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90 Always Take Out the Rider First, Sounds Like Logic To Me!

 It was evident that the Dragonfang had been terrorizing the village for quite some time, the villagers looked like they were celebrating the Harvest Festival as the hunters hauled the corpse of the Dragonfang back to town, the hunters were welcomed like heroes.

The villagers even welcomed the two strangers Jom and Terry to sit beside the bonfire and enjoy a warm meal.

Food in the village was simple, just some regular rye crispbread. The hunters were diligently working to fully butcher the large Dragonfang, slicing it up into palm sized steaks and handing them to the women of the village who cooked them on the bonfire and served them to the rest of the villagers.

Even the bones didn't go to waste, the women tossed the bones into a large clay pot filled with water and brought it to a boil. After skimming off the scum formed on the surface and adding some leaves from a plant Jom didn't recognize, the whole mixture was simmered slowly. Not long later, the wonderfully delicious meat stew was finished.

If let to cook for longer, even more flavor could be introduced into the soup, but the villagers obviously couldn't wait any longer, all eager to finally start their feast.

Maybe it was because their village was isolated in a snowy cave, but it felt like the villagers hadn't had a good hearty meal like this in quite some time. Jom and Terry had only taken their first taste of the stew when most villagers had already emptied their wooden bowls, some excited kids were running to the pot asking for seconds.

"You guys are believers of the God of the Harvest, right?" When Jom first entered the villager, he noticed something akin to a totem pole right by the entrance, the symbol of the God of the Harvest, Marcolo. Only if the village's population was over one hundred, and all villagers were believers of the God of the Harvest, would the Garden of Grains (the church of the God of the Harvest) erect such an idol in the village.

It was a common symbol of pride, whenever deities created Divine Miracles, their idols would also be given a share of that power, and the subsequent aura they emitted gave the villagers special buffs as well. Other deities had their own idols similar to this one, for the church of the God of Games, it was sort of like the Lifestone.

Jom curiously asked the middle-aged hunter next to him, "I hear that the God of the Harvest casted his Divine Miracle down to our realm this year, since your village is recognized by the Garden of Grains, the village's harvest should have been pretty decent, so why do you guys look like you're in the middle of a famine?"

"Since the Valla Empire's under the Brilliant White Church, besides the Garden of Grains, our village has to pay its taxes to the Brilliant White Church as well. Plus, with the White Church starting their 'One Year War' against the Temple of Glory, taxes this year have been particularly steep to help prepare army rations, after all that, we don't have much..." The hunter stopped himself mid-sentence, startled that he was voicing his frustrations with the church out loud, cold sweat running down his back, "What do you kids know, asking questions like these!" He tried to brush the two boys off.

"I'm just curious," Jom replied, he continued asking, "They're basically bullying you guys at this point, why don't you say anything?"

"Watch your mouth, kiddo!" The hunter shook his head in defeat, whispering into Jom's ear, "The elders of the village say that deities are one with the church, to dishonor the church is to dishonor the gods! If you're caught, you'll be hanged dead on the town walls!"

Jom didn't like what he was hearing, "So you guys are wimps, barely scraping by in the shadows of the infallible church?"

"You kids these days, what do you mean scraping by, when there wasn't a war, our village was pretty well off." The hunter was obviously displeased at how Jom called him a wimp. "It's just that taxes are higher during times of war... Do you know what 'war' is? It takes people's lives, before sending those hardened soldiers to battle, of course we'd have to make sure they were eating right."

"Hmph..."

Jom didn't reply further.

How could he not know what war was? He and Terry lost their families in that aforementioned 'One Year War'. If it weren't for the Church of the God of Games taking them under their wing, the two of them would probably have still been rummaging through garbage for food outside the town walls of Wickidor!

"Jom, are you not gonna eat? The bread's pretty good." Terry was happily munching on his hard rye crispbread, not really interested in the grilled meat the villagers were drooling over.

The most abundant food in the Unnamed Town was grilled meat, even though it definitely had enough seasoning, they were getting pretty tired of it-that was also the main reason why the frogmen's relatively unseasoned Grey Fjord Point fish soup was quickly becoming a fan favorite among players.

Jom took a bite of his rye crispbread, other than being as hard as rock, it tasted surprisingly similar to the sweet biscuits his mother used to make.

He was suddenly reminded of his parents, engulfed by the same flames that devoured their home, the scars on his heart split open once again and he felt the same pain he had back then.

If only could he have known of the God of Games before then, if only he could have followed the deity sooner, his mom and dad wouldn't have died...

Jom took another look at the villagers, once again feeling his gratitude towards the God of Games-before everything had happened, Jom used to mock all the mindless believers that sang endless praise whenever the God of Games was mentioned.

Although he couldn't beat the God of the Harvest in terms of sheer size, the God of Games still gave rich lives to his believers. Unlike the God of the Harvest who watched idly as he stole the fruits of labor of his believers, the God of Games gave his believers the power to fight back, the various raids and activities he held seemed to be teaching his players that no matter how treacherous the road to victory was, they all had the right to fight for themselves!

Their world didn't run by the rules of "To each its own", but Jom knew that the villagers weren't going to change beliefs with the God of the Harvest's totem pole in their village, so he didn't plan on trying to convert any of them to believe in the God of Games.

They would prepare to leave as soon as they were finished with dinner, at most they would help hunt some small animals as a show of appreciation towards the villagers.

Just as Jom opened his mouth, a startled boy stumbled out of the shadows, he knocked over a small fire pit in his rush, the clattering pot attracting the attention of the villagers.

"Notte, aren't you supposed to be guarding the entrance?" an old man who seemed like the village elder asked the visibly shaken guard.

"N-N-N-N-N-Not good!" The villager was quivering from head to toe, his beady black eyes showed uncontainable fear. "The mountain bandits are here!"

As if someone had pressed the mute button, the previously bustling villagers all fell deadly silent, leaving all the sound of the crackling firewood whispering through the air.

"How far are they from the village?" The village elder was the first to break the silence, asking the villager seriously.

"T-T-They're not far!" The villager was scared to tears, voice cracking from fear, "They'll be here any second!"

The news dropped like a nest of angry hornets, the villagers were hysteric, running around deciding whether they should find a place to hide or try to flee the village before the bandits came.

"Calm down! Calm down!" The old man tried to maintain order, "As long as we give them food, the bandits won't take any lives!"

But it proved useless, the villagers still screaming and shouting over each other.

Just then, a loud bang boomed above the noise, even the earth seemed to be trembling.

Everyone froze, slowly looking towards the source of the sound. There sat two calm-faced teenagers.

One was slightly shorter, dawning a white robe and brown hair, he held a metal war hammer in the shape of a cross, the end of the cross was indented in a wok sized divot in the ground, that was the source of the loud noise.

"Thanks for the warm welcome." The other, slightly taller, blue-haired boy stood up as well, sticking his tongue out to lick the crispbread crumbs on his lips and unsheathed the long sword on his back.

"As thanks, let us handle these bandits." Jom looked at the still stunned villagers and gave them a small smile before walking to the village entrance with Terry.

The middle-aged hunter from before tried desperately to stop them, "Wait! These aren't your average mountain bandits!"

"Don't worry, we're not your average kids either," Jom replied, making sure to put emphasis on the word 'kid'.

"He's right. I'm telling you, we're pretty strong."

Terry broke into a smile too, as if to show off his strength, he tried to flex his biceps, but his twig-like arms had the complete opposite effect on the villagers...

The villagers had worry written all over their faces, but it was too late to stop them as the bandits had already reached their village entrance.

It was then that Jom finally got to properly see these so-called 'mountain bandits'.

To put it briefly, they were bandits in patched-up clothes riding chocobos, but they were different from the starving villagers, these bandits obviously ate well and were much fitter and healthier. For weapons, the bandits chose the easy to wield long cavalry sword.

They were storming forward unrelentingly similar to cavalry on Earth, armies of foot soldiers could be completely overwhelmed by a team of well-trained cavalry, the mental stress of facing mounted enemies was debilitating, add onto that the power of a herd of chocobos, they were technically even stronger than the average medieval armored cavalry unit back on Earth.

But for Jom and Terry, they didn't even pose a threat.

The reason was simple.

"Why are they only Level 5, that's so bad." Terry raised his long sword. "I could beat these guys with a hand tied behind my back!"

"Their chocobos are Level 8." The Cleric Jom was making his pre-battle preparations behind him. "Aim for their heads."

Thus, before the battle had even begun, the rushing mountain bandits looked at the two young boys trying to stop them and laughed at their feeble attempt, but some of them felt a chill run down their spine, warning them of what was to come...