Chapter 434 - The Aura of an Expert
Believing he had escaped from the lion's den, Flame Singed Clothes was in low spirits right now. Even though Blackwater did not intend on blaming him for his death, Flame Singed Clothes was still sorry for what had happened. Blackwater originally had a chance to escape, but in order to grant Flame Singed Clothes a chance to flee as well, he stayed to buy him time and ended up dying to his Palatial Balefire, instead. Flame Singed Clothes thoroughly blamed himself for this.
However, as they were comrades, an apology must be expressed through their actions; words of apology would only sound hypocritical.
"That guy is just too diabolical!" Flame Singed Clothes ran through the fog as he complained to his squadmates.
"Why is he here, too? Could he have been chasing us all this while?" Southern Lone Blade simply could not make sense of this issue.
"That's impossible. Nobody was on our tail the entire way here, so how would they even know we've gone to Xiawu City?" Glue was nonplussed as well.
Could we have a traitor in our midst… Southern Lone Blade was used to this life of treachery, making it a habit to be cautious and always consider the worst scenario of things. Since he could not make sense of how their whereabouts were leaked, this possibility involuntarily flitted through his mind.
However, he quickly dismissed this notion. The seven of them had not known each other for a mere handful of days. There was no way they would have stuck around until today if any of them had meant to betray the squad. Besides, the rock-solid leverage Southern Lone Blade held with their clients also tied down the others. It was as the saying went: 'A man may betray others, but he will at least be loyal to himself.' Their relationship had already gotten to the point where they shared weal and woe together, so it was simply impossible for any of them to become a turncoat.
"I can guarantee that no player has been on our tail throughout our journey!" Glue expressed this resolutely, dispelling everybody's doubts about this possibility.
"That means there's only one possibility," Southern Lone Blade said.
"What is it?"
"Among the people we met in Xiawu City, someone, who is friendly with those guys, happened to recognize us," he answered.
"It's not strange for a person or two to be friends with them, but won't it be too much of a stretch for that said person to recognize us? Not many people in Linshui City could recognize us, so how could there be someone that would identify us here?" Glue expressed his doubts.
Southern Lone Blade thought about this for quite a while, asking Flame Singed Clothes, "Singed, have you lost him?"
"Yeah. That wall of flame held him back, and with how foggy this place is, it's really easy to safely get away," Flame Singed Clothes replied confidently. His confidence was not exactly unfounded, but it was just unfortunate that they were unaware of the existence of an item: Bounty License.
Facing off against Young Master's Elite, Southern Lone Blade's squad had time and again fallen to those items they were unaware of the existence. They suffered heavy losses, yet had no idea of what had caused their failure.
"Let's not panic, everyone," Southern Lone Blade said, "this city is still great for hiding. Everybody can only make out of one another when they are no more than 30 meters apart. Nobody can see even a shadow of a figure 40 meters over, so I doubt he can locate us easily."
All of them nodded in agreement.
"Still, I really can't take this lying down. Let's think of a way to slay that man!" Flame Singed Clothes was still pissed.
"We'll get our chance," Southern Lone Blade consoled Flame Singed Clothes. "With how arrogant that guy is, it's just a matter of time before we receive a request to take him down. We'll properly take care of him when that time comes, essentially allowing us to kill two birds with one stone."
Flame Singed Clothes sighed. He could not help but admit that Southern Lone Blade lived up to his name as the leader of this squad. He had the most forbearance out of them seven.
"Blackwater, how are things on your end? Anything out of the ordinary?" Southern Lone Blade asked.
"I have yet to find anything strange." The experienced Blackwater was in no hurry to charge out of the Thieves' Union, calmly using Stealth to carefully make his way out of the large courtyard. He had been observing his surroundings in a corner this whole time and did not see anyone acting suspicious. Unless the opponent had also sent a Stealthed Thief, then he firmly believed there was no ambushing troop waiting for him outside.
"Don't be in a hurry to leave. Stay around and monitor the place once more," Southern Lone Blade said.
"Got it," Blackwater nodded.
Currently, the biggest regret this seven-man squad had was their inability to detect Stealthed Thieves. There were rumors that the Video Mage had equipment that could detect a player in Stealth; This man was truly a piñata of loot. However, the seven of them had enough on their plate just trying to hide from him. They truly no longer wished to make a play for any of the equipment he possessed. What was more; they heard that one of the ex-Five Unyielding Experts, Deep Water, also had ways to counter Stealth, but it was apparently a skill he possessed. Skills could not be dropped no matter how hard they tried, so none of them made any plans to target Deep Waters.
"So, what do we do now?" Glue asked.
"Pretend he doesn't exist and continue what we are currently doing," Southern Lone Blade answered, "have you gotten a reply from Many Nectarinas yet?"
"Nope," Glue replied.
Southern Lone Blade had not gotten word on his end, either, and just as he was about to say something, Paddy Scent Pastures suddenly yelled, "We've got mail!"
"Yup!" Paddy Scent Pastures retrieved the letter from the mailbox and quickly skimmed through it. They had only given a simple explanation of their intention when they first made contact, and this person had just set their friends list back to public and was asking them to throw a friend request over to discuss the matter in greater detail.
Southern Lone Blade would be the one doing the negotiations from here on. This was also part of the practice that the seven of them had intentionally set up. After all, Southern Lone Blade was a well-known IGN in Parallel World. His presence would be a pleasant surprise, inexplicably increasing the measure of trust the other party had toward them, possibly even overwhelming them to the point of flattery.
This person by the name of Limp Hands was exactly this sort, quickly returning a friend invitation the moment he saw that Southern Lone Blade's name was sent to his. Before he could indicate that he was from the party who had just contacted the man, the latter already sent him a greeting.
Southern Lone Blade smiled. He had experienced such situations once or twice before, so he was not really taken aback by such admiration. All he knew was that their business would develop even more smoothly when facing such players.
Just as he had expected, once Southern Lone Blade explained his purpose for adding him, Limp Hands was positively overwhelmed by the honor. To think one of the Five Unyielding Experts would actually pick up a quest from a nobody like me. Come to think of it; I had only placed that mission not too long ago. Truly, the discerning eyes of an expert could easily distinguish the wheat from chaff, allowing my quest to attract such an expert in such a short span of time! Limp Hands was currently blowing his horn as he reimagined himself to such an extent. He finally asked a more appropriate question when he was done, "Aren't you based in Linshui City? Why would you suddenly appear here in Xiawu City?"
"He he, it's nothing. I am just traveling out and about since I've got nothing to do," Southern Lone Blade casually warded off that question. With the aura of an expert working in his favor, Limp Hands seemed to have taken what he said like words spoken from a god. Southern Lone Blade could not help but wonder what Limp Hands would instead be thinking if the latter knew that he had absconded from Xiawu City after being hunted to the point where he could not carry on living in Linshui City.
The ensuing negotiations that took place was pretty much a breeze. As to why the squad had not directly accepted the mission from the Hall of Mercenaries, Southern Lone Blade directly told him that they were not a mercenary group, so they were unable to do so. It would also have been an acceptable reason if he said that it was to avoid the system from taking a cut from their profits, but such an answer would sound extremely miserly and was rather detrimental to their image.
Both parties agreed to meet face-to-face over by the north gate, afterward. Limp Hands was looking for players to help him complete the quest; he had not listed the name of the quest over by the Hall of Mercenaries, merely stating that it was a normal quest and attached an impressive payout to it. This was the main reason that had attracted Southern Lone Blade and his squad's attention; if this employer was willing to pay such an exorbitant price to a normal quest, it would truly be a gross negligence on their part not to develop such a sucker into a potential client.
"Everybody, gather by the north gate. Blackwater, you come, too!" Southern Lone Blade told everyone. This was another one of their practices: The first time they came into contact with a client, they would all turn out in a show of force in order to make a deep impression to the other party.
The seven-man squad began gathering, yet they were unaware that every member of Young Master's Elite was already closing in on Flame Singed Clothes thanks to Gu Fei's minutely update of coordinates from his 'Bounty Mission'. Brother Assist had also logged back on by this time. Dejectedly reporting that he had not found anything, he immediately yelled to take a look at Gu Fei's Bounty License the moment he was filled in on the current situation.
"Home in on Flame Singed Clothes, and it will be a matter of time till we meet up." Gu Fei sent Flame Singed Clothes' coordinates over to Brother Assist.
The two parties began moving about in the thick fog that permeated every part of Xiawu City. Southern Lone Blade's squad was the first to gather, and they were finally face-to-face with the player that could be their future god of fortune, Limp Hands. This person was also a Warrior; his eyes sparkled and became starstruck when he saw the legendary expert, Southern Lone Blade.
Southern Lone Blade presented himself as an easy-going and generous person, patting Limp Hands on his back as he asked, "Why don't you fill us in about this quest of yours?"
In the end, it was Limp Hands that chuckled secretively. "Actually, it's not a quest. It's actually a BOSS. I happened to stumble across one, but I didn't have the strength to take it down myself."
"Oh!" Southern Lone Blade commented. He managed to keep his composure and not display any signs of excitement unlike how an average player would react when they heard the word 'BOSS'. The other six players accompanying him were equally calm.
Limp Hands was actually observing the expression of these seven men. He had a little blind faith and devotion to apex experts, as if those who reached a high level would also be upstanding characters. It was akin to the belief that students with good grades would behave well in school. The moment when the seven men heard the word 'BOSS' and remained calm, Limp Hands abandoned the last bit of doubts he had in him. He was now convinced that this squad led by Southern Lone Blade would not attempt any dirty tricks for the sake of fortune.
In truth, the seven men present had already trained themselves in this aspect to the point where they reacted far different from the average gamer. Harboring evil thoughts at the sight of riches? There were not even any riches present right now, so what use was there to harbor such thoughts? That would be far too inferior a mindset to hold on to. It was better for them to wait and see what the BOSS would drop before they revealed their true selves. If it was something that they were in urgent need of, like a skill or equipment that could counter Stealth, they would not hesitate to act upon those evil thoughts. Limp Hands was not yet a full-fledged client of Southern Lone Blade, so there was no need for the squad to talk about honor with the man.
Poor Limp Hands, however, wasunaware that he was already the sheep in the jaws of a tiger1, obediently leading the seven men on a journey to hunt down a BOSS.
At the same time, Gu Fei and the rest of Young Master's Elite were also converging in this direction. However, due to the difference in their respective movement speed, the difference in distance was still rather substantial. Meanwhile, Young Master Han noticed the changes in the recent few coordinates of Flame Singed Clothes and realized. "They probably finished assembling since Flame Singed Clothes' movement became slower."
The only reason anyone would purposely reduce their pace when moving as a party was to match the speed of someone slower.
"Plus… this change in speed is rather significant," the information analysis maniac, Brother Assist, said after a brief calculation, "this speed he is now going at seems to be the movement speed of a level 35 or lower Warrior or Mage, who isn't wearing a good footwear."
"Just what are those guys doing hanging around a noob like that?" All the experts in Young Master's Elite found this to be incomprehensible.
1. unaware that he was already the sheep in the jaws of a tiger -  A Chinese idiom. It means a victim who is already in a precarious situation.