The wolves circling Icicle glared at him and Leila, letting out menacing howls. Icicle seemed content, as if he was about to spar against a worthy opponent.
Icicle was remembering that one brutal paintball game fondly. It was supposed to be a "shooting practice". It hurt. A lot.
Reminiscing the times filled with joy and hardship, Icicle's mouth curled up into a smile.
Three wolves jolted from their positions, trapping Icicle in a triangular formation. Icicle swayed to the right, allowing Leila to smack one of the wolves down, while at the same time swinging his sword horizontally.
Bearing the brunt of the blow, Icicle's feet sunk into the soil. His legs were trembling, both from excitement and the strain.
Seeing the minor success of their brethren, the other wolves quickly followed, assaulting Icicle from all sides.
Icicle closed his eyes, immersing himself in the feeling of [Sense presence]. He felt a strange familiarity. This sensation was fairly similar to the one people have when they are followed. Where you think that someone is looking at you and you turn around, only to see that there's no one there.
Icicle was realizing there are several factors to that feeling. His hearing was limited to the 3m area, perceiving any, even the almost unhearable, sounds. Grunts, panting, howling... Every audible action made Icicle narrow down the area of where the wolves actually were.
His sense of smell was put to work. The foul breath of the wolves, their stinky fur and even the smell of musty, old blood... these seemingly unwanted odors actually helped Icicle track the wolves' positions.
Tiny air fluctuations, vibrations in the wind that blew past him, every piece of information began to gather, slowly forming a clear image.
It was only when Icicle blocked out his sight that he was able to perceive these things, like a blind man who slowly accustoms to the world of darkness, honing his other senses. Loiterous made such hard to experience sensations possible.
Finally, the last piece of the puzzle came into play. Killing intent! Icicle felt the menacing stares and hostile disposition from all around him. His entire being shook. This was a new discovery!
As excitement washed over Icicle, he also felt a his body tingling. This change made him realize this was a life or death situation! However, he was already used to such situations in real life, how could he still fear them?
You can die if you breathe in some unknown chemicals. You might die from choking on a lump of bread. Since you can die even from such simple actions, would you fear someone with a gun? If you don't fear a gun, would you fear some sharp fangs and claws?
Icicle's reasoning was quite simple. If you can die from almost anything, why worry about it? It was good to be aware of the dangers, but should you be a worrywart? Constantly making sure that you won't fall and break your leg? No, that would cause you to become paranoid!
Icicle's mouth curled up into a smile. He felt like a tibetan monk in the middle of meditation, rested and calm, looking at his body from third person view. Various images started to appear in his mind. Wolf silhouettes appear one after the other like holograms. Those shadowy figures circled around Icicle, growling, howling, lunging at him. Leila’s hologram-like shadow was especially vivid.
As Icicle was experiencing the honing of his 6th sense, closely related to [Sense presence] skill, the other players glanced in his direction from time to time. They saw a madman with a squirrel on his shoulder dancing with the wolves, his sword slashing air more often than not.
Although the sight of it was ridiculous, when this seemingly suicidal player turned, the players realized he had his eyes closed! He was actually disregarding the wolves to the degree of closing his eyes!
But that was the opinion of a regular players. Those "ambitious" ones immediately called Icicle a hacker, others thought of "developer" or "GM's friend". Many of those suspicious players started recording the proceedings of the event.
Icicle didn't know about any of this. Even if he knew he most likely wouldn't care. There are always those black sheep that envy others. He focused on developing his [Sense presence] instead.
While Icicle was "dancing with the doggies", Faura and her friends desperately fought back against the wolves. With the help of the elite black and reddish squirrels, it was easier than before.
Noticing that Icicle's health dropped to about half, Faura shouted "Enna, heal him!"
Enna quickly collected herself. She looked at the window and was surprised, her heal didn't work. "It's out of range!" she drawled out.
Faura started thinking about the strategy to make her party close the gap. However, before she even managed to formulate the plan, she saw Icicle's HP refilling. "Weird, he didn't level up." she thought, furrowing her brows. "Could it be an HP potion? He knows that merchant Adian after all..."
Faura shook her head. It would be weird if Icicle didn't have any special measures. He was the one who started the event after all.
About 15 minutes have passed, the fierce battle went on.
Icicle continued honing his [Sense Presence], surrounded by the wolf pack. His mouth holding a perpetual smile, he slashed viciously. After 15 minutes of immersion he hit the wolves more often than air.
His jet black hair glistened in the sun. Droplets of sweat ran down his forehead, expelling the exhaustion and heat from his body.
Suddenly, his eyes snapped open!
The wolf in front of him was smashed dead by Leila. She proudly puffed her chest, showing her majesty.
"I have finally gotten the hang of it." Icicle thought with a wicked smile on his fatigued face. "Heh, right on time." He checked his inventory and saw there were only three small potions left, given to him by Adian, each recovering 100 HP.
"This sounds interesting. I wonder if I can sense the Rogues in stealth now." Icicle pondered, as he moved quickly, shifting his position, allowing Leila to strike. With this whack-a-mole tactic, his experience rose quickly.
At least 80 wolves were killed by the Icicle and Leila duo. All of the loot was scooped up.
The players in the back were reduced to 1150 in number, unable to resist the violent wolf pack. However, they slowly made progress, reducing the numbers of wolves steadily. On the flanks, the remaining number of players fluctuated around 350.
Only Adian and Red Devil remained in tough positions.
Inferno saw that Icicle was standing in the middle of the wolf encirclement, like a dog trainer, playing fetch with his pupils. He quickly cast one of his so far unusable skills - [Ember Shield].
Fire Mage was a class focused solely on dealing damage. It had basically no defensive spells. However, no one said it couldn't have an offensive yet defensive spell. This skill was exactly [Ember Shield].
[Ember Shield] created 5 wisps of flame, floating around the chosen target, damaging anyone who came within its range. The spell lasted 10 minutes, its burn damage wasn't high, but it was enough to get the job done. Its use was simple - if your enemies are charging at you, you should make them pay!
Many fire element bosses inside Loiterous used a similar skill to [Ember Shield], making the melee attackers have to think of ways to counter it, or attack in the limited time window when it was on cooldown.
If used prudently, this spell could provide a great advantage. However, in most circumstances it was an unusable skill, thus, although powerful, it didn't provide much utility.
On the side, Enna managed her mana prudently, thus she still had quite a lot left. She cast [Bless] on Icicle, increasing his defense and magic resistance by a small amount. The effect lasted three minutes and for low level players this small increase in defense was often the difference between life and death.
Icicle saw two icons in his field of vision. They displayed the duration of the buffs and their effects. He realized that the [Ember Shield] didn't affect Leila at all. Based on his conjecture, Icicle figured out it's probably dealing damage outwards, with his body as the center. Since Leila was perched on his shoulder, she wasn't affected. He quickly waved the icons to the side, making them disappear.
The wolves which had previously attacked with crazed fervor and vigor, suddenly started whimpering. Their yelps resembled the wailing of ghost. They were scared of fire and now that wisps of flame were circling around Icicle, they couldn't even near him without taking damage.
Large groups of wolves scurried away, afraid of being burnt. Many players stared at Icicle with vigilant gazes. If he were to run into them with this kind of spell on, the damage would be devastating.
Icicle turned from the victim into a bully, chasing after the wolves with a wicked smile on his face.
As the wolves died and the battle progressed, Icicle leveled up to 9. When he looked at the status of his party, Faura and the rest were level 14. This made him smile bitterly. "Maybe calling Nix a retard wasn't such a great idea after all?" he shook his head.
The battlefield was getting calmer and calmer. The only relevant battles came to Adian versus Fleeting Violet Direwolf and Red Devil versus Primeval Direwolf.
Adian dodged another bolt of violet lightning. The sheer power given off by these bolts made his body shudder in fear. Getting hit was not an option. He shifted his ankles and the sole of his foot pushed him forward.
"[Chopping wood]!" he screamed, waving both of his one-handed axes covered with green, rippling light.
Fleeting Violet Direwolf didn't dodge. It stood majestically, slashing with its paw covered in a violet, sparking glow, emitting crackling noises!
Yet another crater appeared in the soil, making it look like the aftermath of a stampede crossing a minefield.
Adian panted, catching his breath with difficulty. He looked at the Fleeting Violet Direwolf who was as oppressive as ever, emitting ferocity and savagery. He drank one of the [Turbid Medium Healing Potions] Icicle gave him and stuffed wild boar meat into his mouth.
Adian considered changing one of his axes in favor of a shield, but then he wouldn't be able to deal any damage to the Violet Fleeting Direwolf. So, he gritted his teeth, wiped his mouth and rushed forward yet again.
The battle in the center of the clearing moved to the north. As the wind rustled the leaves, powerful shockwave sundered the ground, making the surface of the earth upturn.
Two paws clashed, one red, one silver. The trees behind the two creatures uprooted from the impact. Some were completely lopped off, leaving only their tree trumps clinging to their former positions, as if cut by a 10m tall lumberjack with one swing. No one dared to approach the two ancestors, their battle was on another level.
Icicle who has just routed the wolves ran back to the former defense line. [Ember Shield] was gone and he was slightly regretful. He enjoyed making the wolves flee.
He looked around only to realize that most of the wolves were dead. There were only remnants of them, scattered along the sides. He quickly told Enna to heal Adian, as he was a key component in this event. Even with almost all the wolves gone, Icicle still had a bad feeling.
"Shit, I knew something was wrong!" Icicle cursed. However, getting that one level made him able to equip his previously gathered equipment! Thus, Icicle quickly wore [Fluffy Wolf's Pelt Bag], [Fluffy Wolf Boots] and the [Silver-flowing Bracelet].
"What are my stats now?" Icicle checked the status window with curiosity.
Icicle had to take all of his equipment off first to add 2 points into Dexterity. Otherwise, every point in the 30s costs 3 points. This made him realize it will be hard to farm any statistics.
Author's note: Basically goes like this:
1-10 - 1 stat point per stat
11-30 - 2 stat points per stat
31-40 - 3 stat points per stat
41-50 - 4 stat points per stat etc.
"I feel like the stats are just a bunch of numbers. I can't move faster with the new boots if I can't reach that speed myself. It's like giving someone wings but not teaching him how to fly..." as he pondered, Icicle was on the verge of realizing what the stats really provided.
"When I fought against the wolves, every hit of theirs hurt like hell. It seems like HP represents a sheer number of hits you can take, as long as you're in good condition. If you're too tired or the pain is unbearable, you'll faint. Critical hits only appear when you hit the vital areas too." Icicle concluded. “Those devs really tried to make Loiterous feel real, almost too real, actually.”
Icicle felt good about having high stats nonetheless. If even his stats were lower than others', then this "prank" set up by Nix would truly be a catastrophe.
"I was only able to heal him twice." Enna panted as if she ran a marathon. "That Fleeting Violet Direwolf is too fierce. It shot one bit of lightning at me and I almost died!" she whimpered. Enna wasn't brave to begin with, but fighting alongside her friends and constantly reminding herself that it's just a game helped her determination somewhat.
"That's good enough." Icicle patted Enna's head, ruffling her brown hair. "We have other things to worry about." he looked to the left and to the right. Those two flanks were most likely going to be overran!
"Leila, make your friends come back here! We'll be surrounded anyways, the more numbers we have, the better!" Icicle said as he looked at the squirrel princess.
Leila's red fur was now entirely crimson, covered in blood of the wolves she smacked to death. Her kill count was at least twenty times that of Icicle's.
The surrounding squirrels quickly relayed the message of the princess to others.
SQUEAK! SQUEAK! SQUEAK! SQUEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAK!
One by one black and reddish squirrels hurried over to the center of the clearing, surrounding Leila.
Icicle nodded in affirmation and walked over to Adian, making sure to stay out of the way. "Adian I know you're busy but listen up!" he hollered. "We are about to get flooded by yet another pack of wolves, I have no idea how large. There are two ways I can see right now to resolve this situation. One is that I'll send help for you to deal with that direwolf. It will most likely make the ancestor doggie over there go into frenzy and make things difficult for Red Devil." Icicle spoke indifferently.
"The other choice is to pray that you can stall that wolf long enough for us to emerge victorious. I have no idea if we will though. The chances are pretty slim."
"The first choice involves your pride, the second your life. Choose quickly for we do not have much time left. Whatever it is, make sure to be in your best condition, I'll need your help." Icicle looked at Adian and awaited his decision.
Adian shifted his body, avoiding the fatal claw attack and barked "Of course it's the first choice! That ancestor wolf will go into frenzy soon anyway. How can it not, seeing all those wolves dead? You’ve basically massacred its entire tribe already!”
"I wanted to deal with this tricky violet direwolf on my own, but there will be other opponents in the future. Send the reinforcements!" Adian made his mind. Having his fun compared to losing his life? He had a family to take care of! The simplest choice is the one where you have no say in the matter.
"Alright. I'm most likely not even a punching bag for it, even with the potion." Icicle grumbled "Leila, send 10 of your experts!"
Leila uttered the command and 10 of the squirrels rapidly approached the direwolf. They quickly unleashed their hidden technique!
A blood red "X" marks appeared all around the Fleeting Violet Direwolf. Its fur surged with electricity, as if overcharging, and it jumped high up, 5m into the air.
As it was airborne, all of the squirrels' claw slashes missed their mark. However, Adian was already above the wolf, swinging his two axes straight at its head!
The sound of iron clashing with iron emerged. Overwhelmingly tough bones of the Fleeting Violet Direwolf shuddered, sending vibrations throughout its body. Adian didn't give up and swung his axes again!
With the second strike, it was no longer shuddering. The bones cracked, on the verge of breaking completely. Fleeting Violet Direwolf fell from the sky, crashing into the ground.
Its body bouncing off the ground, Fleeting Violet Direwolf arduously retreated backwards, leaving behind a streak of violet lightning.
As Icicle noticed that his shoulder suddenly felt lighter, he saw a red blur appear beside the the commanding direwolf.
Leila raised her paw and the image of a demonic claw appeared behind her. However, compared to her tribe's illusory streak of blood red light, Leila's version was almost tangible! Her aura mixed with the skill. In this state, Leila appeared like a devil from hell herself!
What other members of the Red Devil's Tribe learned, was a technique to rend their enemies, ripping them to shreds. However, Red Devil’s bloodline was gifted with innate, indomitable strength, allowing the descendants to overpower their enemies with the sheer force of their blows!
The enormous claw hovering above Leila clenched into a fist as it started swinging downwards!
The Fleeting Violet Direwolf was shaking in fear. This was the first time it has seen something so terrible, so otherworldly. Its legs went limp, making it unable to move even an inch. It watched with its eyes wide open, powerless against the impending doom descending towards it!
Leila's monstrous skill landed, turning the direwolf into mince meat. All it left behind was a puddle of blood, incomparable to its former majestic visage.
Leila jumped from her spot and landed on Icicle's shoulder, licking her sore paws. She looked exhausted. However, her eyes emitted a ray of proudness.
All the squirrels immediately leapt in joy. As their morale surged, the sound reached Red Devil and the Primeval Direwolf. Like Adian predicted, the Primal Direwolf entered frenzy, fighting with unbridled ferocity.
However, Red Devil was boosted by the success of his granddaughter. Since he had such a promising descendant, how could he be outdone and kick the bucket? He needs to pass on his legacy first!
The area all around the two ancestors exploded, grinding the earth into dust.
Adian who was finally free of his burden huffed, catching his breath. He picked up his wine flagon and drank as if first he touched in years. Quenching his thirst, he quickly devoured large portions of meat.
Wild roars of the approaching wolves resounded through the clearing. As the wolf force emerged, the players looked in dismay at the approaching numbers.
"We're fucked!" some of them screamed.
1500 players and 950 squirrels versus 4000 one and two star wolves, and 1000 wolf elites.
Their odds didn't look so good.
"How many tanks do we have?" Adian questioned the crowd of players.
"Around 150 or so." Inferno answered, looking briefly at the remaining players.
"It should be enough if we play it right." Adian said proudly "Remake your parties, make sure there's a healer and a tank in each of them."
Most players listened to Adian and did as he asked. Those who decided to "rebel" were completely disregarded. If they wanted to die, so be it.
"Each one of you needs to take on at least 10 of those wolves out there." Adian pointed at the [Minor White Direwolves] and [White Wolf Guardians], equivalents of [Atlas's Guardians].
"Fire Mages should cast [Ember Shield] on each of those tanks. The wolves fear fire and may even abstain from attacking you." Icicle added.
The pack of wolves glared at the group, approaching slowly but surely, emanating bloodthirsty savagery. They wanted revenge!.
After discussing their strategy, all the members stayed in a rectangular pattern. Shields covered most members, resembling the tortoise's shell.
Icicle scratched his head "This looks like a makeshift tortoise formation. I guess it will have to do." he was quite satisfied with the cooperation of the players.
The wolves quickly approached. The players' shield wall stood like a tall mountain, ready to take on any attackers.
Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!
White direwolves jumped in the air, clawing at the shields. The players endured the blows, waiting for the signal.
10 seconds, 20 seconds...
"Now, lower your shields!" Adian barked the order. As he did, all the players in the middle of the formation lowered their shields and let the squirrels hiding there jump out!
Swoosh! Swoosh! Swoosh!
Streak after streak of black and red light rushed out of the tortoise formation, surrounding the wolves.
"Good!" Adian smirked. "Now that we have those doggies encircled both from the inside and the outside, you can attack in every direction! Keep your backliners safe!" he took a big breath "KILL THEM ALL!" Adian rushed out and started hacking away at the wolves.
Came the shouts from the players, they too moved in unison, kneeling when the backliners cast spells and shot arrows, other times defending them from the wolves.
"I'm actually surprised the players learned this formation so fast!" Icicle smirked as he ran into the wolves. His defense was pretty good now, coupled with his nimbleness he could dodge a significant portion of the attacks.
Another fierce battle began, enveloping the primeval Humming Forest. Encircled direwolves had no choice but to desperately fight for their lives, fiercely clawing at the surrounding players and squirrels. They were the ones surrounding the group, but as the situation turned they were tricked and forced into a disadvantageous position.
This well executed pincer move let the players cover their inadequacies. They still made blunders, often causing their party members to lose their lives, but they also learned a lot. Fighting in a coordinated group fashion was an invaluable experience.
[Ember Shields] appeared around certain players as they charged into the wolves' horde. They protected themselves with their shields, using the [Bolster] skill to reduce the damage taken for the next three attacks.
Leila stood proudly on Icicle's shoulder. She was too tired to help him out, but just by being there, amidst her brethren, she was able to boost their morale. To them, this little princess seemed too noble to even put the wolves in her eyes.
Amidst the blazing fireballs, crackling lightning bolts and clanking swords, the battlefield slowly calmed.
Wolf ancestor retreated in shame. It lost its pack, there was no reason to lose its life too. As it turned back, it howled desolately, promising that one day it will return and avenge its brethren.
"I'm rich!" 1200 players that survived cried happily! They were able to afford potions and beginner sets for all of their friends.They didn't need the sets, the loot from the wolves was already plentiful!
Icicle checked his inventory and realized he had 2 gold coins total. This was quite a harvest. He remembered the fake quest and said happily "Remember you can exchange your wolf furs, meat and claws for items and free identifying with Merchant Adian."
The players looked at him with confused gazes. Why would they do that, now they were rich, 1 gold coin was an enormous sum for them! They could afford identifying the items.
"The path to town is paved with danger, since the news of the event were spread, who knows how many player killers will wait on the road." Icicle said out loud, as if talking to himself. He wasn't sure if there were any, but planting the seed of doubt in the players was enough.
Faura and her party quickly approached Adian to hand over the furs. They wanted to identify the loot.
Red Devil came back, light bruises all over his body. The battle with the Primeval Direwolf was harsh on him.
Icicle patted Leila and said "Go!"
As Icicle saw Leila, who was at most 50cm long running towards the 5m long Red Devil, he involuntarily chuckled. Although the resemblance was there, the size alone made the sight comical.
Icicle watched the two squirrels discuss something and then saw another pop up.
A group of hundred ancient squirrels ran back towards their home and quickly came back. They brought back a small hill made out of acorns and shoved it towards Icicle.
Icicle looked at the small hill in front of him and wanted to kill himself. What was he supposed to do with all of this? He can't even eat it!
Sighing inwardly, Icicle remembered that Leila earned him a lot by massacring the wolves. "Leila come over here." he said gently. Little squirrel jumped out like a spring and landed on his shoulder. "You helped me out immensely today, so I would like to give all of these acorns to you." he patted Leila's red head caringly.
Leila's eyes glistened with bright light. She squeaked a few times and jumped off to munch on acorns.
Icicle watched with amusement as the adorable creature devoured the precious acorns. Even Red Devil seemed surprised. Those acorns weren't easy to grow and he forked out quite a bit of his stock. His gaze fell on Icicle.
Icicle turned to Faura and Adian "I'll be back soon." he said, following the Red Devil.
Since the event was done, everyone but Icicle was teleported out of the zone. People who died as well as the curious ones immediately entered the area. They saw some players clamoring around the NPC, exchanging goods. Those players were anxious about losing their precious loot. After all, the tutorial mentioned it's possible to lose the recently gained items in case of death. This rule applied to level 10 and above, which now all of them were.
Quickly exchanging glances, the other players asked around, lining up to let Adian identify their items and exchange the crafting materials.
As Icicle walked behind Red Devil, they crossed the western part of the forest, entering an area with hundreds of trees bending under the weight of the acorns. The black soil all around provided the necessary nutrients for the primeval grove.