189 The Story of an Upright Tiger (Part I)


 Link rushed down to the South from Ferde Wilderness in haste. He crossed the Black River and finally passed through the borders of Leo Kingdom in only three days' time. He had kept this journey a secret, being careful not to let anyone in the world know of his whereabouts.

Once he reached Leo Kingdom, he slowed down his speed and went through a forest where there were no inhabitants to enter into the heart of the kingdom. Then from there, he hired a carriage and headed towards Opal City where there had been reports of high-level demon sightings.

To conceal his identity, Link put on an extra hooded cloak made of ice bear hide on top of his extraordinary Flame Controller Magician's robe. He wouldn't even bring out his wand if there was no need for it. Right now, Link looked nothing more like a wandering Magician.

Leo Kingdom was a rich and prosperous country with expansive mercantile activities. Hence, the roads in the heart of the kingdom were well-paved, safely flat and spacious as well. The roads here were indeed just as good as the King's Lane in Norton Kingdom, so the carriage had been traveling very smoothly and managed to cover quite a large distance in a short time.

In front of them was a city that was sprawled along a river where from afar, one could see tall spires reaching towards the clouds. As they approached the city, they came up to a stone bridge which looked very narrow but had very heavy traffic. Apparently, one must pay a bridge toll before crossing, which created a bottleneck in the traffic there. It made the movements of the carts and carriages very slow.

Link got bored waiting in the carriage, so he took out the Battle Art scroll Vance had given to him and began to study it. This Epic-level Imperial Conqueror Battle Art was indeed a very advanced technique. Moreover, it had been invented by Vance, the founder of Battle Art studies himself. Yet, Link had never come across this peculiar spell in the game before, and he couldn't find it in the gaming system's spell menu either. Thus, Link quickly became engrossed in studying the Battle Art spell.

Tsk, tsk. The deep understanding of the human body and the way in which power is integrated within it is obvious in this spell, Link couldn't help but think. The founder of Battle Art studies really is unrivaled!

Although this spell was a type of secret spell, Link had a deep interest in the studies of Battle Aura and Battle Art; he found it to be potentially very useful. Lucy, Jacker, Gildern and the rest of the Warriors in his mercenary troop would benefit greatly if they were to be exposed to the proper training and cultivation of Battle Art. Once the strength of his allies advanced further, Link's own power would naturally increase as well.

After studying half of the scroll, Link began to form his own opinions on the techniques adopted in it.

This is indeed extraordinary, but it would demand too much of the elemental purity of the practitioner. Not only would one need to have exceptional physical strength, one must be mentally strong as well-this would mean that it would take massive amounts of effort to progress.

Link realized further that a practitioner of Imperial Conqueror must have a perfectly honorable nature and not have a trace of darkness in their heart, in addition to a steely and relentless determination. From what Link had observed of the members of his mercenary troop, the total number of people who were suitable for this technique couldn't be more than ten. Jacker might be able to practice it to its full performance. While the others could attempt it too, their progress would be so limited that they'd only be wasting their energy and time.

This technique's practicality is just too poor, thought Link. Although it is highly effective in improving individual strength, it doesn't do much in improving the overall strength of a troop. If only there were a technique that would allow anyone to practice it and use it to develop their skills to a great result-that would be just great!

Improving the strength of ten people by twofold was always better than improving the strength of one person by tenfold. This was a crucial principle that could mean the difference between victory and defeat in a war!

Right at that moment, the idea of creating a common practice method for the mercenary troop began to take root deep inside Link's mind. It was only a vague idea at this moment though, because he still knew very little about Battle Aura and Battle Art.

Link then continued to study the scroll. Just as he was fully immersed in it, he suddenly heard a loud roar that sounded as if it had been made by a wild beast. The roar was like thunder that reverberated through the air and almost shook the earth. It had come from the forest that fringed the Opal City, and that one roar had caused flocks of birds to flee into the sky.

The ferocity and the intimidating volume of this roar sounded familiar to Link's ears.

The people in the carts and carriages that were lining up to pay the bridge toll erupted into discussions of what the source of the sound could be, making it harder for Link who was still inside the carriage to listen to the roar clearly. He then threw a silver coin to the coachman and gave him an instruction.

"Lev," Link called out, "go and ask around about the loud roar just now and find out what kind of beast made that sound."

"Yes, sir!" Lev was elated by the silver coin. He then quickly dashed off to investigate the matter.

Ten minutes later, Lev ran back with the news he'd gathered.

"My lord," he said, "people are saying that a magical beast has come to the outskirts of the city. It was said to be a big tiger that stood 13 feet tall. It had arrived a month earlier and had eaten a few people here initially, but it then disappeared without a trace. No one could find it; only roars could be heard coming from the forest from time to time."

"Is that so?" asked Link, whose curiosity was now deepened. "But why would it behave that way? Are there any other rumors about it?"

"Yes, there are quite a few rumors about it," replied Lev. "Some people say the rich merchant Olidor had purchased a tiger fur coat made from the fur of this magical beast. Some people say the beast was from the demonic realm and was sent here to scout the situation in this realm. Other people say..."

Lev continued to recount a dozen other rumors he heard from the townsfolk. All turned out to be mere speculation with no real value and a very low possibility of being true. Link couldn't make head or tails of all this hearsay.

Later, Link paid the bridge toll, and the carriage drove up onto the bridge. When they reached the middle of the bridge, another thundering roar was heard coming from the distant forest. This time, the roar sounded much angrier than the first one and Link thought it sounded even more familiar now.

There mustn't be many magical beasts in this continent that had the form of a tiger and was this powerful. Link had even encountered one such beast himself a month ago...Wait, he remembered it now!

Could it be the Wind Tiger that escaped from Azura Tower? Although he framed it as a question, at that moment, there was no doubt in Link's mind that he got the beast's identity right.

The reason of Link's confidence was that the Wind Tiger's strange behavior in the East Cove Academy that night corroborated with this tiger's odd behavior-if the tiger had been trying to disappear or hide inside the forest, then why was he making so much loud noise all day?

When the carriage had crossed the bridge, there was once again a roaring sound that rang out from the forest. This time, the beast sounded as if it was in pain.

Is it hurt? Link thought with surprise. But who could harm such a mighty beast?

A Level-6 Wind Tiger would have an unimaginably powerful body and formidable combat skills. Moreover, even if it had met an opponent that it couldn't defeat, it would've been able to flee at super speed. Its name wasn't for nothing, after all. According to legends, a Wind Tiger could move up to 300 miles per hour-that's twice the speed of Link's Wind Fenrir. In fact, that's much faster than a sports supercar!

The carriage was fast approaching the city gates by now. Link suddenly overheard some townsfolk talking about the Wind Tiger near his carriage.

"Did you hear that?" said one of them. "That must be the sound of some powerful master capturing the magic tiger!"

"Did the city mayor hire someone to do that?" replied the other. "No, it can't be. I haven't heard of any such rumors."

"Who cares? As long as that beast remains in the forest, we won't be at peace anyway. It's good news that someone finally tried to chase it away or capture. Better yet, I hope someone would kill the beast."

As they spoke, there was another roar coming from the forest. This time, it sounded even more in pain.

Link was genuinely unnerved now. Someone who could hurt the Level-6 Wind Tiger so much that it would cry out in pain and be unable to flee from must at least be at Level-7!

Even Link knew he wouldn't be able to achieve such a feat himself. If push came to shove and he must defeat the Wind Tiger, then he would have to rely on the Prophetic White Stone's power. Even then, he wouldn't be able to stop the tiger from fleeing!

But are Level-7 Magicians so widespread in Firuman that they can be found anywhere now? Link brooded. He found the matter utterly curious until finally, a possible explanation popped up in his mind.

It can't be one of the escaped prisoners of Azura Tower, can it?

He clearly remembered that on that day, among the escaped prisoners were a big group of Level-6 Master Magicians. Their number was in total no less than twenty. Apart from them, there were five Level-7 Master Magicians; then, there was one who was able to cast a Level-8 deflective spell. Once Vance was excluded from this total count, there would be four Level-7 Magicians left who were currently at large.

Magical beasts had notoriously hardy physical strength. Their flesh and blood, their bones and their fur were all precious magic materials. It would be no wonder that this Wind Tiger would be targeted since he made no attempt to conceal his presence; he emitted such ear-splitting roars announcing its whereabouts to the world.

Once he thought of it this way, Link thought he must get to the bottom of the matter himself now. Those escaped prisoners were mostly shady characters who'd committed serious crimes against the living. They were also exiled individuals who wouldn't find a place where they were accepted in mainstream society. These types of people would eventually fall in with the dark forces, which would one day be enemies that Link would have to eliminate.

Even if he couldn't defeat the opponents now, it's best that Link investigate the matter and gather as much information as he can now.

"Lev, stop the carriage," Link ordered. "I've reached my destination." He then opened the front window of the carriage and threw five gold coins to Lev before the coachman could make any reply.

Lev was naturally stunned once he'd seen the gold coins. He stopped the carriage immediately, where Link then hopped out the carriage and walked away. He didn't enter the city gates, though, but headed instead towards the forest.

Roaaaarrrrr!!!

It was another beastly cry from the forest, although this time it sounded less like a roar and more like a whimper.

Link cast the spell, Cheetah's Agility on himself to increase his speed and energy. He then concealed his presence with a high-level invisibility spell which masked the sounds of his footsteps, his scent, his Mana as well as rendering his body invisible. Once completed, Link then rushed straight towards the direction where the roars had originated from.

Roaaaarr!!!

Link could sense that the beast was getting weaker now. It sounded as if it was not too far away from him now. Link estimated that the Wind Tiger was probably only a mile away.

Link ran for another three minutes. Then finally, he reached the battle site.

He was at the banks of a small creek in the forest. Trees around him had been uprooted and fell flat to the ground. He could sense that the energy of wind elements and dark elements had recently clashed violently here. There, on the rocky banks of the creek, lay a bloodied tiger, breathing laboriously and struggling to keep itself alive.

Not far away from him stood three people. Two of them were Warriors, each wielding a shield. The remaining one was a Magician shrouded in a thick black fog of dark energy, himself clad in a black cloak that covered his whole body.

The Magician stood right beside the Warriors' shield, as a rope-like stream of black mist poured forth from his wand and entered into the wounds on the Wind Tiger's body. The mist corrupted its flesh and blood with its dark, demonic aura.

The tiger was too weak to do anything but groan in pain. It was obviously suffering excruciating pain at the moment, yet it did not struggle or attempt to move at all. It must've been completely drained of its energy.

After a while, Link could accurately estimate the levels and strengths of the three men there.

Two of them are Level-6 Warriors utilizing dark Battle Aura, thought Link. That's something I've never encountered before. That Level-7 Necromancer, on the other hand, is definitely a Lich. He's definitely from Azura Tower, and he's using a Level-7 Occult transformation spell!

A notification popped up on the interface. Link took a glance and saw that it was a new mission.

Mission: Stop the Occult Transformation

Mission Details: 1. Kill the occult opponents and save the Wind Tiger. 2. Investigate the identities of the three occult opponents.

Reward 1: 100 Omni Points.

Reward 2: Soul Stamp (to be used on Battle Animal)

Well then, thought Link. Having seen the contents of the notification, he then accepted the mission without hesitation.