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Chapter 378 - Fork

 At this time, the dozen or so mercenaries who had died from the clash with Young Master Han's team were already gathered within the walls of Luori City. Their expression was pained as they looked towards their mercenary leader.

"We can't just die for nothing!" These men indeed refused to give up until all hope it was truly lost. "They may be extremely powerful, but they are still just six men. Let's give them a good show!"

"Call the guys from our guild!" someone suggested after a short pause.

"Yes!" Their leader nodded. "How's the fight over by their end?"

"They are still at loggerheads with one another; no one else seems to have realized anything yet," another replied.

"But of course. Those guys there are surely fighting to stall for time. Hmph, then let's leave them to keep playing with themselves. Quick gather our men, those whom we can trust!" the mercenary group leader ordered.

Hence, his underlings instantly got to work, each of them contacting a good friend of theirs within the guild. Most MMO players valued loyalty, so the moment they heard their friend was in trouble, plenty righteously threw in their lot in a show of integrity, often coming to their friends' aid without even asking further questions about the matter. This single call to arms instantly brought forth plenty of comrades to their cause, increasing their numbers to somewhere over fifty.

"What's the matter? Aren't you guys doing a mercenary mission?" someone from the newly gathered lot of players asked.

"Yeah, its a mission, but the opponent this time is strong. We need help from everyone gathered here. We will surely not forget your help once the matter is resolved."

"What's a favor between friends!? Come, lead us to them!"

The throng of players quickly gathered up and set forth valiantly. The mercenary leader who had just been painfully schooled was extremely confident this time; no matter how strong their enemies were, would they be able to fight 1v10? He strongly doubted they were that vicious.

Leaving the city, that throng of players quickly made their way down to the river valley, marching forward swiftly, ready to give Young Master Han and the rest a painfully warm welcome. On the other side of the valley, Southern Lone Blade and his squad of seven men were also hurrying onwards, not wanting to miss their opportunity to profit from other people's efforts.

After chasing for a short while, the seven men abruptly found themselves standing before the fork in that valley. They were instantly stunned by this development, uncertain which way they should be taking to carry on the chase.

"Why would there be a fork here..." Glue grumbled to himself. This could be considered his dereliction of duty, as he was tasked with the scouting duty, being the only player that possessed an Archer's Eagle Eye. It was his fault that for not noticing there was a fork in the river valley now that they were on the hunt for their target.

"This isn't your fault," Southern Lone Blade consoled him. "This area is most probably beyond the scope of your Eagle Eye."

"Where do the paths go? Which one did they choose?"

"Everyone! Check around to see if there's any footprints!" Southern Lone Blade cried out.

The squad immediately split themselves into two and each searched around for any traces of players passing by. Soon, that burly Thief made a discovery over by the left branch and quickly called the others over. Everyone ran over and saw a distinct muddy track.

"Any discoveries on the other side?" Southern Lone Blade was still not convinced, so he asked the three others who went searching at the right branch.

"Nope!" the three replied.

"The right is the way to Luori City, yet they instead went left?" Southern Lone Blade knitted his eyebrows.

"How do you know? Have you been here before?" His companions were all astonished. But according to what they knew, Southern Lone Blade had never once stepped a foot in Luori City.

"No, but I just found that out from a friend I have in Luori City," Southern Lone Blade replied.

"Where does the left lead to?" someone asked.

"A dead end," Southern Lone Blade replied.

"Could it be that they had no idea which way to go, and chose the wrong route?" another guessed.

"No," Southern Lone Blade shook his head, "The right goes straight to Luori City, so anyone from Luori City would block their way, had they taken that path. They must have intentionally taken the left branch of the river valley so as to avoid that blockade."

"But that means they would be further away from the city," someone said. "Wouldn't the risk of making such a move be too great?"

"Not at all. The terrain over here is like this!" Southern Lone Blade squatted down and began drawing out a reverse letter 'A' on the ground, lifting his head over to the rest of his men, "Get it?"

"So there's still a path that connects the left and right branches up ahead. Their decision is probably to first take the left branching path, calculate the approximate time it would take for the enemy to pass through the right side before taking that connecting path back to the right. This places them right behind the enemies from Luori City that should be pursuing them, allowing them to swagger right into the city safely." Flame Singed Clothes already understood their plan.

Southern Lone Blade nodded his head, "The enemy seems to be rather familiar with the terrain here."

"So what's our recourse?"

"We head to the right," Southern Lone Blade said.

"The right?" A man was confused.

"Doing so will allow us to encounter those men from Luori City, therefore we can naturally tell them that we've not met anyone else along the way," Southern Lone Blade smirked.

"And so, they would naturally think of this connecting path and they would all hurry to the left."

"All we need to do at that point is follow behind them and continue to wait for the opportunity to swoop in."

"We could even cooperate with them, tell them that we have a grudge against that Video Mage and ask them to leave him to us!"

"Hahaha!" The men each took turns to elaborate on the plan, helping Southern Lone Blade to complete his plan as they confidently made their way over to the right branch of the fork.

It was exactly as Southern Lone Blade had expected, as the seven of them continued on their way forward, they passed by and saw the connecting path between the left and right branches of the fork. Just a few steps after that, they could already see a throng of players in the distance rushing over towards them.

"Heh, it seems they must have taken a huge loss just now, which is why they are sending so many men over this time," Southern Lone Blade whistled.

"Look at how many people they have, we would really have busied ourselves over nothing if they instantly vanquished those guys in one go," Flame Singed Clothes said.

"Mmm, looks like we have to talk to them for a bit. Everyone, ensure we share the same standpoint, get them to leave the Video Mage to us," the seven discussed even as they advanced forward, acting nonchalant.

The pace of the throng of players coming towards them was hurried, each step nearing by the second. Southern Lone Blade wondered just how he was going to start the conversation when he suddenly heard the sound of arrows whizzing through the air as keen arrows flew straight towards their faces.

Southern Lone Blade had quite a shock as he swiftly leveled his shield in front of him. The arrows rang when they made contact with the shield as Flame Singed Clothes next to him paled. The target of those arrows had been him, but fortunately he was beside the experienced Southern Lone Blade, whose quick reaction protected the two with a quick lift of his shield. Otherwise, the consequences of having to take those two Snipes with the little HP he had would have been disastrous.

While Flame Singed Clothes managed to keep his life, the man on his other side had squawked and disappeared in a beam of white light. Both parties had quite a huge distance between them, so they were not too clear in determining the job class of their targets; the enemy must have randomly picked two targets to concentrate their attack on. Southern Lone Blade may have saved Flame Singed Clothes, but the other man took every single arrow shot hurtling towards him. Although they had a Priest beside them, he was entirely unprepared for the attack and it was already too late for him to save him with a wave of his magic staff by the time he reacted. The Knight in their seven-man squad was the first to lose his life.

"Heal!" Southern Lone Blade bellowed out. His shield may have increased his defense by many times, but it was not a complete defense. He might still be able to stand after taking the blow from five Snipes, but he had lost a significant chunk of his HP, which required immediate assistance from the Priest.

The job class in the squad lacked a Fighter, but they had two Priests with them, allowing them to quickly recover lost HP with the two of them working together. At the same time, their Thief had quickly activated his Stealth, leaving just four other players standing in a row behind Southern Lone Blade. Holding his Shield in front, the Priests continuously bestowed their Heal from behind. The second round of attacks from the enemy had already arrived, but it was no longer the strongest attack they had this time around. Southern Lone Blade protected himself with the shield, surviving this wave of attacks with the Priests behind supporting him.

"What's going on?" Several of them were panicking. The sudden attack they had sent without rhyme or reason towards them was far too alarming.

"Retreat!" Southern Lone Blade shouted to the men behind him. Snipe had a forty-five second cooldown, Southern Lone Blade had no idea if he could still hold on like this if the enemy fired their Snipes together once they had it ready.

The six men tacitly aligned themselves in a row and backed away unhurriedly, because there was no way for them to quickly step back when suppressed like this. The enemy Archers strode forward boldly as each rapidly fired their arrows in quickdraw with marksman-like efficiency. Southern Lone Blade's shield rang continuously as their arrows peppered against it.

Nevertheless, this cover he provided was only temporary. What more could Southern Lone Blade do once these Archers slowly edged to the side and got an angle on his four conrades behind him?

The last man of those four behind him was the Archer Glue, who was the first to become exposed to the enemy fire. Naturally he did not simply wait for death to take him as he grit his teeth and began running out in a serpentine motion.

"I'll fight you guys to the death!" Glue roared as he dodged the incoming arrows, returning fire with his own bow. The first shot he fired off was a Snipe, staggering an enemy Archer with on arrow that showed his attack power to be no slouch either, with a Double Shot following right after. However, the enemy also had plenty of Priests on their side. Seeing one of their compatriots got damaged, they instantly began their triage. Glue's attack may have been sequentially activated, yet it was not quick enough to kill off that Archer.

The enemy Archers had all turned their targets to him, as every one of them fired off a Homing Projectile towards Glue.

"G*DD*MM*T!" Glue cursed as he stubbornly returned fire. The ten glowing white arrows homed in on his body, enveloping him in an even greater white light as he transformed into a flash of light himself; it was a truly tragic sight.

The Archers changed their target back towards Southern Lone Blade as they continued their ranged assault, while the Mages in this throng of players had managed to enter their casting range as well, each of them begun to cast their AoE spells. The ground suddenly radiated red as towering flames erupted from the ground, looking as if it was spurting up towards the sky, cutting horizontally across the entire valley.

Southern Lone Blade and his men recognized this as the fire spell that Flame Singed Clothes had in his arsenal, Palatial Balefire, but the enemy had never seen this spell before, so none of them dared to get near it.

"RUN!" Flame Singed Clothes took this opportunity to call out to everyone. The casting time for this spell was rather slow, but Glue's sacrifice had bought him enough time to safely unleash it.

These men all turned to run, but the enemy Archers and Mages had not given up, as they continued to fire and cast at their squad. Southern Lone Blade scrambled to provide cover for everyone with his shield, but he was unable to completely take care of his scattered men in his panic, losing one of his Priests in the process.

"Take that turn ahead!" Southern Lone Blade yelled, indicating the path ahead that was the dried up riverway that connected the branches of the fork. Flame Singed Clothes was the first to dive in as Southern Lone Blade and the other Priest followed closely behind.

"Where's Blackwater?" Flame Singed Clothes shouted. Blackwater was the IGN of that burly Thief.

"He has Stealth, so he should be able to escape by himself," Southern Lone Blade answered. The three men had not stopped running even for a moment.

"Just what the heck is going on? Did those guys mistake us for someone else?" Flame Singed Clothes yelled.

"Mistake us for someone else?" Southern Lone Blade instantly felt his heart tremble.