55 The Syndicate

 Once they put all their things away, Jacker put on his new steel armor and reached for his new steel round shield and hammer. This new set of gear, combined with his seven-foot frame, made him look as bulky and imposing as a tank. Gildern was ready with his new set of gear too.

Link changed into a lightweight leather armor so he would be able to move more freely. The three then quickly made their way to the market on the eastern side of the River Cove town.

King's Lane ran through River Cove town. It was a small town with an area of just about a square mile due of its proximity to the capital, Springs City. Hence, the town was always full of travelers from all walks of life hustling and bustling about. For this reason, Link and the mercenaries could easily blend in with the crowd. After walking for about five minutes, they reached the entrance to the town market.

There was a great deal of livestock trading in the market. It was where the farmers around the Girvent Forest came to buy or sell cattle, sheep and other livestock. These animals were of high value, so to prevent them from escaping, a wooden fence encircled the market and two militiamen guarded the market entrance. There were more patrol officers inside, policing any ruckus or commotion.

Jacker was a mercenary, so naturally, he was on good terms with the militiamen. He walked up to one of the guards and slipped a silver coin into his hand. "Jon, did anything unusual happen here today?"

"No, everything was in order, there wasn't even any bickering," replied Jon, as he shook his head and rolled over in his hand. He was politer than usual to Jacker.

"Oh, I see. Did you see Lucy?" asked Jacker.

Lucy was a beautiful woman, and she had an alluring figure. She liked to wear form-fitting leather armor because it enabled her to move much more freely, but this also meant that her luscious curves were exposed too. Because of this, she was well known in the town, and was the woman of the single townsmen's dreams. So, everyone in town knew Lucy. Even if they'd never seen her, they had at least heard of her.

Jon knew Lucy, in fact, he was one of Lucy's greatest admirers, although Lucy herself had never spoken to him.

"I didn't see her, she didn't come here today, otherwise I would've noticed her!" said Jon, shaking his head.

The minute Jon finished his sentence, Jacker, Gildern, and Link all frowned and furrowed their brows. It seemed something terrible had really happened!

"What's the matter? Isn't she with you guys?" Jon asked nervously as he saw their reactions.

Jacker thought it was just the expression of a man worried about the woman he desired, but Link sensed there was something more.

Jon looked genuinely worried, but as he was speaking Link noticed that his eyes were looking suspicious, as if he knew something that he was not telling them.

Link immediately walked up and furtively revealed two gold coins in his hand, gleaming in its golden sheen. At the same time, Link checked the surrounding area and made sure to block other people's view to ensure that Jon was the only one who saw the gold coins.

Link asked in a low voice, "Tell me what you know Jon, and these two gold coins will be yours."

Jon was still hesitant and made no reply.

"Do you know why Lucy has always ignored you?" Link asked.

"Why?" Jon asked without thinking.

Link sneered, then said, "She once told me that you are the type of man who was unreliable and that you could never make her feel safe. I had thought that it was just an excuse, but now I know it's the truth. Even now that you know Lucy is in danger, you're only thinking about your own safety, and you still have the audacity to desire her?"

"I'm not just thinking about my own safety! Don't you know who you're messing with?" Jon retorted in shame and anger, his face reddened.


"...I can't say!" said Jon, stopping himself at the very last moment.

Link revealed five gleaming gold coins in his hand. Jon gulped. This was the amount of money he would earn in half a year. He looked furtively to his left and then his right, and when he was sure no one was looking, he finally said in a very low voice, "If anything happened to Lucy, it must have something to do with the Syndicate. That's all I can tell you."

After finishing his words, Jon stared wide-eyed at the gold coins in Link's hand.

Yes, Jon did like Lucy, but Lucy had always ignored him. She had somehow provoked the Syndicate's ire. She must be a dead woman by now, and in his eyes, a dead woman was much less alluring than these gold coins in front of him.

Link flung the gold coins to Jon's face, then told Jacker and Gildern, "Let's go, there's nothing more we can find out here."

If the Syndicate was the true culprit, then they must've covered their tracks well. The market was full of people going about their business, so any trace of their aura would've been drowned out, and even a low-level tracking spell would be useless here.

Link knew of the Syndicate, of course. If the Dark Brotherhood was the biggest underworld organization in the western region of Girvent Forest, then the Syndicate would be an unrivaled underworld organization in the entire human realm. They originated from the Free Trade Confederation in the South, and after a thousand years of development, they had now spread all over the human world. And there was a division of the Syndicate in the Girvent Forest which ruled over the entire southern part of the forest.

The Dark Brotherhood was like an ordinary snake, while the Syndicate was like a giant underground serpent. They had to be immensely powerful to have survived this long because different kingdoms in the realm of humans had unleashed multiple attacks on the Syndicate in attempts to eradicate them. But those attacks only resulted in brief periods of dormancy-the Syndicate always managed to somehow re-emerge and then, in a short span of time, regrow until they reached their former glory. They were like wild weeds - neither fire nor blades could wipe them off the face of the Earth.

Link also knew that the Syndicate was as hard to get rid of as scabies because there was a figure leading the organization in the cover of darkness, an almost invincible figure with formidable strength.

This figure was the shadowy puppeteer who pulled all the strings out of everyone's sight. He was the master of thieves, the king of the Firuman Continent's underworld, and the original founder of the Syndicate - Morpheus!

Morpheus's strength was at the Legendary Pinnacle level, and some said he had even had a glimpse of the secrets of the gods. In the game, in order to ignite the Godly Fire, Morpheus joined the God of Darkness, making the Syndicate a cancerous organization associated with the Dark Side.

And because of that, Morpheus became the first final boss in the game. That year, Link had been in a group that was defeated by this boss.

Morpheus, are you already walking on that path of darkness? lamented Link, looking back on the fearsome battle in the game.

But the Girvent Forest division of the Syndicate was just a small part of the entire organization, so Link was sure he would not be facing Morpheus yet. Still, he had to admit that facing the Syndicate was an onerous task. He must plan his next moves wisely.

Obviously, Jacker and Gildern have both heard of the Syndicate too. They were both silent on their way back, lost in their own thoughts. They didn't want to give up on Lucy, no, they would never give up on her. But they were now facing such a terrifying opponent that they were at a total loss on how or even if it were possible to rescue her.

In the few minutes they spent walking, Link thought the whole incident through methodically, considering every aspect in detail.

Firstly, what exactly did the Syndicate want?

Gold coins? This might be one of their objectives, even though he doubted that the Syndicate would be so desperate for money. No one would turn down an opportunity to gain more money anyway, least of all the Syndicate.

Another thing that they might be after would have to be... Tarviss's Occultic Runes.

The Occultic Runes helped the demon Tarviss escape the sealed barrier he was imprisoned in. But because of Viktor's defeat, the Occultic Runes were now lost. And so, the powerful figure behind the Syndicate became the next slaves for the demon Tarviss.

The Occultic Runes, surely that is what they're truly after, thought Link. If that was true, then it meant that Lucy should still be alive before the Syndicate figure out the location of the Occultic Runes.

But in the meantime, they must have been torturing her to force her to reveal where the Occultic Runes were. As soon as she revealed it to them, Lucy would be swiftly killed and then a hellish storm of trouble would come after Link.

Even so, Link wouldn't blame Lucy at all if she cracked under torture because he knew that if he was caught in a similar predicament, all the secrets he held in his mind would spill out of him too.

Right now, what was most important was to locate where Lucy was and bring her back some way or another.

Link turned ideas back and forth in his mind, and once they reached the entrance of the River Cove Inn, he had already drawn up a big plan.

"Do you know where we can find a messenger to the Syndicate?" Link asked Jacker, who had been silent the whole time.

No organization was ever completely covert. Every organization would appoint an external messenger to facilitate quick and smooth communications between each division.

As a mercenary, Jacker knew the underworld much more than Link. Before working in the Girvent Forest, he naturally had to learn the rules of the turf and understand which lines he shouldn't cross. From what he'd learned, the Syndicate was the most prominent untouchable authority that no one could ever defy.

"There's someone in the River Cove Town gambling house who knows how to find them," answered Jacker.

"Then let's go to the gambling house now!"