Over by Xiawu City’s Hall of Mercenaries, Southern Lone Blade’s seven-man squad was glancing through the available player-submitted missions, mainly focusing on those looking for help in PvP matter or larceny-related jobs.
Lucrative opportunities, like ‘looting equipment off the Video Mage’, were few and far between. Southern Lone Blade and his crew would often do odds and ends to earn small sums of money, but what was more important for them was the accumulation of a client base.
Southern Lone Blade’s means of business started from these small jobs. By establishing a level of trust and contact with these clients, they would naturally think of hiring them again once a lucrative business opportunity appeared. Furthermore, he would add every client on his friends list through this back and forth of small businesses and would then carefully make records of every single transaction he had with them. This was essentially his leverage in maintaining a cordial relationship with the clients.
While his larceny and murder practice had indeed drawn the masses’ hatred, nobody should forget that behind every transaction he made, there must surely be an employer that sought his service. He was nothing more than a dagger, and the person holding the hilt should not be forgiven for their part as well. He had sharpened his dagger to the point of it now being a double-edged knife, withholding his ability to take an eye for an eye. Every agreement with his employers acted as a reminder: I have leverage on you as well.
This was how Southern Lone Blade gradually expanded his business network. Furthermore, the method to contact him for business was extremely rudimental: private messaging. As for those clients who were already in his friends list, Southern Lone Blade had never once rejected their job requests, and this was because he already had leverage on those people. He was convinced that each of them could betray anyone, except for him.
These clients were his main source of income. But if he hoped for his business to prosper, it naturally meant that his client list would have to grow as much as possible. He had two methods to achieve this: first was for the major clients to introduce more customers to him, and second was essentially what he and his crew had been doing when he first started out – developing small customers into big clients before finally entering them into his friends list. This entire process was actually also a way for him to gain leverage.
Standing in the Hall of Mercenaries right now, Southern Lone Blade’s squad was searching for customers that had the potential to become large clients. With how their business had originally started out and slowly developed through this method, they were of course experienced at judging the potential of their would-be customers. Those missions with vague descriptions were often not requested by guilds or groups but by individuals, instead. What was important here was pinpointing those who were rich; poor players just did not have the necessary funds to become Southern Lone Blade’s clients.
The seven searched through the mission list, occasionally conversing with one another on the channel.
As a group, situations where the members would have separate opinion regarding client selection still happened from time to time. At the moment, out of the seven, Southern Lone Blade, Flame Singed Clothes, and Blackwater were keen on a particular customer who was searching for a particular equipment, while Glue and the other Priest had their eye on someone looking for help with a PK target. Paddy Scent Pastures and the Knight Unrivaled Lucky Star were leaning toward a request for aid in a normal quest with a bountiful reward.
Once they narrowed it down to these three targets, they noted their relevant information and then moved to leave. The seven did not directly accept the mission listed in the Hall of Mercenaries precisely because, as a non-mercenary group, they did not have permission to do so.
The fog remained as thick as ever. The seven stepped out of the Hall of Mercenaries and inhaled a deep breath of fresh air, as though they had just earned a new lease of life.
“Let’s begin, then!” Southern Lone Blade took out the list of names that they had just jotted down and said, “Blackwater, you and Flame will contact this Many Nectarinas; Paddy and I will locate this Limp Hands, and the rest of you three can find this… this… G*dd*mm*t, what is this word?”
“Ha ha ha! You’re so uncultured!” Since they had finally escaped the hunt for their heads, each was feeling much more carefree and began to joke around with one another. Glue mocked Southern Lone Blade as he took the paper and had a look himself. His face turned green. Passing it along, the next person’s face also turned green. Southern Lone Blade looked over to Flame Singed Clothes. “Just what did you write?” That was the name Flame Singed Clothes had jotted down.
Flame Singed Clothes had no choice but to confess, “I just copied the depicted character accordingly. It’s a martian word; even I don’t know what the word is.”
“What in the world is this word!” Blackwater raised the paper in the air and squinted, as if hoping the sunlight would give him the ability to understand it.
Finally, all seven shook their heads awkwardly. If none of them had any idea what word it was, then they had no means to enter it into their search field. Naturally, this meant they would be unable to find this player. Southern Lone Blade ended up stuffing that piece of paper back to Flame Singed Clothes. “The three of you will search for Many Nectarinas; the two of you will find someone who can read this martian word.”
Before going their separate ways to contact their respective targets, the other two groups revelled in the misery of Flame Singed Clothes and Blackwater. It turned out that Many Nectarinas and Limp Hands had set their friends list to private – a very common occurrence all in all – so the two groups left for the mailbox. This left just Blackwater and Flame Singed Clothes clutching onto that piece of paper as they kept examining the word.
“Forget about recognizing the word, even if we do know it, how are we going to enter this character into the search field?” Flame Singed Clothes asked in frustration.
“How would I know.” Blackwater was miffed as well.
“Guess we gotta enquire and find out!” Flame Singed Clothes said.
“Look; there’s a pretty lady over there.” Blackwater pointed toward a certain direction.
Aside from larceny, the seven-man squad was no different from the average gamer, and they had their interests as well. Given how plenty of players would partake in the courtship of the fairer sex, there was of course no lack of men with said interest among them.
Starting off from that pretty lady, Flame Singed Clothes and Blackwater started walking down the road and pitifully asked the passersby for assistance. In the end, not a player they met recognized the word on the paper; quite a lot of those people threw them looks of contempt and disdain to boot. The two bore with this slight for the sake of the job, gritting their teeth as they continued to search for further information behind the word.
They walked down a whole street, yet the two still had nothing to show for besides being parched from all the questioning.
“Let’s head to a tavern and drink a round or two. There’re more people congregated there, anyway, which makes it the perfect place to inquire further,” Blackwater suggested.
“That’s true. Plus, I believe we need to find the right remedy to our problem. This word is far from common, so we need to ask people who are far from the mainstream. It wasn’t really smart of you to ask that old coot you approached moments ago,” Flame Singed Clothes said.
“That old coot had no idea but pretended to be knowledgeable. Forget about recognizing the word, he even claimed that it is an Oracle Bone Script1,” Blackwater agreed.
“Can you even enter Oracle Bone Script characters in this game?” Flame Singed Clothes asked.
“I’ve got no idea.” Blackwater shook his head.
The two continued on their merry way as they chatted, asking players that could possibly know more along the way yet finding nothing new. They were about to reach the tavern; they had not met another player for quite a stretch prior, and the street they were currently on was empty. The two foreigners, who were not used to having such thick fog covering their surroundings, felt uneasy as they traveled.
“It’s been quite some time since we last saw someone,” Blackwater commented.
“That’s right.” Flame Singed Clothes looked around in the fog.
Finally, they saw a dark figure appear before them, which caused the two to become elated.
“Oh, look; there’s finally someone coming,” Blackwater said.
“Who cares who that guy is; let’s hurry and ask him,” Flame Singed Clothes said. The two had not talked to anyone else for quite some time and were feeling rather lonely.
They picked up their pace considerably. As the thick fog swiftly became less hazy, the two men could clearly make out the dark figure just ahead. Blackwater was clutching the paper and had half the mind to use his Fleetfoot to dash over to the man at first, but when the both parties’ gazes met, the pair immediately came to a screeching halt.
One side was surprised, while the other was delighted.
Gu Fei was extremely happy. He had only left the tavern for no more than a few steps; how could he so quickly bump into them? Did Southern Lone Blade actually leave behind such a huge trace of his presence at the tavern? However, the two men before him were not exactly who he was looking for.
“Why are you here?!” the two exclaimed in unison. They had been very careful along the way. Glue’s eyes were strained from overexertion that they nearly became bloodshot, confidently assuring them that nobody was following them. After all, the spyglass could be considered as an item players did not know about, with not one of them being aware that such a thing existed in-game.
“He he! What a coincidence! Where’s Southern Lone Blade?” Gu Fei asked.
Neither Flame Singed Clothes nor Blackwater made a sound, as they were busy sending out a message to inform the other members of their squad: “That cad is here.”
Southern Lone Blade felt like crying yet no tears came out when he saw their message. The way he saw it, he had yet to do anything to Gu Fei, so why was the man pestering them like so?
“Can the two of you escape?” Southern Lone Blade had a pessimistic outlook to this encounter, directly using the word ‘escape’.
“It would be difficult…” Flame Singed Clothes replied.
Ever since witnessing Gu Fei’s display of that 900-degree Twin Incineration by the banks of Linshui City, the squad had come to realize how frightening it was to go up against him. They were not even confident that the seven of them combined would stand much of a chance to emerge victorious against the Video Mage. They would definitely have to employ some unorthodox trick if they hoped to win against the man.
It was under such considerations that Southern Lone Blade finally decided to give up on the mission to loot Gu Fei’s equipment. This was because such targeted looting of equipment was often a job that took time and plenty of effort on their end. They would most likely have to kill Gu Fei many times over, and each time would require intricate planning and ingenious arrangement. Southern Lone Blade did not think that he was much of a genius on this front, capable of winning by coming up with effective and different tactics each and every time. Weighing the pros and cons, he finally decided to just give up this mission.
This was entirely due to the fact that it was too risky to go up against Gu Fei. Rashly making an attempt on him would easily get themselves stuck, instead, so they might as well wipe the slate clean. But by the looks of things, it turned out that Gu Fei had already locked on to them and actually chased them all the way to this city.
“Just what do you want from us?!” Flame Singed Clothes yelled angrily.
Blackwater, who was standing at the side, was staring at Gu Fei silently. Flame Singed Clothes had been so flustered that he actually used a cliché line from idol dramas even though the enemy was right before them and their level was at stake. It was truly quite embarrassing.
Gu Fei seemed not to have noticed this, though, only asking calmly, “I’m looking for Southern Lone Blade; where is he?”
“Oh, he left for the west gate,” Flame Singed Clothes casually replied.
“Is that so?” Gu Fei chuckled. “Is it convenient for that guy to come over for a bit?”
“Mmm, I don’t think it’s too convenient.” Flame Singed Clothes gave this answer.
“Because he doesn’t wish to see you.”
“Would he rather see you two at a spawn point, then? I wonder if he prefers to head over to the Mage Academy or the Thieves’ Union?” Gu Fei threatened the two with the potential loss of a level.
Even though neither of them wished to die, they really had no choice on this matter. “Do whatever you like!”
Gu Fei drew his sword out, but the two had no intentions of dying without putting up a fight. Flame Singed Clothes shoved Blackwater. “Run! I’ll hold him off.”
When all was said and done, Blackwater was still a Thief, and he still had the chance to escape from Gu Fei’s evil clutches with his Fleetfoot. As for Flame Singed Clothes…