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168 Human-faced Fish

 The fifth day of the swamp fishmen's rampage.

The Players' strength was not to be doubted, especially after the Fishfolk Island event had ended-almost every Player had an idea about highly-effective measures for wiping out the fishmen.

Moreover, although the swamp fishmen were a subspecies of fishmen (almost like what the drow elves were to forest elves), they shared the same vitals in their anatomy.

As such, not only were the Players easily replying the hordes of swamp fishmen assaulting the Lancaster aqueducts and slaying as many of those beasts they could, they were also destroying the nests of the Hogwash Rats that were seeing a resurgence in numbers as well.

Still, there were still many swamp fishmen at large outside even though those in the aqueducts were cleared away.

Naturally, the Players were raring to go with hundreds of thousands worth EXP waiting outside.

However, the problem was the city watch that the Lancaster mayor supervises as well as the Holy Corps that the mayor forced the various churches to dispatch were everywhere, and were also slaying any swamp fishmen almost as efficiently as the Players did.

With the Church of Games needing to stay unexposed, though the Players could blend their way in if they ran into city watch, the little operation to cull fishmen would directly escalate to a religious war if they run into the troops of hostile churches.

Therefore, both Old Vanke and the smarter Players repeatedly warned the other Players not to farm monsters in the wild.

But despite their good intentions, there were no lack of Players who enjoyed stirring trouble.

"If we can't farm them in the wild, how about we head straight to the swamp fishmen spawn point and get rid of the last Boss?" Marni suggested, drooling at the sight of the rich EXP rewards.

Being a top player who simultaneously held the titles of 'Valiant Hero Who Fought the Ocean' and 'Explorer of the Seven Seas', Marni had considerable reputation amongst the Players, which was why that suggestion naturally drew much supporters.

One should also note that Edward was busy with a quest he had accepted from Lady Kinley, the town alchemist, only to fail in his search for the potions requested nearby. Hence, with the battle cry of 'no quest is too hard for me', he took Joe and Eleena with him to the Trinia Forest, and therefore wasn't a part of the swamp fishmen culling.

Indeed, whenever the Players found something that interests them, they only ever burst out in unimaginable drive and passion.

***

Marni had taken out his treasured merchant's map. Some rangers had marked the whereabouts of swamp fishmen in the wild on the copied map, and with some discussion as well as comparison, they soon singled out Seira Marsh as the ground zero of the swamp fishmen outbreak.

"We would have to make a detour to avoid running into the advancing city watch and the Holy Corps, and move along the neighboring county of Codo Bosra..." Marni said as he drew up the routes for the Players' advance. "Try to blend in if we run into either of those groups, and try not to fight even if you get caught, just prioritize escaping."

"But if the fighting starts, we would have to wipe them out in the shortest time possible without trying to pick up item drops. Some church could track their own equipment, and it's better to put some item drops of the fishmen there and have them be our scapegoats instead..."

At that, Marni noticed that one of the Players had raised his hand. "You got a question?"

"What's this circle near Codo Bosra?" The Player pointed curiously at an oval sign on the map.

"That's the hunting grounds of the nobles. The city watch tend to patrol around it, but we'll be fine as long as we don't get too close," Marni simply replied. "Anyone who doesn't really know the way, just follow me-we could depart as soon as everyone is ready. By the way, the Boss is first come, first served, so do not steal kills!"

The Players murmured replies of 'got it', 'hurry up, hurry up' or 'can't we use the System maps instead of hand-drawn maps' without any harmony.

Nonetheless, having determined their standard operating procedure, the Players started to depart after partying up.

***

"Whoops." Mufasa turned off his map and mumbled in annoyance. "We seemed to have ended up inside the noble hunting grounds where we're not supposed to go."

"What hunting grounds?" Zazu asked perplexedly, having finally become a Player two days ago and was promptly dragged by Mufasa to help fishing.

"Haven't you heard what Mister Wilf said, Zazu?" Simba asked helplessly. He had hanging over his back that looked just like Mufasa's albeit being a size smaller.

"I was playing Tierra Blocks and wasn't listening at all..." Zazu, who had a wand clipped to his belt replied awkwardly. "But my score is going to exceed Mister Wilf's score soon!"

"I remember Mister Wilf saying that there the city watch is patrolling this place... won't we be noticed if we simply walk right in here?" Nala warned the others softly, holding a tiny crucifix.

"We should have been caught early on-the border patrols aren't supposed to be so lax... and yet we haven't seen a single patrol after so long." Mufasa said calmly. "With my experience of having dungeon beasts ganging up on me, they are either hiding somewhere to plan how to capture us, or it's something more troublesome."

"More troublesome?" Simba drew a blank.

Having been a young thief in Lancaster for some time, Simba could not imagine what could be more troublesome than having the city watch finding and hunting them.

Soon, however, he realized what Mufasa was talking about.

As they continued forward, they began to find bits and pieces of human corpses. From the look of the shattered custom-made armor, all the dead bodies were city watch-including their elites.

After all, not all city watch troopers had the right to wear armor!

"Were they ambushed by monsters?" Nala asked even as she shuddered. In fact, she almost fainted, having just recently become a player and still lacking in mental composure. "Or maybe something inside the hunting grounds is drawing the monsters?"

"I don't know, but I guess we'll find out when we find the culprit."

Being a Player who was used to seeking his own demise, Mufasa did not hesitate to continue forward to the heart of the hunting grounds.

Soon, a massive figure appeared in front of them.

At first, Mufasa assumed that it was a gigantic lizard-the sort that has no wings, but he soon realized that he was wrong.

It was a fish that had human limbs and teeth but grew over eight meters long, and it was chewing something.

Not a moment too soon, what remained of a human arm dropped out of the enormous mutant fish, wrapped around a long trail of white drool as it fell on the ground like a puddle of mud.

Then, the fish saw Mufasa and the children.

"I see, so it's not something inside the hunting grounds 'drawing in the monsters'..." Mufasa unsheathed his sword somberly.

While Simba and the other children were stunned by the abnormal sight, they followed Mufasa's example and drew their weapons too.

The fish suddenly smiled bizarrely then, and began to flail the limbs it seemed not accustomed with, holding its body aloft as it rushed towards the four of them.

"It's just attracted by the food called 'humans'!" Mufasa growled.

He had a hunch at the same time too.

Could the reason that the swamp fishmen were going on a rampage was because this monster chased them out of the Seira Marshes, and not because there was not enough food due to increased breeding?