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222 Devil on the Loose

 Joe stiffly set down beside Edward even as their HP kept decreasing over their heads.

It would be seconds before they died by the looks of things.

But for once, Joe was making a helpless face for once despite his usual scatterbrained behavior.

"Well, it's still a team wipe in the end..."

***

This might be the first defeat of the Players in the truest sense of the Players.

In the past, team wipes would only occur in dungeons which they only entered in parties with a limited number of people, and that would only happen because their resurrection skills did not come off cooldown in time or due to an insurmountable gap between enemy and themselves.

On the other hand, the Players had always triumphed with flying colors against Wild Bosses-one could even say that they were undefeated.

But it looks like their winning streak was at an end.

"Three days until we revive. Ouch."

"That's not all," Edward said, able to see further than Joe. "Our corpses would be zombified when we died, and in the end the wood elves would have to clean up after us... our reputation in their perspective just might sink even lower."

After all, the wood elves were the toughest crowd to please amongst all the other locations where Reputation Systems were implemented.

Aside from Marni who occasionally brought in merchandise from the outside and gained relatively higher reputation, it was as if other Players couldn't farm reputation amongst the wood elves no matter what they did. In fact, their own persistence might even cause a drop in reputation...

"No way! We actually helped them defeat their nemesis here..." Joe appeared a little caught in confused hysterics. "You saw for yourself how disgustingly powerful that devil was, and even if the wood elves could beat it, it would cost them as much as it cost us! Isn't it unreasonable for our reputation amongst the wood elves to drop when we put our lives on the line to put it down?!"

"They aren't us. They don't know what happened, or how much effort and sacrifice we took to defeat the devil... they only knew the outcome, that it was us who freed the devil which had been sealed for over a thousand years, laying waste to a huge chunk of the forest before getting zombified, hence suffering the consequences of our own actions."

Edward could not help but sigh. "The God of Games must be warning us through this case that not everyone is worth helping."

"And I think you're overthinking it." Joe rolled his eyes, before asking Edward softly, "By the way, about the seal-how did such a powerful thing like that come out? Could it really be us who freed it?"

After all, most people would get as far as they could when they heard of some place which had been sealed. To Joe's impression, only Players would do something as death-defying as that.

"No. Old Marnie likes to brag, but he wouldn't lie when it comes to such things." Edward shook his head. "And compared to him, don't you think the Secret Eye Society is more suspicious?"

***

Ever since the incident at the Unnamed Town, the Secret Eye Society had consistently appeared everywhere, shrouding themselves in every form of conspiracy-the most recently being here at the Trinia Forests, where they attempted to steal Sefarim, a sacred relic of the elves.

If there is anyone to be blamed, they certainly were a better fit than the Players.

Even so, Edward didn't say it out despite the nagging déjà vu sensation he had inside, as if he had forgotten something.

"Really," Joe mumbled. "Why do I get the feeling Old Marni just wanted to have the Boss rewards for himself..."

"Hold it!"

Though Joe had blurted those words inadvertently, Edward was promptly alert and cheerful-he turned, holding Joe by his shoulders and staring unblinkingly into his eyes. "What did you just say? Repeat that!"

"What? Don't do that... I'm scared..." Joe, startled by his reaction, shielded his huge pectoral muscles with both hands by instinct.

Pulling a long face in contempt, Edward let him go and knocked him in the head with his staff, and a red -1 appeared over Joe's head.

"Stop fooling around, my HP is already low." Joe adjusted his helm which was knocked askew before turning serious. "What is it? I could apologize if I had been speaking untowardly..."

"No, I want you to repeat what you said," Edward replied.

"'Well, it's still a team wipe in the end...'"

"That's too far ahead. What you said just a moment ago would suffice."

"'And I think you're overthinking it'... okay, okay." Joe finally became serious when he saw Edward raise his staff again. "Old Marni wanted the Boss rewards for himself? Is that it?"

"That's right! Boss rewards!" Edward exclaimed. "Why aren't we getting any rewards even though the devil is defeated? Wouldn't there usually at least be a golden legendary item when we defeat a target like this? We should get a purple rare even if we're unlucky-but there's just no item dropped even though we had won!"

"Maybe we're just having a black day..." Joe guessed, but soon refuted that himself. "No, that's not right. Zonyan the Black Hand isn't with us today, so we shouldn't be that black..."

"And the quest assigned to us by the God of Games isn't complete. I had assumed that we would all be wiped out from the poison and the quest would be deemed a failure because of that, but that's not the case."

Edward got to his feet, turning to the other lackluster Players who were cutting down any zombified Players and yelled out. "The Boss hasn't drop item rewards yet! There must be a little demon on the run! Find it, kill it, and you would get that godlike item!"

Thus, the eyes of all the Players immediately brightened, even though they had all became disinterested due to the horrific losses suffered in the quest.

True, if they could get a Legendary item-it was worth dying and losing 30% of their current EXP!

All of them immediately began to search the Boss's domain.

That said, how much spirit could a bunch of excited Players muster to find something before they kick the bucket?

They would dig out a mole several meters beneath the earth, let alone a little devil!

"There! Found it!"

Soon enough, Edward found the little devil hiding inside a hollowed tree. "I guess I didn't disappoint the God of Games at least. Take this, Frost-"

"Ha!"

A huge tome which was wrapped in metals in each of its eight hinges and was wrapped in chain darted out, hitting the fleeing little devil on the head and tidily instakilling it.

"Eleeeeeeenaaaaaaaaaa-!" Edward sunk to his knees, his kill stolen once again.

Taking the last bit of EXP by sheer coincidence, the radiance of leveling up appeared over Eleena's dainty body.