Thirty minutes after receiving the letter from the Syndicate, Link, Annie, and the two mercenaries had reached the opening of the Red Leaves Cove on horseback.
It was late fall and the cove was awash with fiery red maple leaves. Weeds and shrubs thronged the spaces between the maple trees. Except for the stream that flowed through the middle of the cove, the whole place was full of nooks and crannies where the thieves of the Syndicate could be lying in wait. If they barged into the cove without prior planning or preparation, just one misstep and they could easily be surrounded and captured.
A narrow, craggy path ran through the middle of the cove. It was too small for the horses to trot on, so they had to dismount their horses and walk from there.
Jacker walked in front with his shield raised, Annie was at Link's left side, and Gildern walked behind him. As they entered the cove, Link saw a notification popped up on the interface.
New Mission Series Activated: Venomous Snake in the Girvent Forest!
First Mission: Rescue.
Mission Details: Rescue Lucy who was captured and tortured by the Syndicate.
Mission Rewards: 20 Omni Points.
Link accepted the mission without hesitation. He now had 14 Omni Points, while his Mana was almost full at 96 points. His Glass Orbs only consumed 1 Mana point each, and his Level-1 spell Whistle only needed 4 Mana points. All in all, he had more than enough resources to put up a good fight against the Syndicate.
Their visibility in the woods was very limited, so to protect themselves against sneak attacks, Link used the Aura Detection spell on his eyes in order to see everything's Innate Aura. Non-living things and plants had stable and unmoving auras, but animals and humans were covered in auras that actively moved and vibrated.
The auras that the three people beside him emitted were both intense and energetic. Jacker's aura was yellow, and it shone the most intensely. This meant that his Combat Aura was the most powerful. Annie's aura was grey, which came from the energy of shadows that Assassins possessed. But what surprised him the most was Gildern's luminous green aura, which was the color of the wind element.
Gildern's green aura was much brighter and more intense than what Link had seen previously. It seemed that even though he hadn't cast the Hidden Power spell on Gildern yet, he had been practicing his skills according to the Battle Art techniques that Jacker had shared with him. He managed to achieve impressive progress just from that.
After walking for about five minutes, Link saw a flash of aura behind a large boulder that was about 160 feet away-he immediately knew that it was a scout sent by the Syndicate.
The scout was a bit far from them, and he was hiding in an inconspicuous spot, so Annie and the mercenaries did not notice him. Nevertheless, nothing could escape the eyes of a Magician!
Right now, they had absolutely no idea of what to expect in the Red Leaves Cove, but now fate had provided them with someone to interrogate. So Link grabbed the opportunity and began to make the first move. Mana flowed into Link's wand and it vibrated slightly, then a light blue glass orb started to form.
"Go!" Link pointed the wand at the big boulder, and the glass orb whistled through the air in a high-pitched screech-in less than a second it traversed more than 160 feet. Just before it hit the stone, it changed its trajectory abruptly and circled around the boulder.
Bang! From the distance, they could hear a howl of pain coming from behind the boulder. The Glass Orb had successfully hit its target!
Jacker and Gildern were used to seeing Link's magic in action by now, so they weren't stirred by it much. But it was Annie's first time.
"Link," she exclaimed, "What was that spell? How could it work at such a huge distance?"
She was much more knowledgeable about magic than the mercenaries, so she knew that normal elemental spells could only work at a distance of no more than 100 to 130 feet, but Link had just unleashed a spell that worked at 200 feet!
"It's Fireball, but I've modified it," Link explained while signaling the rest to head towards the boulder, "Do you still remember the Dark Elf Magician in Gladstone who cast a spell that worked at a large distance too? I used the same technique he did."
"Is it Supreme Magical Skill?" asked Annie. She was beginning to understand Link's powers.
But the more she understood it, the more stunned she was by it. Link must now have a deep understanding of the workings of magic to be able to modify spells with Supreme Magical Skills. Moreover, she knew that the process of modifying a spell, even a Level-0 spell, was arduous and time-consuming. Some Level-6 Magicians might need months to perfect a stable modified spell.
Annie remembered clearly that Link did not have this skill when they were in Gladstone. But it had only been barely more than a month since then and he had managed to achieve such vast progress-what level of talent was she witnessing here? If she had seen Link's whistle, she would've been in for a bigger shock.
Link didn't have the time to explain, so he only nodded in reply to Annie's question.
The four checked behind the boulder and saw a man clad in a greyish brown leather armor writhing on the ground in pain. His left arm had been blown off his shoulder by the Glass Orb.
There were characters in movies on Earth who could still run around after their arms had been blown off. But in reality, the pain of limbs getting amputated was unimaginably debilitating. The wounded thief now had a deathly pale face, and he couldn't stop wailing. Not only was he unable get up and run, he couldn't even manage to keep himself conscious.
Jacker walked up to the thief and tore up a piece of cloth from the thief's underclothes, then wrapped it around the stub of his arm to prevent further blood loss. Then he slapped the thief twice in the face, and the thief immediately swallowed his cries and came to his senses.
Link took a step towards the thief and pointed his wand at his skull. A faint icy aura appeared at the tip of the wand. "Tell me, where is the woman held?"
This was just a Level-1 thief, not much different from any other common folk, so he was easily awed and stunned by signs of magic. Naturally, Link's threatening method worked well with him.
"She's... she's in the cabin on the Silverfish riverbank," said the thief laboriously due to the pain.
"Silverfish riverbank?" Link had never heard of the place.
"My Lord, I know the place," said Jacker.
Link was relieved. This would make their mission much easier.
"Who ordered the kidnapping?" Link asked the thief.
"It...It was Andy. He's a Level-3 Assassin, a terrifying person," said the thief, gulping. He was hesitant to answer Link's questions but was even more scared of the magic coming from the wand.
Andy? Link blinked a few times while recalling where he had heard such a familiar name. It was in the game. Andy was one of the members of Morpheus's core group, and the first boss a player would encounter in the mission to defeat Morpheus. When he was playing the game, Andy was already a Level-5 Assassin.
Link was surprised to learn that Andy was only a leader of the small Girvent Forest division of the Syndicate now.
Andy had no particular strength or power that stood out in the game, the only thing that was infamous about him was his ruthlessness and cruelty, as well as the fact that he was a perverted man through and through. If he was a man from Earth, he would have been a sadistic and psychopathic serial-killer, like Leatherface of the movie Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The thing that worried Link the most right now was how wealthy and powerful the Syndicate was in comparison to the Dark Brotherhood. They would be able to afford a myriad of special equipment and potions, so even though Andy's own strength might not be that impressive, with some aid he could still be a terrifying opponent.
"What schemes did they set up in the cove?" asked Link. He feared for Lucy's life now because he knew that Andy's brutality was something not to be trifled with.
"I don't know, I'm just a lowly thief, please have mercy," said the thief, his face contorting in pain.
Link could sense that he really didn't know, so he didn't wait for him to finish talking before using Magician's Hand to break his neck. It was war between them and the Syndicate the moment they captured Lucy. Should he have granted the thief mercy and let him go back to report on them? Absolutely not!
"Let's go now! To the Silverfish riverbank!" Jacker knew the place, so he lead the way. Along the way, Link used the Aura Detection spell and he uncovered three more scouts. He attacked each one with his Glass Orbs, interrogated them, and finally killed them all!
By the time the Silverfish riverbank emerged on the horizon, they had formed a rough idea of what to expect from the opponent.
Andy would not be there waiting for them. He had assembled elite members of the Syndicate, armed them with special gear, and ordered them to lie in wait near the cabin, ready to ambush them.
As for what kind of special gear it was, Link had no doubt that it was one that was often used to fight against Magicians - anti-magic armor.
The four walked along the rugged path until a cabin on the riverbank came into their view. The information they gained from their interrogations was that Lucy was held inside the cabin, but the moment they reached there, they were faced, instead, with an atrocious scene.
Lucy was not inside the cabin; she was dangling from a tree outside the cabin. Her arms were hung in chains and her body was stripped naked and covered with bloody lacerations all over. Thick blood still dripped slowly from her toes down to the ground. From afar, she seemed completely lifeless, and her head hung down limply from her shoulders while her face was covered by her red hair. It wasn't clear at all whether she was still alive. It was an abhorring sight!
Jacker's face reddened, and he gripped the hammer in his hand so tightly that it squeaked. Gildern gritted his teeth in silent wrath. Even an outsider like Annie was enraged.
"Those savages!" said Annie, "We must make them pay for what they did in kind!"
There didn't seem to be any changes in Link's expression, but his eyes had grown much darker and his breathing had slowed down considerably-he was already in the focused state of spellcasting!
Lucy was still alive, Link could sense that through Aura Detection. But now Andy's barbaric schemes had managed to ignite the flame of fury in him, and this flame could only be extinguished by Andy's blood!
"You'll get a taste of my magic powers, just you wait and see," said Link, as Mana surged through his body.
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