There were vast distinctions between the maps of the real world and the maps of the gaming world. Even though all landmarks were mainly in the same position, there were huge aberrations in the minute details between the two.
All Link knew was that the Cove of Echoes was at the western part of the Girvent Forest. But how you actually get there, Link had absolutely no idea.
In the game, there didn't seem to be such lush vegetation. Thickets grew taller than people, thorny shrubs were rampant. Coming from the modern world, walking into the forest was no different from walking into a treacherous maze.
Luckily, Jacker and the rest were experienced mercenaries. They took on the role of living and walking maps.
On the road, it was always Jacker who was leading the way in front, with Lucy behind him, then Link, and then lastly the Archer, Gildern.
This was Link's own arrangement, and he had reasons for it.
He had just met this band of mercenaries. Although they did seem to be decent people, Link he knew nothing is more unfathomable than a human heart, so he thought it wise to be cautious, just in case. Jacker and Lucy were both more introverted, so they were harder for Link to size up. Gildern, on the other hand, was different. He had always been frank and forthright, so Link knew that though he may be brash sometimes, Gildern ultimately had no sinister intentions. Gildern was the only one Link trusted to let walk behind him.
But while he was suspicious of the mercenaries, Link was unaware that the mercenaries themselves had nagging doubts about Link too. This Magician was clearly powerful, and so mysterious too-they were naturally apprehensive about him. They didn't know if Link would betray them, trap them or kill them off after everything was over.
It was as if all of them were pulled taut by a tensed string in their hearts.
And so, that was how the journey commenced, with a tense atmosphere where each side was wary of the other until they reached about 200 yards near the Cove of Echoes.
There was a giant Cinchona tree that was almost 200 feet tall. Its trunk was big enough for three people to hug it without their hands touching. It had a very dense canopy, so the four of them climbed up, hid within its foliage, and spied down into the cove from there.
The cove entry was blocked by a huge natural boulder. Thick vines crawled all over the boulder, and dense shrubs grew at the base of the large rock. It was simply impossible to peer through and discern the exact position of the opening of the cove.
Gildern pointed out to Link, "The entry was right under the boulder, you see, it's right underneath the thickest vines there. Yes, right there, can you see it?"
Link squinted to focus his sights. Finally, he could make out a faint outline of a dark cave behind those thick and dense vines.
"Now that's a hidden spot," Link couldn't resist exclaiming. Then he asked Jacker, "There's no way you could see what's going on in there from out here, how did you figure out the number of people inside?"
Jacker explained, "After a certain interval of time, someone would bring fresh fruits and spices into the cove. Fruits are unreliable because they're too perishable, but for spices like garlic, onion, peppers and the like, their consumption rates were more stable. Taking into account the tastes of people around the Girvent Forest, from the rate of spice consumption, we thought there must be about 100 to 150 people. Then we supported this information with other observations, and we could pretty accurately estimate the total number of people inside."
Link listened then nodded and said, "That makes sense."
He scrutinized the cove entrance, then asked again, "Are any of their hiding spots around here?"
Jacker shook his head, "These bandits are confident no one would find their lair, so they don't have any ambush spots outside the cove. The cove entrance is a different matter, though. Lucy told me she sensed a strange aura around the cove entrance, as if... as if there was some kind of detection spell there." Link was surprised, he turned to Lucy and asked, "This strange aura, you can sense it?"
Some people were born with an innate ability to sense the aura of Mana. This was not that uncommon, in fact, it was one of the natural magic talents. In other words, Lucy would have a great potential if she were to become a Magician.
But of course, Lucy was only a commoner, she was born gifted, but had no money, and no one to guide her or tell her that she had a special gift. She ended up as just another average mercenary who happened to be sensitive to the presence of magic spells.
To claim herself to be perceptive to magic spells in front of a true Magician was something Lucy was wary of doing, but still, she nodded in agreement, "I can sense it somehow, but I'm not certain about it."
Gildern added, "She's been really accurate, we couldn't count how many times our lives were saved because of her sense."
Lucy gave him a quick stare, and her face began to redden, she felt even more embarrassed now.
Link was not so surprised. Since Lucy thought there was a detection spell at the cove entry, then he'd better check it out.
He considered it for a while, then decided to spend 1 Mana point to purchase a Level-0 spell.
Basic Detection Spell
Effects: Roughly detects the auras in the surrounding area, including auras from Mana, elements, secret forces and so on.
After the purchase was made, Link began to cast the spell at once.
There was no need for the wand to cast this spell. He blinked his eyes twice then Mana streamed into his pupils. A dim white light emanated from his eyes. At the same time, there was a slight change in his field of vision.
Everything in his sight glowed in a veil of light-the ground was yellow, the trees were green, the rock was sprinkled with the bright white aura of metal elements, and at the cove entry, Link could see that it was shrouded with a barely discernible layer of crystal clear aura.
The aura was hardly detectable, it was blocking the entrance to the cave, its light was transparent like the water in a stream, pure and clear, but its edges were distinct-it was indeed an aura full of Mana.
It was just as Lucy suspected, the cove entry was set up with a detection spell.
When the Basic Detection spell wore out, Link turned to the three mercenaries, and saw three pairs of eyes, full of respect, looking back at him. Then he realized, a person whose eyes were glowing with light must look very mysterious, and this air of mystery would naturally have inspired awe and respect.
At that moment, the three mercenaries had completely forgotten about Link's awkward looks when they first met him. They had now completely acknowledged him as an authentic Magician.
"What did you see?" asked Lucy.
Link nodded, "Your perception of magic is indeed strong, they really did set up a spell at the cove opening."
Gildern immediately laughed and said, "Didn't I tell you? Lucy's sense is always right."
Lucy looked glad, and a little proud too.
She had absolutely zero experience or knowledge of magic, but now that someone who truly was a Magician finally acknowledged her abilities, she couldn't help but feel validated. If the news of her ability spread, it could be a great advantage for her to stand out among the mercenaries.
From now on, she could tell people she can sense the presence of magic spells, and that a Magician had acknowledged her gift. She was sure the other mercenaries would not look down on her again.
Viktor was indeed cautious. There was nothing more to observe outside the cove, so Link told the three mercenaries it was time climb down the tree.
Once he reached the ground, Link immediately began to cast a spell on Jacker.
He pointed his wand at Jacker, then a water-like aura shrouded Jacker's body, it moved from his head to his toes then back up three times. Link then waved his wand to the ground beside Jacker and the aura seeped into the ground.
On the ground, the dirt started to move as if it was alive, then after a while, there was a mound protruding from the ground. First, it formed a dirt column, then arms grew out of it, then legs, then a head, and at last the five sensory organs of the face. Each part of the body gradually became more distinct, and when the spell was completed, an avatar that looked exactly like Jacker was formed. This physical avatar had everything that Jacker had, including his war hammer and shield. If the real Jacker and the avatar stood motionless side by side, there would be no way to tell one from the other.
"How wonderful." The three mercenaries couldn't tear their eyes from it. This was nothing close to what they'd ever seen before.
Link pointed his wand at the cove entrance, and ordered, "Go, march into the cove in a defensive stance."
The newly created Jacker then turned around, raised his shield in front of his body, then, with an expressionless face and without any fear or apprehension, marched into the cove.
At the same time, Link told Jacker and the rest, "Let's go, we'll wait at the cove entry, and once the avatar attracts the attention of the bandits, we'll make our move!"
This was their careful plan, and in this plan, each of them had distinct responsibilities.
Link was the sharpest spear in the team, so he was responsible for killing the opponents. Jacker and Lucy would stand guard beside Link; their job was to prevent him from getting shot by stray arrows. As for the Archer Gildern, he would lend an extra hand in the killing.
Link saw the fake Jacker reach the boulder, then the avatar nonchalantly strode into the cove. Link waved a hand and said, "Let's go, we'll follow him."
The three mercenaries then surrounded Link, and together they stormed into the cove.
On the way there, Link waved his wand at each of the mercenaries. Instantly, a layer of clear aura covered the three's bodies.
Level-1 Spell: Cat's Agility.
Effect: It enhances the spell receiver's nimbleness and speed. Spell last for about 20 minutes.
This was the first time the three mercenaries directly experienced the power of magical boosts. Their faces were full of amazement. Jacker kept waving the shield around, it felt as light as a leaf in his hand. Lucy took long sprightly strides, she felt as if she were flying. Gildern cried out in wonder, "Is this what magic feels like? What a wonderful thing! I feel... I feel as if I could sprint as fast as a war horse!"
They're like three bumpkins. Link silently mocked.
He then divided some of his attention to controlling the avatar currently storming into the cove. He was the one to cast the spell, so he could see in the perspective of the avatar, and also control the avatar's movement from afar.
The physical avatar did not even try to cover his tracks or be covert, he was like a Spartan warrior, fearlessly storming into the enemy's den while letting out a thundering roar.
"Viktor, you little coward! Come out and fight me in a duel to the death!"
"Viktor, you son of a b*tch! Come on out!"
"Viktor, come meet your maker!"
The avatar's voice was booming, it didn't just travel across the cove, even those at the cove entry could hear him clearly. And there was a reason it was called the Cove of Echoes. All sounds echoed in the cove, again and again, lasting more than a few seconds.
"Viktor, come meet your maker...maker...maker..."
At the cove entry, the three mercenaries stared among themselves. If Viktor could still hide in his cave after these insults, then he's no leader of the bandits, but a saint!
When those bandits heard their leader mocked and insulted so disgracefully, they would definitely boil over and go berserk.
"When are those bastards coming out?" Lucy kept licking her red lips, she was all too ready to kill.
Jacker held the shield fast in one hand, and the other hand wielded the war hammer. "Yes, come out, all of you," he said jeeringly, "When this mission is over, I'll boast about how only the four of us managed to defeat the whole of the Dark Brotherhood. If all goes well today, I can live comfortably for the rest of my life!"
At that moment, the cove erupted into chaos, just like a kicked hornet's nest.
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