The peasant paused.
Andonara asked anxiously, “What next?”
The peasant caught his breath and continued, “Cage was not at home then. He was in Winterwind. After he returned, the butler reported the incident to him, and he left to save his son with the butler. That was two days ago.”
“Where did they go?”
“In the direction of Winterwind.”
Hearing that, Andonara was going to set off immediately, when Roland stopped her and said, “Don’t be hasty. Let’s gather the details first.”
Then, Roland asked the peasant, “Did you see the strangers? What did they look like?”
The peasant thought about it and replied, “They were all young men, with golden hair and blue eyes.”
Roland had a bad feeling when he heard that.
As he expected, the peasant continued, “The weirdest thing was that they had a black leaf on their faces.”
Stunned, Roland fell into silence.
Andonara was surprised at first. Then she burst into fury.
Her clothes were shaking though there was no wind. Her long braids were fluttering too.
The peasant had watched Andonara grow up from a little girl. Even though she had always been strong, he was never scared of her until this moment.
He felt that he was about to pee his pants uncontrollably, as if a dragon were gazing at him.
This peasant never made eye contact with a dragon before, but it was exactly his feeling.
Roland put his hand on Andonara’s shoulder.
Andonara’s aggressiveness immediately dropped.
She was still angry, but she was no longer scary.
“Clearly, it was done by the Golden Sons.” Roland grabbed Andonara’s hand and said, “Let’s go. Don’t be too anxious. It’s not that terrible. Cage is not weak. A few players whose level has plunged so many deaths can’t beat him easily.”
Andonara nodded docilely.
Andonara’s hand, usually smooth and warm, was now rather cold. As a woman who always lacked a sense of safety, she was rather overwhelmed when her family was in danger.
The Life Goddess was right. Andonara was essentially just a weak woman at heart.
On their way to Winterwind, Roland summoned White Amber, the magic pet he barely used.
After White Amber appeared, it looked around and climbed on Roland’s shoulder, before it asked in surprise, “Master, you’ve never summoned me over a long distance. Are you in trouble?”
“Yes.” Roland nodded. “You will follow Andonara later and work as a bridge of communication between us. Got it?”
White Amber nodded. “Don’t worry. I’ll keep the queen safe.”
“Thank you,” said Roland.
Though White Amber did not have a high combat ability, it had night vision and healing methods and could be helpful to Andonara.
Then, Roland and Andonara split up for the investigation. Roland took off and searched from the sky, and Andonara simply went to Winterwind.
Winterwind was being rebuilt, but the Guild of Mercenaries and the Guild of Assassins were already operating again. Those two guilds were famous for their intelligence. It couldn’t be wrong to go to them.
In a forest ten kilometers to the east of Winterwind, six players with a black leaf on their faces were warming themselves near a bonfire.
A little boy with golden hair and blue eyes was sitting next to them with tears in his eyes. He was gritting his teeth to stop himself from crying.
That boy was Kaido.
The whole incident was not very complicated.
These black leaf players were quite smart. Though they were killed several times, they managed to hide themselves in the woods and subsist on brooks and wildlife. They successfully survived the manhunt.
Then, they passed Reed Village by accident when they were moving to the border of Hollevin.
Reed Village barely had any interaction with the outside world. The villagers didn’t know who the black leaf players were at all.
Kaido didn’t know, either.
Those black leaf players behaved obediently at first when they came to Reed Village.
They paid for everything they ate, and they were very friendly.
Then, Kaido, who was playing in the village, went to the players curiously.
The black leaf players didn’t want to do anything to Kaido at first. They even had a lot of fun with Kaido.
After all, it was in human beings’ nature to play with kids.
Kaido grew even more enthusiastic seeing how friendly they were.
Kids tended to trust the people who were nice to them, and disclose things that should’ve been kept a secret.
Kaido claimed that he had an awesome dad and his cousin was the queen, but the black leaf players simply laughed at him.
As a six-year-old boy, seeing that the players weren’t convinced, Kaido bragged innocently, “My sister Andonara had brown hair and eyes at first, but after she took my father’s potion, she got golden hair and blue eyes. She also grew much stronger.”
Then, all the players were excited.
Every player knew that Roland’s queen changed her appearance and grew significantly stronger.
Immediately, the players asked questions.
In the end, Kaido said, “My father said that the last bottle of potion is for me. I’ll be as good as my cousin after I grow up and take the potion.”
As a matter of fact, Phoenix Blood should’ve been kept a secret from Kaido.
But Kaido had been eagerly asking his father why his cousin had a new appearance.
Cage couldn’t stand the pestering anymore and gave him a rough answer.
Cage thought that, since Reed Village was quite far-flung, few visitors would come here, and even if they did, they might not be interested in talking to little kids. Even if they were, they wouldn’t take what a kid said seriously.
However, the black leaf players were convinced, because they knew Andonara’s example.
Immediately, they tied up Cage and searched for Phoenix Blood in the manor.
Failing to find it, they beat up the butler and left a message that the strengthening potion must be submitted to them in order to get Kaido back.
After returning from Winterwind and learning this matter, Cage immediately tracked them down with his longsword.
But the players set up a few traps. He only managed to escape with a broken arm.
It was winter at this time. Snow was everywhere. Everybody was sitting around the fire.
In fact, as professionals, they could barely be affected by the cold, even the Mages.
However, a fire in a cold winter was always reassuring.
Besides, there was still a kid here.
A player, who was adding dry branches to the fire in his boredom, suddenly said, “The man named Cage will definitely come back. He’s not as strong as before. Do you think he’ll come with the potion?”
“Probably,” Jess said gloomily. “He only has one son anyway. I think he should know very well which is more important, the potion or his son.”
“But there’s only one bottle of potion. How are we going to divide it?”
“Whoever makes the biggest offer will have it,” said Jess casually.
“If we can become as strong as Roland’s queen, the black leaf wouldn’t be a big deal,” a player said. “We will easily be able to beat up a dozen people, and if more are coming, we can always run away. Nobody can stop us. This game is my second life. I don’t want to quit it.”
Everybody was silent.
None of them wanted to quit this game.
That was why they had been hiding and keeping a low profile.
Besides, they all had the same understanding.
Sometimes, even though someone did a bad thing, the bad thing might be forgotten if they were strong enough.
It worked especially in this world.
If they could be as strong as Andonara, whoever intended to deal with them had to consider carefully.
Power was everything in this world.
With the potion, they would leave this country and live in remote places using masks. After they became Legends and Demigods, the black leaf on their faces would be nothing.
“Whoever gets the potion must remember that we can only survive as a group. I won’t show you any mercy if you quit this group the moment you get the potion.”
The others all nodded.
They all knew that the power of a community was always better than that of individuals.
They had to stick close to each other at a moment like this.
Then, they all fell silent again.
Soon, heavy footsteps came from the front, and snow was being stomped on.
The seven black leaf players all rose. One of them walked to Kaido and laid his sword on Kaido’s shoulder.
Looking at the sharp blade next to him, Kaido trembled even harder in fright. Though he shed tears, he gritted his teeth and kept himself from crying out.
“Release my son.” Cage, witnessing it a dozen meters away in his leather armor, was both furious and regretful.
He hated himself for telling such important information to an ignorant child.
Had his wisdom and vigilance really dropped so much since he retired as a mercenary years ago?
He had almost been killed by the Golden Sons earlier. Yet, he didn’t remember the lesson.
He really did a horrible thing.
With his intact left hand, Cage took out the Phoenix Blood from his clothes and showed it to everyone.
“Golden Sons, this is the blood you want,” Cage said gravely. “Can you let my son go now? I will not give the blood to you until he’s safe, I would rather smash it on the ground and let nobody have it.”
Jess turned his head, and the player who threatened Kaido put his longsword away.
Cage put on a smile on his stubbly face. “Kaido, get out of here and run out of the forest. The butler will pick you up.”
“I’m not going, or they will bully you. Your hand is gone. It must be painful. I was wrong, I shouldn’t have talked to these bad guys!”
Kaido couldn’t hold it back anymore and wailed. He sounded pitiful and helpless in the cold wind.
The players all felt uneasy when they watched him cry.
Jess said, “Make him go right now. If you’re willing to give the blood to us in perfect condition, you can go too.”