Chapter 23: The Problem
“The forest problem? Do you know whats going on with it?” Rayna blurted out. Derek could see the intrigue swelling in her eyes.
“I have some ideas.” Said Derek. “First, Im sure you all have noticed that monsters are migrating towards the edge of the forest.”
“We have, it is very odd.” Richard replied.
“You must have also noticed that the creatures near the edge are beginning to be advanced in their level. Right now, it seems to be creatures at around level 20, but I have a feeling that this will soon change.” Derek stopped talking, allowing what he had just said to sink in.
Rayna was the first to respond. “What makes you think this?” She asked.
Derek looked to where Richard and Delilah were sitting. “You heard that Tommy there was chased by a wolf, correct?” Derek waited for the two of them to nod. “What you havent heard is that the wolf that chased him was level 53.” He explained.
Hearing that, the room went silent. Nobody could believe what they had just heard. Finally, Rayna broke the silence. “Thomas, how far into the forest did you go?”
Thomas startled, but answered. “We…well, I didnt go very far at all. I thought I saw some herbs for medicine and went to look at them. Then the wolf came and chased me deeper into the forest.”
Rayna looked at Derek. “So, youre saying that a level 53 wolf chased Thomas from the edge of the forest, all the way to where you were? How was he able to escape from a wolf of that level?” Derek could hear the skepticism in her voice.
Derek snorted, amused. “I dont know, youd have to ask the wolf. Maybe it enjoyed the hunt, or it was full and just toying with him. All I know is that it ended up in our stomachs.” He patted his belly as if he was stuffed.
Rayna scoffed. “Okay, lets say youre right and it was level 53. Why was it so close to the edge of the forest?”
“Now that is the question.” Derek paused. “I believe that the stronger creatures are being driven to the outer parts of the forest, which also drives the weaker monsters completely out of the forest. This ends up with a beast horde attacking a village, just like what happened to the village Leon came from.”
“Fine, so something is causing all of this then. Do you know what it is?” Rayna asked.
“Well, I know part of what is causing the beast problem.” Derek looked at Thomas, then spoke. “When the kid and I were getting ready to head out of the forest, a bear attacked our camp. It was a higher level, just like the wolf, but it looked sick. After inspecting the bear, I learned that it was diseased, and was on the verge of turning into an undying creature.” Derek stopped talking to let the others digest this information.
Derek continued. “Now, I know that a disease is spreading throughout the forest, but I do not know what is causing the disease. Im not a native to this region, so I dont have a lot of information, but I have a couple theories of what is happening.”
Rayna looked at Derek, her face now completely serious. “If everything youre saying is true, then we have a big problem. No, not just us, even City Lord Torith will have to get involved.” She took a deep breath. “What are your theories? What do you believe is the cause of all of this?”
Seeing the atmosphere becoming so serious, Derek decided that he had messed around enough. He had been acting haughty ever since he heard the woman call him slow. He leaned forward in his chair and looked directly into the village chiefs eyes. “From what I heard from Thomas, this city lord of yours dispatched some adventurers to look into the problem, correct?”
Rayna answered. “Yes, they poked around in the forest for a bit, and questioned a few villages, but from what I gather, they couldnt find any real problems.”
“Interesting. Either the adventurers that took on the mission were complete idiots and awful at their jobs, or they didnt even bother trying to figure out what was happening. The second I arrived here, I could tell that there was something serious happening to the forest, and it only took me a day to figure out part of it. Surely the adventures that came were high enough of a level to take out some monsters at level 50, right?” Derek asked.
“From what I know, there were three of them, and they were all level 50 or higher. We know this because of all the bragging they were doing.” Rayna answered.
“Well, it was most likely the latter, they didnt even try.” Derek shook his head, he was not a big fan of helping people, but if he took a mission or made a promise, at least he kept it, or tried to keep it. He changed the subject. “So, I have two theories about what is going on. The first is that some kind of undying creature wandered into the forest a long time ago, and it has taken this long for the disease to spread.”
“Thats… a possibility.” Said Richard from across the table. “Though it seems unlikely. If something like that happened, the disease should have spread much faster. And the monsters would have become diseased first, instead of the forest.”
“And this leads me to my second theory.” All the eyes in the room were staring at Derek. “A dungeon.”
“What?” Rayna questioned. “If there was a dungeon, we would have known about it.”
“That may be so, but who says that there cant be new dungeons?” He questioned, then looked at Richard, who seemed to be the most knowledgeable of the group. “Is it possible? Can new dungeons just appear?” He stopped for a second, thinking. “And what happens to a dungeon if it isnt cleared for a long time?” In the system that Derek came from, dungeons could appear anywhere except for safe zones, and if a dungeon was not cleared in an appropriate amount of time, they would overflow.
Richard did not respond for a while. Finally, he nodded his head. “New dungeons appearing are rare, but not unheard of. It is possible that a well-hidden dungeon could have spawned deep in the forest, where not many adventurers go.” He paused. “If that were to have happened, and it was left alone, it could have caused an overflow after some time. If the dungeon is one with undying properties, it would explain everything that is happening.”
“So, we possibly have a hidden dungeon that has overflowed, leading to disease spreading throughout the forest. This is driving the healthy monsters away from the dungeon, and towards the edge of the forest, which is driving the lower level creatures out of the forest and causing them to attack villages.” Rayna recounted all that she had heard. “It seems far-fetched, but its the only thing that currently makes sense.”
Derek nodded. “Now that you understand your dire situation. You should probably find a way to fix it. Who knows, maybe this city lord of yours will send someone competent this time.” Derek made to get up. He had finished his explanation and let the villagers know how serious of a problem they had. It was time for him to leave the village and go find something 100 levels higher than him to kill.
“Wait!” Rayna spoke up. “Youre strong, at least level 90. Why dont you help us? It should be easy enough for you.”
“Level 90? What made you get that idea?” Derek asked.
“I cant Identify you. Which means that your Identify skill is higher than mine, and mine is level 6, or you are a higher level than what I can Identify. I can see up to level 91, and you are just question marks. Either way, it means that you are strong.” Rayna explained her theory.
“That may be so, but I have no reason to help you further. I already saved your refugees and let you know of the forest problem. Hell, the only reason I did this much is because I find the kid over there…” Derek nodded at Thomas. “I find him interesting. Besides, you dont need me. This is a problem that the city lord will want to see eliminated, and fast. Now, if youll excuse me.” With that, Derek finished standing up and started walking to the exit of the house.
“Tommy, walk with me. I need to find out where that little girl ended up going.” He motioned for Thomas to follow him.
“Hes right, you know.” Richard spoke after Derek and Thomas exited the building.
“I know, but he doesnt have to be so upfront about it.” Rayna said. Her mind was still racing while thinking of all the new information she had received. “We need to figure out what to do, and do it fast.”
“Our only option is to send someone to the city to report to the lord. Derek was right in that regard.” Richard replied.
“Ill send Davis. He can take a few hunters with him. They should be able to make the trip relatively quick.” This was all Rayna could do in their current situation. What she really wanted to know was how powerful Derek was. She looked at Leon. “Leon, youve spent a lot of time with that man, now that hes gone, whats your take on him?”
“I dont know. Hes sarcastic, funny, and moody. And, he asks a lot of basic questions. I cant figure him out. But hes strong, much stronger than you think.” Leon paused, as if debating on what to say next. “I think he can control the void.” He dropped a bombshell.
“What!” Rayna was shocked. “How is that possible? Are you sure?”
“I saw him playing around with his elemental powers. It was an element that I have never personally seen before.” He paused again, then sighed. “I think he accidentally summoned a Void Beast too.”
Rayna did not know what to think. She was caught off guard by Leons first statement, but the second made her speechless. Luckily, Richard spoke up.
“Did he open a portal?” Richard asked.
“No. He channeled his element, then shot it into the sky. After that, a Void Beast broke through.” Leon responded.
Rayna was finally able to speak. “If a Void Beast was there, how did any of you make it out alive.”
“Well, thats the thing. He stayed back to fight it and sent us away. Soon after, he caught up. No worse for wear. He said that he chased it away, which makes sense according to what I know of Void Beasts. But I dont know, I think he may have killed it.” Leon finished.
The room was silent until a voice that had not spoken rang out. “What does he want with my Thomas?” Delilah asked.
Derek and Thomas were walking through the village. “So, kid, when will you unlock the system?” Derek asked.
“I turn thirteen in around a month.” Thomas replied.
“What are your plans? Do you plan on staying in the village?”
“I dont know. I had wanted to be a trader, like my grandpa. But with everything that has happened, I want to get strong. I want to be able to protect people, and I dont want to have to be protected by others.” Thomas answered.
Derek could see the fire in Thomass eyes as he spoke. “If you want that, youll have to leave. Youll have to adventure, fight, and kill. Are you up for it? Are you sure you wouldnt rather have a nice and peaceful life in the village?” Derek pushed.
Thomas halted his steps. Derek turned and waited for his reply. “Im sure.” This was the only response that Derek received. The duo continued walking.
Soon, Derek saw someone that he recognized. “Davis, right?”
The man stopped walking and replied. “Yes?”
“You took the refugees somewhere. I need to find that little girl and her mother. Brandi and Malorie.”
“Oh, theyre just up ahead.” Davis pointed in a direction.
“Thanks.” Derek and Thomas started walking again.
Soon, the duo found the girl and her mother. “Did you get settled?” Derek asked.
Malories head darted toward Derek. When she saw Derek and Thomas there, she smiled. “Yes. We will be staying in this residence with some others for the time being.” She pointed at a building.
“Thats good.” Derek replied. “Do you have a place for me to put him?” He asked.
“This way.” Malorie led Derek over towards a blanket spread out on the ground. Brandi and Thomas followed.
Derek focused, and Traviss body appeared in his arms. He gently laid him on the blanket.
“Thank you.” Malorie said.
Derek nodded and looked at Brandi. “And these are for you.” He summoned the hides from the monsters he had dismantled and laid them on the ground.
Brandi looked at the pile of hides with wide eyes. “Thank you so much.” She ran up to Derek and hugged him.
He patted her head, and she let go. “Its fine.” Then he turned to Thomas and summoned the Mana Clippers. He handed them to the kid. “Take these and practice. I expect an amazing haircut when I get back.” He started walking away. He looked over his shoulder, back at Thomas. “Oh, and dont unlock your system until I get back, okay?”
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