“I thought he was going to fire!” Huang Jiahui uttered, still shaken.
“They’re not that foolish. We’re not holding a grudge, so they wouldn’t take that risk,” Luo Yuan expressed his thoughts calmly. To be honest, he was rather shaken by what had happened. He didn’t know what to think, but he was infuriated by the idea of falling back.
Lucky for them, the opponent had not dared open fire. They might have just lost their car but they had managed to acquire a rifle.
In fact, Luo Yuan considered himself quite fortunate; cars were not worth much these days, the petrol in the vehicle held more value than the car itself. If he ever decided to trade off the rifle though, he could potentially exchange several hundred liters of petrol, or even dozens of cars for it.
“Do you know how to use a rifle?” Luo Yuan asked Huang Jiahui.
“I’ve never handled one before, so my aim may be off.”
“Well, that’s still a better aim than mine!” Luo Yuan joked as he handed over the rifle.
She struggled under the weight of it, her arms sinking as she tried to hold it up. She shook her head. “This won’t do, it’s too heavy. Unless I can use it lying on the ground. I’m more accustomed to pistols. Too bad rifle bullets are not compatible with them.”
Luo Yuan had no experience with anything military-related. He sighed, “If I knew the bullets were different, I would have asked for pistol ammo instead. I thought all guns use the same bullets!”
“Don’t beat yourself over it. I doubt they have any pistol ammo left anyway. Besides, only battalion officers have access to that kind of supply in the army.”
“Agh! Bugger it. How far are we from that place you mentioned?”
“Hmm… I can’t be sure, but I think we might still need to walk a few stations.”
Suddenly, a group of civilians flocked out of a building in mass hysteria, screaming and running from the seven green beetles pursuing them from behind.
The leading beetle was only a few steps away from the slowest lady running at the back of the crowd. It stretched forward and bit right into her skull, sucking the grey matter and splattering blood all over while its prey twitched vigorously in a mad dance.
The crowd ran, but not a lot of them were able to get away. They were stomped, crushed, some even chewed to death, painting the ground red with their blood. The screams and scent of fresh blood attracted even more beetles that were in the area. One of them was as big as a car. It was a darker green than the others, and run so fast that it looked like a blur to the naked eye.
It was very clear that in the realm of green beetles hierarchy was very specific. The surrounding beetles momentarily cleared out and made way for the giant beetle among them.
The crowd saw where Luo Yuan and co. were and started running towards them. Luo Yuan’s face was lost its colour. “Oh, fuck.” He had never expected that there would be a bigger presence among the green beetles. Just by looking at its size, he could imagine the pressure of its body on him. Even Zhao Qianqian could see how freaked out the usually calm Luo Yuan was. It sent shivers down her spine and made her knees weak.
“Initiate E-grade Mission: Annihilate Guard Rank Green Beetles. Accept / Decline?”
The message buzzed into his mind, not helping his state of panic. “GUARD RANK beetles? F*CK!” he exclaimed. Ever since he had last levelled up, he had kept low-ranking pests (in this case, the beetles) out of his mind, but now the giant beetle had stripped him off his short lived glory. He wanted to decline the mission and run away from this monstrosity as fast as he could. He was not confident that he would be able to kill one guard rank beetle, let alone a whole army of them. Luo Yuan glanced at the rifle Huang Jiahui was holding, suppressed his fear, and made up his mind. “I accept the mission.”
“Give me the rifle.”
Huang Jiahui was startled, but she handed the rifle over without hesitation. He took the rifle, removed the magazine to check the ammo, locked it back into place, and took aim right at the giant beetle. The crowd ran amok at the sight of Luo Yuan holding up the rifle. They thought that it was aimed at them. Luo Yuan aimed directly at the guard beetle, taking deep breaths, his finger carefully pushing on the trigger.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Bullet shells rained all around him as he fired at the guard beetle. He kept adjusting his position while he fired, closing in on his target until…. BANG! He managed to get its body on his fourth try. Luo Yuan was taken aback by how unfazed the guard beetle seemed by the shot; that was when he realized how tough its exoskeleton was… The bullet had only scratched the surface of its body. Once the smoke had cleared away, he finally saw clearly that he had not made just one, but several scratches on its exoskeleton. His previous shots had actually hit the target!
The guard beetle raged and screeched, reacting violently to his shots. It rampaged through the common beetles, pushing them out of its way, and ran with all its fury towards the source of the gunshots… charging right at Luo Yuan.
Luo Yuan tossed the rifle aside and reached for his sword while he held his position. It wasn’t very difficult to suppress his urge to escape. He knew that no matter how fast he ran, he would never be able to outrun the raging guard beetle. Never in his life had he ever walked on such thin ice, and it ignited a flaming survival instinct within him.
It’s too late to chicken out now. Guess one of us has to die. Bring it on, you ugly green piece of sh*t!
Luo Yuan remained focused, fuelled by an unknown fit of determination. Everything around him slowed into temporal suspension. His vision cleared to the point where he could see nothing but himself and the charging guard beetle. He felt a gust rushing right at him, and he dug his heels into the ground and sprinted head-on towards his opponent. Their momentums gradually closed up the distance to an inevitable point of collision.
When Luo Yuan was nearly eye-to-eye with the guard beetle, he turned slightly, sprung almost three feet in the air, and landed smoothly on the back of his opponent, his sword piercing through its exoskeleton.
Luo Yuan pushed with all his strength, but an inch was the furthest his sword would go into the body of the guard beetle. He still considered it a successful execution of his plan. As a trained martial artist with high sword mastery, Luo Yuan was able to adapt to most battle situations. He carefully jumped from the back of the beetle and wrenched the sword from its back. He proceeded to lower his centre of gravity while he hang onto the back of the guard beetle and positioned his upper body on the same ground level. Then he bent his knees and took small steps while he stretched his toes on the smooth surface of the beetle’s exoskeleton. It only took him a few steps to reach the beetle’s head. Then all he had to do was wait for the perfect opportunity to cut it off. However, the guard beetle had exceptional senses, and was already aware of its unwanted passenger, which made it stop right in its tracks.
Basic physics and gravity did not allow Luo Yuan to hold his position on the back of the guard beetle. Instead, he was thrown head first into the ground. However, thanks to his quick reflexes, Luo Yuan was able to grab hold of the beetle’s horns, which were about one or two metres long. His body swung all over and he could feel his heart thumping in his chest. The beetle guard stared right at him with its obelisk eyes and opened its intricate mouth structure to exhale an awful stench. Luo Yuan could not catch his breath. He realized that his vision was starting to blur and that he was breaking into cold sweat. He held onto the beetle’s horns tightly and forced himself to swing his way back onto its head.
Luo Yuan was flipping mid-air when he suddenly heard a loud breaking sound. He could not see clearly what was happening, but he caught a glimpse of the beetle’s limbs breaking and retracting in a lightning-quick motion. Dust particles were scattered all around him until he realized, almost too late, that the beetle was digging into the ground. In a short span of time, it had managed to dig a hole about a metre wide and half a metre deep.
When Luo Yuan landed on the beetle’s head, he felt a burning sensation on his feet. However, he couldn’t afford to be distracted by the pain. He remained focused and lifted the sword high before he forced it down on the beetle’s skull. Unfortunately, it was a common truth among the animal kingdom that the head is the most vital part of the body, so it came as no surprise that the beetle’s skull had a hard, slippery structure. The tip of the sword failed to achieve what Luo Yuan had intended it to and kept slipping off when it came into contact with the beetle.
Agitated by the unwanted passenger, the guard beetle shook in a vigorous motion. Luo Yuan laid himself flat on the beetle’s back, trying to stay as still as possible by holding onto the spikes on the beetle’s shoulders. When he had steadied himself, he went back to hacking at the beetle’s head with his sword, leaving only light white scratches on the deep green surface. The sword was only light blue; it would take something with a much higher rating to cause some serious damage on a monster as tough as the guard beetle. The two were equally frustrated by their opponent and this seemingly endless dance; the guard beetle spread its wings in alarm, getting ready to take off. Luo Yuan was caught unawares and put into a sudden state of despair by what was happening. Cold sweat dripped down his head. He knew that if the beetle took flight, his only option would be to get off its back. When he noticed that the wing structure below the beetle’s exoskeleton was significantly softer though, an idea occurred to him.
He lowered his stance and leapt to the back of the guard beetle, which was already starting to fly off. Luo Yuan almost slipped due to the current caused by the beetle’s flight, but he held on, lowered his centre of gravity, and struggled to make his way back to its wings. Gripping the hilt of the sword with his sweaty hands, he carefully positioned his weapon near the hidden flesh under the beetle’s wings. Without any hesitation, he grabbed and cut the beetle’s right wing right from the root.
The guard beetle instantly lost its balance and its ability to fly. Its body tilted to one side and it quickly fell towards the ground. BOOM! It crashed from a distance of 20 feet above the ground. Luo Yuan was flung off in the process, rolling across the ground and only stopping when he hit a wall. His vision was blurred and there was not a single part of his body that was not aching. The battle, however, was far from over.
He saw the beetle wobbling, trying to stand up again after its fall; he tasted metal in his throat and spat out the blood, standing up from the dusty ground all around him. He started to walk slowly towards the beetle, gradually going faster before breaking into a run. Then he furiously jumped onto its back, thrust his sword into its broken wing, and dragged it from the bottom up with an awful flesh-tearing sound. The wound expanded, the beetle’s gooey blood and guts spilling from within and splashing around like an exploding soda can. The beetle screeched in agony. It was in a state of painful trance, flipping and turning as if it could shake the pain off. Then it stretched its uninjured wing and started to flap it in motion, creating a blast of wind.
Luo Yuan held his ground against the wind and continued to drag his weapon all the way to the beetle’s head. He suddenly thought of alchemy, and as he did, the blade started to glow red and radiate heat. He wasn’t sure if it was the contact between the sword and the exoskeleton, or the sword being sharpened by the alchemy, but the weapon managed to tear open a separate wound in the guard beetle. He was excited at the success of his strategy, so he kept using alchemy. The sword seemed to get sharper and sharper as it effortlessly sliced and diced through the beetle’s exoskeleton, even when the alchemy’s effect was over.
The guard beetle struggled less and less, until it finally collapsed. Luo Yuan removed the sword from the beetle, and was about to deliver the death blow, when he noticed something peculiar. The color of the blade had changed from white-silver to a glistening jade-green; he checked to see if it was the temporary coat of the beetle’s fluid. He attempted to wipe the color off, but there was no liquid. The blade was dry.
“Could it be a side-effect of the alchemy I used?”
He couldn’t think of any logical reason, and there seemed to be no other kinds of reasons. He held the sword with one hand and effortlessly plunged it into the beetle’s skull. Its body trembled and it seemed to want to stand up for a moment, but it eventually fell back to the ground.
Several system messages buzzed into Luo Yuan’s mind.
“E-Level Mission: Annihilate Guard Rank Green Beetles. Mission Accomplished. Time: 8 minutes. Mission Score: S”
“Experience Earned: 1,600”
“Bonus S Score Experience: 1,600”
Luo Yuan was very surprised that he had achieved an S score on this mission. It seemed to him that it had all come down to luck as it was the most challenging mission he’d ever taken on. If he hadn’t misjudged it, he would have not accepted an E-Level Mission at all – it had been completely out of his league. But he was glad that he had managed to complete it and had gained the extra experience. He was on the EXP range of 4,100 – 4,800 now. That was about 700 EXP before his next level up, which he would achieve if he scored a perfect F+ Level Mission or completed a tougher E-Level one.
It then occurred to him that the more dangerous a zone, the higher the chances of triggering a mission would be. Hopefully, it would happen as often as it did during the good old days – when he used to trigger a mission once every two or three months. At times it could be as bad as one mission every six months. But since the unprecedented changes in the environment, the frequency of the missions had been increasing exponentially. Luo Yuan had already completed two within the same day, which used to be unheard of.
He collected his thoughts and jumped off the body of the slayed guard beetle, almost tripping on his landing. He spat the blood that was still in his mouth and started to become aware of the pain all over his body. His legs felt particularly bad. He looked down and realized that half his pants had been shredded from his thighs down, and that the skin on his calves had been completely obliterated, exposing the red threads of his muscles.
“So that’s why it hurts so much.”
He could recall how it had happened. When the beetle had shot its limbs out, his calves had been torn by the intensity of the particles breaking from its digging motion.
Soon, Huang Jiahui and Zhao Qianqian were running towards him, an extra group of men and women following closely behind them.