (Lv. 1 0%): Enables you to repair weapons and armors. Beyond Lv. 5, you can forge new weapons and gears.
♠ Handicraft (Lv. 1 0%): Has extra effects on various types of craft skills, and sword mastery.
♦ Sword (Lv. 5 0%): Increases attack power and hit rating for swords.
♦ Engraving Knife Technique (Lv. 1 0%): Enables you to carve the invisible, the intangible.
The legend tells that Grand Master Zahab accidentally discovered a way of truth when he was practicing the sculptural art—that sculpture is an art of transforming all creations at the sculptor’s will. Zahab’s secret technique is passed down to his successor.
Weed checked the skill window and shook his head in disbelief.
I need to try this engraving knife technique to figure out what the heck it is. It swallows mana too badly. At my level, I can’t sustain it longer than two seconds flat.
The wolf had died, anyway.
Weed fell down to the ground, his face blank white. Then, Pale, Irene, Romuna and Surka ran to him.
The first words Weed uttered to his teammates were, “Surka, are you alright?”
Irene and Romuna were on the verge of bursting into tears.
Surka could not hide her tears.
Pale, the only man other than Weed, was at a loss for words, engulfed by a wave of emotion.
If a user’s life goes down below ten percent, he will die slowly.
Within a minute, Irene recovered some of her mana, and cast Healing Hand to drag Weed out of death’s grip.
“Thank you, Irene-nim”
“It’s my pleasure, Weed-nim”
The look between Weed and Irene warmed up; a sign that she was growing fond of him, the same goes for Romuna and Surka. To his surprise, moreover, Pale was addressing him with respect and admiration that the archer had never shown before.
“Let’s move on,” Weed said when he felt better.
“Are you okay?”
“Yup. Alive and well,” Weed said, rolling up his sleeve to expose his muscles.
Surka didn’t make the same mistake again. The party under Weed’s leadership created a striking record of sixty foxes in the next four hours.
Romuna, Irene, Pale and Surka all leveled up, as well as Weed, who achieved level 6.
Weed invested all the stat bonus points in agility.
“Whew. Good,” Romuna said, sweating hard as she felt drained by the excessive consumption of mana.
“We have to leave now. We’ve got to go to classes in the morning,”
“We should get together and hunt again. You’ll be here tomorrow, won’t you?” Romuna asked Weed, who nodded slightly.
“Can I add you as a friend in my list?” Surka asked.
Pale and Irene were grinning.
“Yup.” Weed added them to his Friends List, and said goodbye.
“These are your share.”
Weed received three silvers when they distributed the spoils from hunting. After they left, he went on hunting more foxes.
This was why he hated party plays. When things got hot, people left.
Weed looked for monsters as he had an hour left until sunrise. He overlooked easy prey such as raccoons and foxes, and left the boundary of the Citadel to enter a forest where wolves were reported to lurk in every shadow.
A pack of wolves emerged. They crouched and came close to Weed who was walking alone, their eyes gleaming in elation.
The system of Royal Road allowed monsters to level up by internal conflicts between them or by killing users, so the wolves coveted lone users. When the wolves looked in Weed’s eyes, though, they cowered instinctively.
“This human doesn’t consider us his enemy.”
“He takes us for EXPs.”
“Nice EXPs. Great item drops. It’s what he wants from us.”
The wolves saw through Weed’s intentions. Worse, his will to fight made them recoil in fear.
Yap Yap They quickly turned tail to flee.
“How dare you.”
The iron sword knew no mercy, and Weed knew no honor. He openly stabbed the backs of the retreating wolves, cornered them with nowhere else to go, and beat each and every of them to a pulp.
“You sons of bitches, come on!”
The moment that the sword slashed the air, another wolf fell into despair. Swift and merciless. Weed’s extraordinary sword techniques terrorized the wolves.
So why had he fought bitterly against a single wolf when his teammates were around him?
On the edge of an imminent and unavoidable death, Weed had made the final strike to kill the wolf. In the eyes of his teammates, it was a lucky one. This mystery was kept by Weed.
Weed was done with the wolves as soon as the sun rose in the morning. He left the battlefield and headed for Counselor Rodriguez’s manor.