On their way back from the battle with Yuan Jianzhe’s forces, Liu Wei even colder than usual.
“Are you feeling alright?” Cheng Yang asked with a level of sincere concern that starkly contrasted with his previous arrogant attitude.
Liu Wei shook her head and said in a fragile voice: “I know they would have hurt me if I didn’t, but I killed several people.”
Cheng Yang sighed and patted her head. “I know it hurts, but that’s the way the world is now, you’ll get used to it.”
“I already am used to it!” Liu Wei choked back tears when she said that. “I already am! I killed them all, and I felt nothing, and I hate myself for that! It was so easy. They were so fragile. Like puppets with cut strings, not people with lives.”
“It’s okay. I’m proud of you.” Cheng Yang said softly, “You only did what you had to.”
Liu Wei sniffled. “At first they threatened me but after I killed a few the rest begged for their lives. They begged for their lives as I killed them. And I felt nothing.” Liu Wei looked up at Cheng Yang with fear in her teary eyes. “Am I a monster?”
Cheng Yang pulled her into a tight embrace and let her cry on his shoulder. “In this world, we’re all monsters.”
Once Liu Wei finished crying, Cheng Yang felt like his heart had cleared. Although he wasn’t afraid of killing others, it was the first time he had slaughtered so many people at once. Helping Liu Wei work through her fears helped him calm down as well.
Even though his arrogant attitude was just a front, he had successfully forced Yuan Jianzhe into a disadvantageous position. However, Cheng Yang knew this would only delay Yuan Jianzhe interfering with his plans. The next step was to develop Phoenix Village to the point that no one from Cloud City would be able to interfere.
Cheng Yang wasn’t confident he could pull it off, but if he couldn’t, he would have reincarnated in vain.
It was around noon by the time Cheng Yang’s original plan was back on track. He had arrived at Joyous River Village a few minutes ago and was now traveling towards the instance dungeon.
It was much further from the village than the Sky God Island instance, which was why it took so long to find. Despite that, it only took half an hour for Cheng Yang to arrive.
“My Lord, what are you doing here? Weren’t you going to go protect The Forgotten Grave?” Liu Hau was currently having lunch with some of his soldiers outside the entrance to the instance dungeon. While he spoke, Liu Hao took large bites from a wolf’s leg roasted to golden perfection.
Cheng Yang sat down next to his friend a stole a chunk of his meat. “I was, but the issue has already been resolved. I forced Yuan Jianzhe, the commander of the safe zone army, to sign a contract with me. They won’t bother us for at least a week or two.”
Cheng Yang gave Liu Hau a summary of the morning’s events while they ate.
“That’s such a shame!” Liu Hau sighed with regret. “Why didn’t you force them up a bit higher? If he said he could pay half a million, he could definitely afford a million! With that kind of money, we’d be able to develop a massive army of High-Grade soldiers!”
Cheng Yang chuckled. “You may think individual strength is important, but if we were too demanding and Yuan Jianzhe started a war, we’d suffer greatly. I’m more concerned with securing this period of peace. We have a lot of talented people, and they need time to grow. In time, our strength will rise, so there’s no need to rush. Once Yuan Jianzhe is ready to fight, we’ll be strong enough to entice his soldiers away from him as mercenaries.”
Liu Hau clicked his tongue. “Why does it seem like your having fun with this? Well, as long as it works, who cares.”
Liu Hau took another bite of his wolf leg. “By the way, are you here to get the Hard Difficulty first clear?”
“Naturally.” Cheng Yang said as he watched his friend finish off his first leg and start another. “I’m glad I ran into you before I went in. Tell me what the instance is like.”
Liu Hau laughed like a thief. “Why don’t you try and guess what it was like, my Lord.”
Cheng Yang cuffed his snickering friend over the head. “My guess is that a ghost was inside that turned you into an idiot! Why are you messing around like a child? Spit it out.”
“The instance dungeon is named The Abandoned Citadel. It has four floors guarded by weird short monsters, the system called Gnomes. There was a boss on the top floor, and after beating it, I picked up something nice.” Liu Hau explained everything to Cheng Yang, but the smug grin on his face never left.
Cheng Yang sighed in relief. He knew there was a good chance Liu Hau would get the first clear since most instance dungeons in the world hadn’t been discovered yet, but he was happy to confirm that.
Disappointed that Cheng Yang wasn’t going to ask him what he found, Liu Hau reluctantly pulled a gem out of his pocket and handed it to Cheng Yang. “It’s a Ranger skill, and it’s pretty good.”
This was the skill that allowed for the rise of the Highland Gnome Empire under their leader Hskad. During the great war, the Gnomes nearly went extinct and the Demon Duke Bathin finished the job by cursing the remnants of their race to become deformed and lose their intelligence. Before Hskad was fully corrupted by the demon’s curse, she sealed their signature skill in crystal.
Grade: Purple Silver
Requirements: Low-Grade Apprentice
Learning Cost: 200 Experience Fragments
Effect: Increase Attack Range by 10% with an additional 10% per skill level
Cheng Yang was satisfied with what he saw when he checked the inheritance gem’s system pane.
Longshot was an outstanding skill. For most Rangers, this would amount to an extra attack or two, but the synergy with Phoenix Village’s Rangers would be incredible. With their superior speed and range, they could kite opponents at the same level indefinitely.
“Good find.” Cheng Yang praised, “This will be useful in the future. Hopefully, we can get some more Ranger specific items from this instance dungeon.”
When they finished their lunch, Cheng Yang prepared to enter The Abandoned Citadel with Liu Hao and Liu Wei. It was at this point that Cheng Yang finally saw the entrance cleverly stuck between three trees that looked like one from a distance.
Cheng Yang reprimanded the gods in his heart. Why was it necessary for you to hide this so thoroughly? It was going to be found and conquered by me anyway, so why bother?
Once inside, Cheng Yang’s group found themselves in the courtyard of a western-style castle. They were next to the gate, and a four-story stone building filled with arrow slits was in front of them.
The instance would have proved quite tricky if not for Cheng Yang’s absurd power. The Gnomes wielded bows and used the topography of the citadel to force intruders to fight their way through a hailstorm of arrows.
Luckily, Cheng Yang could do just that without a problem, so it wasn’t hard to reach the roof of the building.
Once they arrived, Cheng Yang’s group found an unusually large Gnome. Most of the Gnomes were only around one meter tall, but this one was massive!
“My Lord, have you ever seen such a comically large creature.” Liu Hau laughed. “It’s nearly two meters tall, is it even the same species?”
“Perhaps it was raised by giants?” Cheng Yang replied.
“Do you think it’s as strong as a giant?” Liu Hau asked.
“I wouldn’t expect much.” Cheng Yang said, “It uses a bow like the rest of them.”
Gnomes were truly grotesque creatures. They had four bird-like feet and were covered in shaggy hair. Their bodies were almost cubic, with two beady eyes on each side. Their mouth was on the bottom side, and a hard carapace was on the top. In addition, this one held a bow in each of its two pairs of arms.
While they were talking, the Gnome skittered away from them and drew its twin longbows. With the crack of the bowstrings, the battle had begun.
Cheng Yang went all out from the very beginning and froze the monster using Hibernation Chill. At the same time, Liu Hau protected Liu Wei from the monster’s attacks.
The two-second stun was more than long enough for Cheng Yang to reduce the Gnome’s health by more than a hundred and fifty points.
Once the Gnome defrosted, it jumped backward and combined its two bows into one cross-shaped one. Then, it drew a javelin sized arrow and fired it at Liu Hau.
Even though he was a High-Grade Warrior, Liu Hau’s strength paled in comparison to that of the attack he had to receive. Since the start of the apocalypse, he had never stopped training, and now deflecting an attack like this wasn’t a problem.
Before it hit, he lowered his center of gravity and tilted the shield. This allowed him to disperse the force and deflect the arrow into a nearby parapet.
At the same time, Cheng Yang reduced the monster’s health to a critical range.
The Gnome knew it would die when Cheng Yang attacked again, so it put all of its strength into one final struggle.
It drew another javelin, and this time activated a skill as well. When Gnome fired the arrow, it turned into four arrows!
This time, there was nothing Liu Hau could do. He deflected the first arrow. The second threw him off balance. The third knocked away his shield, and the final arrows penetrated his chest and nearly tossed him off the roof.
At the same time, Liu Wei proved her worth but quickly casting Healing Light.
Then, Cheng Yang finished the fight with an Icicle Blast.