Chapter 15: Plum Tree Forest

It wasn’t long after retreating into the wooded area that the trees and vegetation started to become unfamiliar to Ryu. The trees became much smaller and normal-sized. The leaves were a deep, dark mahogany, and there were lush purple fruits ripening all throughout the crowns of the trees. Many of the fruits were already laying on the ground, plucked and pecked by what looked to be from avian species. As soon as he stepped into this part of the woods, a virtual message appeared.

You have entered a Hidden Monster Zone: Plum Tree Forest.

You are the first player to discover Plum Tree Forest.

Being the first player to discover Plum Tree Forest, you will receive the following buffs any time you are in this Zone:

25% increased EXP
25% increased quality of loot
25% increased rarity of loot

These buffs are divided equally among all active party members in Plum Tree Forest.

Plum Tree Forest has a moderate density of Natural Essence. As such, being in Plum Tree Forest will also grant you the following buff:

25% increased efficiency in Natural Essence harnessing
Plum Tree Forest
is a Special Hidden Zone.
Duration of Buffs: 120 hours

Just as I thought, a hidden area.

He turned his head both left and right, seeing nothing but murky woods all around. He looked back behind him, seeing no one in pursuit. Observing that fact, it was strange to him that the NPC from before hadn’t followed him.

Why isn’t he coming after me?

His eyes gloomed at the words ‘Special Hidden Zone’ on the virtual screen. Thoughts about what the phrase implicated rang through his mind, but he couldn’t be too pre-occupied with them.

He then set his eyes upon the part of the message regarding Natural Essence harnessing. 

I might as well find a safe place and practice harnessing essence.

He walked a few hundred meters into the forest until he eventually came across a seatable boulder under one of the larger plum trees. He hopped right up and began his meditation.

Back at the southern Brown Forest crossroad, a band of NPCs had gathered around. Guinevere stood at the center of the road, staring at the forest between the fork, her face expressionless. “The person with the stone entered Plum Tree Forest, didn’t he, Mordred?”

“He did,” Mordred responded, gulping down a healing potion, immediately after which his leg began to heal.

“Well, then we should get going and hunt him down!” shouted one of the NPCs.

“Yeah!” shouted a few others in unison.

Percival walked up from behind the enthusiastic bunch. “Fools. How long have you been alive to not know that Plum Tree Forest is a Hidden Zone—and a Special Hidden Zone at that? Not to mention that it is known as ‘The Chirping Forest.’ If it weren’t for that fact, Sir Mordred would have sent his crows in.”

After hearing Percival’s words, the excited NPCs shut up and settled down.

Percival continued. “We have no choice but to wait here.”

“H-how long is that going to be?” said one of the escorts.

“Isn’t that obvious?” Percival said, giving the ignorant NPC a serious look. “Until he comes back out.”

It was then that Mordred stood up, wiping off the excess red fluid from his mouth. “Whelp! That settles that.” He began walking away from the rest of the group.

“Sir Mordred, where are you going?” said one of the other NPCs.

“Where do you think?” Mordred said.

The NPC was dumbstruck for a moment. He knew by Mordred’s response of what was being implied, but he was in disbelief that Mordred would be leaving now.

Mordred yawned, stretching his arms. “I’ve done what I came here to do.” Then, he put up a large grin. “I had quite an interesting encounter today.”

The concerned grunt interjected, “But Sir Mor—”

“Enough,” Percival exclaimed. “The Round Table is meeting this afternoon. Sir Mordred must take his leave. Lady Guinevere must also leave us temporarily for that matter.”

Realizing this fact, the lowly soldier stopped talking.

With that settled, Mordred took his leave. “Come, Wilhelm,” he said. “We’re returning to Calduun.”

“Yes, my lord,” the squire said. Wilhelm took out a portal scroll from out of his side bag, using the item on the spot. He selected the appropriate location on the brimming map that appeared, and then a large spiraling portal appeared. The attendant walked up to the portal, stepping to the side to let Mordred enter first.

Before leaving, Mordred turned around, his eyes shifting to Guinevere who was still facing the forest. “I know you have other things to do. But if you’re late, Lance won’t let you off.”

Guinevere didn’t comment. She stood as she had, her expression all the same. Seeing this, Mordred took his leave, Wilhelm following right after.

After they left, Percival approached Guinevere. “I’ll have the southern road closed.”

“We may be here for a while,” Guinevere said. “Make sure signs are posted at the other crossroads letting merchants and travelers know.”

“Of course, my lady,” said Percival. “Shall I also send a messenger to inform the viscount?”

“There’s no need. If we fail to retrieve it, then that’s all there is to be said,” Guinevere said. 

Percival nodded. “Very well. I shall have the men set up camp here and await your return.” He bowed and went off to tend to his duties, the rest of the NPCs following him.

Guinevere took one last moment staring into the dark woods. She then finally turned away, opening a portal, and left to attend to her own duties.

His eyes closed, Ryu kept a soft and steady breathing pattern. Essence was flowing through his body, integrating with every one of his cells. The feeling of harnessing natural essence was stronger than what he’d felt during his time with Bors.

The difference is greater than I expected. Even though it’s only 25%, the buff helps out a lot.

He opened his eyes, taking a deep breath. He then opened up his Character Description menu and viewed his stats.

[You have numerous Titles. Please visit a Hall of Titles to prescribe yourself with a Main Title.]
HP: 50/50 Energy: 9/10
Physical Stats
Strength: 11 Speed: 6
Endurance: 18 Stamina: 9
Quickness: 88 Agility: 22
Hardness: 1

Physical Hardness: 1 ???
Toughness: 1

Physical Toughness: 1 ???
Mental Stats
Intelligence: 501 Wisdom: 751
Perception: 501 Insight: 751
Misc. Stats
??? ???
Unallocated SP: 50

I haven’t trained since I’ve parted ways with Bors. All I’ve done since is grind for a few hours. Some of my stats have increased, but only by one point each…

Ryu closed his virtual window, sighing. Curious, he took out the special map. Upon rolling it open, vibrant linings appeared on the scroll.

An enchanted map?

The lines squiggled all over the map until they formed a single and complex pathing system that led to an area in the middle of Plum Tree Forest. And on that unknown area, the words, “The School of Li Lin” appeared. And also, an image of a pagoda.

Hell. That’s still so far away. Not to mention that if I have to follow this path, it’ll take me days.

He let out a deep sigh and stood up. He gathered his things and continued on with his journey.

Ryu treked through Plum Tree Forest for three long, silent hours, following his special map before suddenly slowing down. Ever since he’d lost his brown crystal in his short encounter with Mordred, a great worry and curiosity had been gestating in the back of his mind. Relieving this worry and curiosity, he took out the brown book he had received from Mirvena and opened it to the first page that had written characters on it.

As soon as he laid eyes upon the characters, his head got slightly dizzy, and for a moment, he lost his balance. He quickly recollected himself and stood firmly back up.

He looked back at the written symbols on the page, and what went through his mind surprised him in the most wonderful way. His conscious mind began to translate the symbols on the page, and in his head, he could begin to understand the words, or at the very least, the arrangement of the words. It wasn’t an instant understanding, but it came fast—much faster than it would to a person trying to learn another language in the real world. And it wasn’t just the written words he began to understand, either. To his astonishment, he also began to understand the verbal pronunciation of the words, even though he’d never heard them.

Seeing all of this, on the page and in his head, he closed the book. His head a little dizzy, he stopped and sat down against a tree, resting to collect his thoughts. His heart was racing a little, a feeling of both excitement and surprise.

So… It does work after all.

He inhaled, then exhaled, shaking off his

Everything must be learned manually, after all. Not just stats and skills.

Even in Dream World, a game in which there were many different languages, players didn’t have to “read” a book on languages. All they had to do was use or consume language skill books, and they knew the language right then and there. Granted, there were varying levels of masteries for each skill book, so players had to acquire the higher mastery ones if they wanted to converse fluently.

It was now apparent to Ryu, after all of his experiences so far, that players of Second World had to work for everything that this game had to offer: stats, weapons, skills—everything.

Strange, though… How did I learn that so fast? 

It was then that two virtual messages appeared.

Congratulations! You have learned the language Narn!
Congratulations! You have learned your first language!

Learning your first language has granted you access to the Language Skills Descriptions menu.

You are the first player to learn a language. As such, you have been rewarded with 10 stat points.

Also being the first player to learn a language, you have earned the title, The Master of Words.

Ryu closed the two windows and quickly brought up his newly accessed menu. He selected ‘Narn’ under the said menu and the following description appeared:

Narn is the official language of the kingdom of Moratia. 

You have a basic understanding of Narn. You can only hold up the most basic conversations with Moratians with your limited Narn vocabulary.

The speed at which you learn Narn, as well as with any language, shall be determined by your Perception and Insight.
Perception requirement: 10
Insight requirement: 20
Mastery: Beginner

Reading the last sentence on the description, Ryu had just found the answer to his previous question.

I see. There are even requirements to learn languages, too.

Glad to be reminded of how wonderful and challenging this game posed, Ryu could only smile. He then continued on to check up on his new title.

The Master of Words
Your great curiosity for the world has led you to learn a language that is far different from your own. You shall continue to be curious throughout your journey, wanting to learn more languages, either through your eagerness or selfish volition.

Should you attempt to learn an Albamanian language, you shall learn it 50% faster than one would in normal circumstances.

And throughout your journey, should you come across a language that you do not know, you shall be familiarized with it, learning the language at the most basic level. This basic familiarization shall bypass any Perception and Insight requirements that a language may have.

Wow. This title is actually more useful than it sounds.

Just as he was about to continue in his silent celebration, Ryu heard the screeching of birds all around him. As he turned his head up, he saw dozens—if not more than a hundred—mockingbirds sitting on branches all around him. They were twice the size of real-life mockingbirds, and they were all chirping, tilting their seemingly innocent heads in curiosity.

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