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227 Work Smart, Not Hard!

    (A/N: Two chapters combined as one! 3.1K+ words long chapter!!)

    Kiba and Ashyln teleported outside the wild garden. They heard heart-wrenching cries for a moment from the garden, and then once again, an eerie silence took over.

    Kiba observed Stardust Mushroom in his right hand. Golden streams of energy were enveloped on the mushroom, like a protective layer, ensuring its vitality doesn't fade.

    "Can I take the mushroom?" Kiba turned towards Ashyln as he continued. "I know it is costly and precious but I really need it. I would definitely pay for it through other herbs."

    "I didn't spend any efforts so it is yours, to begin with," Ashlyn replied in an emotionless but matter-of-factly voice. "And obviously you don't have to pay me for what is yours."

    This was the longest she ever spoke from the time Kiba has known her. Kiba was surprised by her words but he nodded in gratitude.

    "Thanks," Kiba said as a flash of white light came out from his palm and covered the mushroom. The next moment, the mushroom disappeared.

    Kiba's powers allowed him to store any item in his own personal dimension space. He transferred the mushroom to his personal space so that he wouldn't have to be worried about it.

    In ordinary cases, if people witnesses this scene, then they would be shocked and believe that Kiba was carrying spatial storage device. Such devices would attract envy and greed of many.

    But Ashlyn didn't show any reaction. She started walking away, leaving Kiba behind.

    "Hey!" Kiba called out.

    Ashlyn stopped and turned around. She looked at him, and waited for him to say whatever he has to say.

    "We could still be partners," Kiba quickly arrived before her.

    He didn't give a speech on the benefits involved or the advantages each one of them could provide for another. She wouldn't like it and Kiba was sure of this.

    If she has to agree, just a short sentence was enough. If not, then even an emotional speech backed by logical facts would be ineffective.

    Ashlyn observed him for a moment before nodding her head. Kiba beamed and the two became a team.

    A team which was soon going to create mayhem in Desolate Blood Forest...

    ***

    A few hours later.

    Under a giant tree, Kiba and Ashlyn were sitting on the grass, separated by some distance. Specks of light fell on the ground, passing through the slight gaps between green crowns of trees.

    Kiba looked at the trees and the light, his heart marveling at the beauty of this forest. There was a humane beauty close to him, and yet, it was like she was separated from him.

    The distance was negligible, but it appeared they were far away from each other as if separated by an ocean.

    "So close and yet so far," Kiba mused with a smile.

    The first time he saw her, he was only interested in her beauty. Now, he no longer has such thoughts. He was curious about her and wanted to know her better.

    "Kiba," Ashlyn suddenly said, breaking the silence.

    "Hmm?" Kiba was genuinely startled.

    "You should be wary of Byron and his group," Ashlyn continued in a cold tone. "They are a part of human trafficking organization."

    Kiba was stunned by her words. He obviously knew the truth about Byron, but he was shocked to learn Ashlyn knowing as well.

    He knew thanks to Ruby but what about her? She was not from Ruby's city or her acquaintance so how could she be privy of such secret?

    What truly bewildered him was that she actually agreed to share this knowledge.

    "Thanks for the warning," Kiba replied with a faint smile. "But I already know about them from the start."

    Ashlyn was visibly stunned. She didn't say anything, but even in her cold eyes, there was slight disbelief.

    "Ruby is not my girlfriend," Kiba noticed the slight change in her expression so he decided to explain. "What you witnessed between her and me was just a play I designed to relieve my boredom."

    "...." Ashlyn looked at him for a long time before turning her head away.

    She recalled how Kiba fooled Amir and his team. When she remembered the words he used to mock Amir, she realized he was not really the well-mannered and kind-hearted man she saw with Ruby and Byron.

    "Wake me later," Kiba also turned around and slept on the grass.

    He has a faint idea about why she decided to warn him now. She wanted to return the favor she believed she owed him when he helped her avoid a battle with Blood Demon Flower.

    "She sure doesn't like owing favors," Kiba thought playfully.

    Earlier when he helped her against the fox, she returned the help by destroying the vines. Obviously, neither of them truly needed each other's help so far, after all, both of them were hiding their true strength.

    In the evening, they resumed their journey.

    "There is a place I want to explore," Ashlyn waved her left hand. Specks of blue light appeared on her palm and converged into a digital tablet.

    "Oh!" Kiba was intrigued.

    Ashlyn opened a map of the forest and pointed at certain coordinates.  The distance from their present location was about twenty miles.

    "I have no issue," Kiba said when she looked at him for his response.

    Ashlyn then opened a file on the tablet screen and signaled him to read it. Kiba took the tablet from her hands and read the text.

    Kiba was amazed by the details. Apparently, the place where they were going was formed from space debris.

    In the year 1900, hundreds of meteorites crashed on Earth. Under the influence of long journey in space and the impact from crashing on Earth, small debris split from the meteorites. The debris fell near the meteorites. Just like the meteorites, the debris also had resources, albeit in sparse quantity.

    "It is still fine with me," Kiba said as he returned the tablet.

    Ashlyn nodded and they proceeded to their new destination.

    ***

    Morning, the next day.

    The sun severed the darkness and brought a clear, blue sky. The sunlight fell upon the leaves and made the dew drops sparkle like gems.

    Kiba breathed in the fresh air and sipped in the dew drops. The sweet yet salty taste made him feel refreshed.

    He and Ashlyn were close to their destination. Just some hundred meters from them, a clear area was visible with no sign of any greenery, spanning for 10 sq. miles.

    The ground was covered with limestone while rocks protruded from the floor like stalagmites.

    Close to a hundred people were visible in the area. Each one of them was a mutant, strong in their own right.

    Most of the mutants were in groups while a few were alone. They walked around as if waiting for something.

    "Noon," Kiba thought based on the details he has read. Supposedly the ground would split apart to reveal an entrance at the noon.

    The entrance would lead to an underground cave-like structure where precious metals and ores were available for extraction.

    From what he knows, the cave would always have new quantities of metals and ores. The reason for such a phenomenon was not known.

    There was also a big catch. The cave would only open once every week and what's more, it would stay open only till the sunset. No one who stayed behind after the cave closed has come out alive.

    The reason why most mutants arrived here was not only to collect resources but also to get experience. There were dangers lurking in the underground cave, and new threats would appear every time.

    The mutants with strong background treasured the experience more than the resources. After all, with the experience, they could have more chances of success in the core region. The cave didn't matter at all when compared to the meteorite where the true secrets of the alien world and its treasure were stored.

    "Well, I would rather pass the opportunity of gaining experience," Kiba thought with a sigh. "I have gained enough experience for a lifetime while exploring BSE79."

    It was BSE79 meteorite where he found Cosmic Spark and the casket that formed Section IV, and in a way, this bestowed him his current form and powers, but even then he has no liking to the meteorites.

    The world might be ignorant about their true nature, but not him. He was aware of the dark secrets and the threat they posed to this planet.

    If it was possible, he wanted to avoid any contact with them. Alas, Felicity's current state gave him no choice. Of course, there was an alternative in Section IV but it was something he disliked more than the meteorites.

    "You wish to gain experience?" Kiba asked.

    Ashlyn shook her head.

    "Resources?" Kiba further enquired now that she made it clear she has no interest in gaining experience.

    Ashlyn nodded and said, "Adamantine and Spatial Golden Sand."

    "They are the rarest of rare," Kiba muttered before closing his eyes.

    ...

    A few hours later, noon.

    Just as the clock struck 12, a heavy rumbling sound came from the limestone floor. The rocks entered the ground while the floor at the center split apart into a rectangular hole. Stone steps came in sight, leading to the core of the cave.

    "I'm going to leave my mark in this cave!" A young man in the early twenties declared. He was a scion from Eleanor Family!

    "Dream on, Shane Eleanor," A brown-haired youth named Roy Hodge said with disdain. "It is me who is going to mark my presence both here and the core region!"

    As Shane and Roy broke into an argument, a fatty named Kian laughed, and said, "Young miss from Neville Family has already entered the cave while you two are still bickering."

    "You mean the fiend is here?!" Roy broke in a cold sweat.

    "Yeap," Kian replied.

    At the entrance, a middle-aged man with a knife scar looked at the young masters with disdain. He was Issac Piers - a mercenary.

    "This attitude from the scions of nine aristocrat families would get them killed someday," Issac muttered as he stepped inside.

    More than sixty mutants have already entered the cave when Kiba and Ashlyn stepped on the stone path.

    Ashlyn was in no hurry as entering first has no importance. There were various obstacles involved so the order of entry didn't matter.

    Kiba looked around for a moment before sitting down on the ground with his legs crossed. He supported his back against a stone and took out his cell phone.

    "What are you doing?" Ashlyn was startled by his behavior.

    "Isn't it obvious?" Kiba asked in return.

    "If you don't want to accompany me, it is fine," Ashlyn said in a cold voice. She turned around and stepped towards the entrance.

    Everyone else has entered the underground cave and she was in no mood to think about Kiba's attitude.

    The space in front of her twisted and Kiba appeared. His legs were still crossed and he was floating in the air like a monk.

    "Haah~ I believed you were smart so I didn't bother explaining," Kiba let out a heavy sigh. "But you are just like everyone else, a blind follower of herd mentality."

    "What?" Ashlyn narrowed her eyes.

    "Why waste your energy and efforts inside the cave when you can get what you want here with least bit of work?" Kiba said as he jumped on his feet.

    "?" Ashlyn looked at him in confusion.

    "Work smart, not hard," Kiba said with a playful smile. He then proceeded to explain the details on what they have to do to get what she wants, without wasting efforts.

    When Ashlyn heard his plan, she was visibly astonished. If she was to describe the plan in one word then it would be: "Shameless."

    ***

    The time passed, and some hours later, the evening sky took over. It was just a matter of an hour before the sun sets.

    A healthy-looking adult male, named Ronnie, stepped out of the entrance. He has a pleasant smile on his face as he eyed the sky.

    "I'm rich!" Ronnie laughed in delight before tracing a bag in his hands.

    Behind him, a few more people stepped out, each of them having a happy expression.

    While Roonie and others were covered with blood and their bodies were exhausted, they were truly elated with the success they have achieved in the cave. Sure there was life and death crisis and few of their companions died, but the end results were bountiful.

    They couldn't help but imagine the rich lifestyle they could live after they leave the forest. With the resources they had gained, they were sure they wouldn't have to work for their lifetime.

    It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that they could live freely without ever worrying about lack of money!

    "Boss! You were amazing!" A young man openly praised Ronnie.

    "Haha, it was nothing," Ronnie's cheeks were slightly flushed.

    He enjoyed the praise from his subordinates. He was sure now there would be more people who would suck up on him for his favor, especially women. Just the thoughts of what the women would do for him gave him shivers of excitement.

    "Excuse me," A male voice broke the group's discussion.

    "Huh?" Ronnie turned around.

    Some distance away, on a circular boulder, a man and a woman were sitting. They were obviously none other than Kiba and Ashlyn!

    "Who are you and what do you want?" Ronnie asked with a frown as his eyes went from Kiba to Ashlyn. He was stunned by her beauty and slowly, some not-so-good thoughts came in his mind.

    "We are from Anti-theft Department of the world government," Kiba answered the first half of the question while taking out an identity card from his purse.

    "Anti-theft Department?" Ronnie was startled and confused as he observed the identity card.

    The card has a picture of Kiba with the world government's official stamp. The designation was 'Sr. Officer.'

    "Never heard of this department," One of Ronnie's subordinate whispered.

    "Does such a department even exists?" Another subordinate asked in a low voice.

    "No idea."

    Ronnie ignored the discussion between his subordinates and looked at Kiba. He wanted to know what the officers from this special department wanted.

    "We have strong suspicions that many infamous thieves are in the forest," Kiba explained in a heavy voice. "Those thieves are trying to con innocent adventurists and loot their hard-earned resources."

    When Ashlyn heard this, she felt her lips twitching. She always carried a cold expression but now she felt embarrassed.

    "So what?" Ronnie asked. It was no secret that the forest was filled with criminals. After all, the laws of the civil society didn't apply here, so even the most honest citizen would become a criminal after seeing the resources the forest has to offer.

    Murder, stealing, and betrayal were a common occurrence here.

    "We are here to prevent thievery," Kiba proudly announced. "And as a responsible person, we want you to help us."

    "Help?" Ronnie and others were completely bewildered.

    "Yeap," Kiba pointed a finger in his right side.

    Ronnie's eyes followed his direction and noticed three long white cardboard boxes. Each box has a sticker placed on it, the text was written with glittering red ink.

    "Precious stones, Treasured metals, Any other valuable items," Ronnie read the text from each box.

    "Please leave the items in the respective boxes. Rest assured for we will cherish them like their true owners" Kiba stated further with a professional smile. "So you can relax and spend your time in the forest without worrying about anyone targeting you."

    "Are you serious?!" Ronnie was incensed.

    Isn't he basically telling them to part with the wealth they gained after so many efforts?!

    No way!

    "Obviously, we are serious," Kiba's smile didn't waiver and neither did his professional determination. "Please cooperate since this is for your own good."

    "If we disagree then what?" Ronnie asked with a fierce expression.

    He was tired and worn-out but he was confident in dealing with this punk and that frail beauty. They were seven while the opponents were just two! The outcome was determined!

    Ronnie licked his lips as he thought of the things he could do after overpowering the punk and spending his energy on the beauty.

    Ronnie was thinking of this when he heard rustling sound close to his ear. The next moment, he was sent flying in the air. His mouth released an arrow of blood as he collided against a stone. He opened his mouth and coughed up more blood with broken teeth.

    Ronnie continued to cough while tracing his right cheek. A large red mark was visible, almost like an inscription on skin.

    "WHAT?!"

    Ronnie's subordinates were alarmed and afraid. Their hearts shook with dread and fright as they slowly turned around and noticed Kiba standing in the former position of their boss.

    Every single of them gulped down in disbelief as they observed the 'weapon' in his hand. The 'weapon' has a handled frame with an open hoop across which a network of strings stretched tightly.

    It was a racket!

    To be precise, it was a mosquito racket - a flyswatter!!

    Ronnie also looked at the object that just sent him flying, and as he did, he forcefully swallowed the blood in his mouth.

    He originally believed that Kiba used some powerful weapon, but it was just a racket!

    "There were hundreds of mosquitoes in this place," Kiba lowered the racket as he said. "We killed all of them while we waited for you guys to arrive. And yet, instead of thanking us, you are saying you have no intention of cooperating for your own good?"

    Is he actually complaining about mosquitoes?!

    No!

    He is blaming us for not thanking him! Are we supposed to be grateful when you are trying to commit a daylight robbery?!

    "Well," Kiba locked his eyes on Ronnie's subordinates. "Place the items in those boxes and help Anti-theft Department in its mission of stopping the thievery."

    Fuck!

    You are looting us, and yet you want us to believe you are from some anti-theft department?!

    "There is nothing good in cooperating with you!" The subordinates bitterly thought in their hearts. "But there is definitely bad in not cooperating with you!"

    Ronnie also understood this far better than his subordinates. He rose to his feet and walked towards the boxes. He then opened his storage bag and emptied the items.

    Ashlyn was observing the items Ronnie was taking out, and her eyes flashed with surprise as she noticed a chunk of adamantine. Initially, she was hesitant to follow Kiba's suggestion given the strange nature of his plan, but now she felt it was a good decision.

    If she has entered the underground cave, she would be spending energy and efforts, not to mention face dangers from the obstacles created by the space debris. But now, she was getting everything served on a plate with negligible efforts.

    Kiba returned back and sat on the boulder.

    "You were right," Ashlyn said, her cold voice filled with slight admiration. "Work smart, not hard."

    Kiba smiled in response...
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