Proofreaders: ExperimentBL626, Handibong, and Vaanouney
Single Stone Beggar.
The noon sun shone brightly over Coatl city. Three individuals were having a serious discussion over lunch. Smoke, Laernea, and Madam Dawny talked about Macher’s proposal on the Mounted Race.
The young lioness Lioumerean spoke with a mouth full of vegetable salad.
“I think you should do it. I mean, he looked like a decent guy.”
Madam Dawny rolled her eyes when she heard Laernea’s suggestion.
“You used to be very jaded, but your time in Nanahuatl has made you soft. Do you remember when you were younger? You wouldn’t even trust me, and I only had your best interest at heart. Now that you’re out of Nanahuatl you should regain some of your mistrust.”
Laernea shrugged and passively listened to Madam Dawny’s lecture. Smoke nodded his head and agreed with what their benefactor said.
“That’s why I’m going to gather as much information as I can, before signing up on anything. Sierra has been telling me that my decisions are always rash. That reminds me. It’s been some time since I got in contact with Sierra. Excuse me for a bit, while I make a quick call.”
The young DarkElf stood up and walked a few steps away to get some privacy. As he was about to contact Sierra, he got an unexpected call from her instead.
|+Incoming Call: Sierra
Accept the call? [YES/NO]
Smoke immediately answered her.
“Hey! I’ve been wondering when you’d call. I was so busy after winning the tournament that I completely forgot to check in with you. I’m so sorry. Anyway, have you found the exit?”
Smoke wanted to impress her. He thought that she should know how hard it was to win the Swordsman to Knight Tournament.
“Oh… Well, we still haven’t found the exit. Although we’ve finished investigating all the villages. Don’t worry, we’ll find it sooner or later.”
He thought that it had been some time since they started their search. He surmised that it was the cause for Sierra’s voice to be melancholic. He thought he could cheer her up by changing the topic.
“Ahh, that’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I know you’ll eventually find it.”
“Listen… I have to tell you something important. While we were waiting for the Bran…”
Smoke was determined to change the topic. He wouldn’t let Sierra finish her sentence.
“Right. Well, let me tell you, once you’ve won that championship and equipped this glorious armor the crowd just wouldn’t let go of you. I’ve had dozens of friend requests that I decided to disable the friend request notification. Oh, and that reminds me. Do you remember Macher? The Cavalry Knight who helped me enter the city?”
“Yeah, I think so. What about him?”
“He offered to be my sponsor in the Mounted Race event. It costs two-million zecs to join, and if I agree, I get to join for free. What do you think? Should I accept his offer? He only asks that when I win the grand prize I give him ten million zecs from the winnings, while I get to keep the items. I think it’s a fair deal. Since I plan to let Laernea and Gandiva win it, anyway.”
He thought that she would cheer up if she was involved in the decision on the Mounted Race event. He believed that if she thought about something else, she would relax and forget her anxiety from her failed search attempts.
“It sounds like you’ve already made your decision. Why do you need to hear what I think?”
“I knew you’d agree with me. Alright, call me when you get any new developments on your search. I’ll also do the.. Hello? Sierra? You still there? Hmm. She hung up on me.”
Smoke smiled. He thought that their talk had inspired her on a new way to find the missing labyrinth exit.
He was pleased with himself as he rejoined the dining table.
“So what were we talking about again?”
Laernea repeated their discussion from the time Smoke had left the table.
“Madam Dawny said that we should try visiting a pub called Noir Emporium.”
The retired old woman waited for Smoke to be seated before she proceeded.
“If you give 30,000 zecs to a long curly haired bartender named Gin, you’ll be able to get plenty of informative rumors from him.”
“30,000 zecs? That’s a little too steep for me. Is there another way I could get information without paying that much?”
Madam Dawny stared at Smoke for a few seconds.
“Well, there is one more way. You could speak with the owner of the bar directly, but he doesn’t speak with just anybody. If you really want to talk to him then you would need to have a belt with a special black stone on it. Darius has one. Maybe you have one as well?”
It was Smoke’s turn to stare at his benefactor. He thought that if she saw the belt it also meant that she knew about the secret society of beggars.
“I don’t mean to sound offensive, but how well do you know Darius?”
“Pretty well, I guess. Before the coal mine incidents in Nanahuatl, old man Darius and I used to travel all over Chayotl Kingdom(Western Kingdom). This was back when I was younger. I would drop by Nanahuatl and invite him to join me on one of my quests, especially the harder ones. Thirty years passed and my movements were no longer as sharp, but old man Darius stayed exactly the same. If I had known that he wouldn’t age I would’ve called him immortal Darius rather than the old man.”
Madam Dawny chuckled as she remembered her younger days.
After he heard the old lady’s story, Smoke believed that she was a good friend of Darius.
“I’m sorry for doubting you. It’s just that Darius never talked about his past adventures. All he talks about is Kumbaba, but did he tell you what his job is?”
“Yes he did. He told me he was a Beggar, and he even showed me his belt with nine shiny black stones embedded on it. He also told me that only members of his organization can possess that belt. Well, do you have that kind of belt or not?”
“Good. Then just ask Gin, the bartender, and tell him you want to talk to his boss. I don’t know his name but Darius did a similar thing before and I think it might work with you.”
“Thank you very much. I’ll look into that pub and start my investigation on this Mounted Race from there.”
Smoke looked to the direction of Nanahuatl. He saw Igniz outside the house. His symbiote enjoyed the bright sun and the cloudless sky, while the hell boar Ental energetically ran around the dark ember sprite. Ental tried her best to get Igniz’s attention.
“Hmm. I wonder if Gandiva has already arrived in Nanahuatl. I need to put the next batch of double bladed mantis swords up in auction.”
* * * * * *
There were many variations of the Knight job to choose from. Some of the variations were: the popular Cavalry Knight, the speedy Stealth Knight, and a sub variation called Elemental Knight.
Smoke chose to disguise his cover identity Ilad as a Flame Knight. He had Igniz hide comfortably on top of his head. He used his symbiote’s energy to coat his shoulders and helmet in dark purple flames.
His newly won armor may look tattered because of his low Beggar Adaptability level, but the effects of the dark purple flames gave Smoke an intimidating appearance.
The DarkElf, equipped in a flaming Knight armor, took the teleportation circle headed for the central district. When he arrived, he expected the crowd to swarm him.
However, no one came near him at all. They just looked at him from afar. He could hear them whisper his name.
Smoke couldn’t understand their sudden change. It was just yesterday that everyone couldn’t get enough of him.
He felt sad that nobody fawned over him, but he realized that this was what he truly wanted, peace and quiet. At a quick pace, he followed the directions Madam Dawny gave him.
The pub was not easy to locate. Smoke had to ask multiple vendors before he reached the pub. Each vendor that he spoke to was shocked to have a conversation with him.
After an hour, his search for the well hidden pub was finally over. Smoke stood outside of Noir Emporium. From the outside it looked like a small place.
Smoke entered the pub and was amazed at what he saw. Despite its modest exterior, the interior was larger than what he expected.
The pub was filled with small round tables, each one of them had four chairs. The Flame Knight armored Smoke estimated that the whole place could probably seat a thousand customers at the same time.
He was told to look for a long curly haired bartender, but there was only a bald man behind the bar at the moment. He walked up to the bar and ordered a drink.
“Well, look at that. If it isn’t the famous stiff necked, sir Ilad. What’s your poison?”
Smoke was curious why the bartender called him stiff necked.
“I’d like an otromundo on the rocks.”
The bartender was a muscular bald man. He went to the other end of the bar, and poured a gold fermented beer on a big glass mug. When he was done, he slid it on top of the bar, and the mug stopped to where Smoke sat.
The bald man walked over to his new customer.
“That’ll be 250 zecs.”
“That mug sliding was impressive, but isn’t that a bit too expensive for an otromundo? I could buy a whole meal for 250 zecs.”
“Then why don’t you leave and go to that cheap restaurant. Let me tell you that a meal worth 250 zecs isn’t a meal worth paying.”
Smoke opened his transaction window and paid the amount. He hoped that with his ‘Beggary’ ability he could lower the price, but this did not work on the bald bartender. The DarkElf opened up his tri-horned Gora helmet and drank his otromundo.
After he finished the glass in one gulp, Smoke asked the bartender.
“I was wondering if you could tell me where Gin is? Do you know when his shift starts?”
The bald bartender gave Smoke a quizzical look.
“I’m Gin. What do you want with me?”
“Oh, I thought you had long curly hair.”
“Yeah, that was before, but the boss told me to shave it all off. He said that he was sick of hearing the customers complain about having strands of my hair in their drinks.”
Gin signaled Smoke to get closer as he said in a whispered voice.
“Between you and me. I still put some of my hair in the drinks of the customers. HAHAHAHA.”
Smoke reflexively took a look at his mug and examined it for hair strands. He found none on the glass, but he did just finish the whole drink in one gulp.
He pushed the thought out from his mind and asked about Gin’s boss instead.
“Listen, I’d like to talk to your boss. Tell him that I have some important business to discuss with him.”
“I’m sure you do. But the boss isn’t a very social person. If you’re done drinking here then you can leave.”
“Not even if you tell him that I have a belt with a special stone on it?”
“You really have one of those belts?”
“I really do. Can you take me to see your boss now?”
“Alright, let me just get my replacement to cover the bar. Tonic! Oi, Tonic, get up you lazy bum. I want you to look after the bar. Someone’s here to see the boss.”
When Tonic heard Gin’s last words he quickly went over to man the bar.
“Right this way, sir Ilad. Please forgive my rudeness from before. I wasn’t aware that you were an acquaintance of the boss.”
Smoke grinned as he saw the pleasant change in Gin’s demeanor.
“It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”
“Oh, and I’d really appreciate if you wouldn’t tell him about me putting my hair in the customers’ drinks.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to lie to him. So, if he doesn’t ask I won’t tell him.”
“That’s good enough for me.”
The two of them walked over to the back room which had seven doors. Gin opened one door, both of them entered to see another room that looked exactly like the first room they entered.
They kept on repeating the same process over and over again. Smoke felt dizzy as he tried to keep up with which door was which.
After they entered the twelfth door, the next room only had one door in it. The door was ornately decorated unlike the previous doors.
“We’re here. Please wait for a moment, while I inform my boss.”
Smoke removed his helmet and Igniz energetically flew around the room. His symbiote was happy to be outside of the helmet.
“Sorry for putting you in there, Igniz, but we have to keep up appearances that I’m not Smoke.”
Igniz gave a nod and understood why he had to stay hidden in Coatl.
“Alright, time to get back inside. We’ll have to check whether this boss is legit.”
Smoke hid Igniz back inside his helmet as the ornate door opened Gin came out.
“You may now enter.”
Gin held the door open as Smoke crossed the threshold. The room was filled with drawing cabinets, bookshelves, and a single table with two chairs in front of it.
A middle-aged imposing man dressed in a black suit sat behind the table. He stood up and extended his right hand which exposed his golden ring on his index finger. Smoke walked calmly towards him and performed the secret Beggar handshake.
When they completed the secret hand seal, both of their bodies were covered in an amber light. The boss smiled and removed the traditional belt on his suit, revealing a Beggar belt with four black stones embedded on it.
Smoke also unequipped his upper Knight armor, and revealed his single stoned Beggar belt. With an open palm on his left hand and a fist on his right, he made both his hands meet in front of his heart. Smoke bowed down and greeted the higher ranked Beggar in the manner that Darius taught him.
“May harmony and balance be kept in a perpetual state. My name is Beggar Smoke, but I’m currently using the name Ilad here in Coatl.”
The boss did the same gesture with his hands and bowed down as well.
“And may the divine essence and eternal truth protect us all. Hello, I am Beggar Evocati Caid, but people around here call me boss.”
“You’re a Beggar Evocati! What’s that?”
“You don’t know what a Beggar Evocati is? How can a Beggar not know the ranks within our brotherhood? Who made you into a Beggar anyway?”
Caid examined Smoke’s belt and just noticed that he only had one stone.
“You’re a one stoned Beggar? There hasn’t been a one stoned Beggar since… Well, since the last Imperator.”
“Oh, you mean Kumbaba right?”
Caid’s voice raised when he heard Smoke casually use the great Imperator’s name.
“Don’t you dare say his name without using honorifics. You should know your place, boy. When you speak about the greatest leader of the Verum de Mendicantibus, you should use his proper title. Validus Imperator Kumbaba.”
Smoke was taken aback. He didn’t mean to be disrespectful.
“I’m really sorry if I’ve offended you. It’s just that Darius talked about Validus Imperator Kumbaba in a very casual manner and I…”
“Legati Darius? You don’t mean Aeternus Legati Darius do you? How can you be so discourteous?”
“Darius had that kind of a title? I meant Aeternus Legati Darius never once told me to call him by that name. Don’t worry from now on I will use the proper honorifics. Umm… If you don’t mind, Beggar Evocati Caid. Can you possibly teach me how to address our brothers?”
While Smoke asked Caid to teach him about the secret society of Beggars, the Beggar Evocati was busy searching through his books.
“Even if you didn’t ask, I was already going to. There are very strict and uptight Beggars out there who would punish you for being so… Ignorant and disrespectful. Here, read these books.”
+Received Book: Verum de Mendicantibus Volume I.
+Received Book: Verum de Mendicantibus Volume II.
Smoke hastily checked the progress bars of the first two volumes. Both progress bars indicated that it would take five minutes to acquire the knowledge.
The DarkElf had heavily invested on his hidden basic stat called Wisdom. He is reminded to appreciate this decision whenever he was to acquire knowledge from a book.
Most books used to require him hours upon hours, but now the progress bars would only indicate minutes.
“Please excuse my speed of acquiring knowledge. My Wisdom stat isn’t quite there yet. If you can just spare me a couple of minutes.”
“Minutes? How many minutes do you need to have before you finish those two books?”
“Less than five minutes.”
“Impressive. Please take a seat while we are waiting for you to finish the books.”
Smoke wanted to ask Caid about Coatl’s Mounted Race event but was afraid to offend him once again.
“Well, you haven’t told me, who made you into a Beggar? Who was it?”
“Oh, it was Aeternus Legati Darius. However, he gave me no other information at all. He told me that I should explore the possibilities of what being a Beggar is myself.”
Caid rubbed his chin with his fingers as he listened to Smoke’s answer.
“Aeternus Legati Darius was the one that sired you, huh? That does sound like him. He has always been fond of Self-reflection as a method of teaching. He has been gone for quite some time. There has been many changes since his absence from the Beggar council. The eight Beggar Legati left are the ones who makes the decisions for us. How is Aeternus Legati Darius?”
“He is doing fine. His power had been reduced to a third, but he is slowly recovering some of it.”
“That must be why he has stayed hidden for this long. Oh, about your single stoned belt. You should know this, it has been decreed that only a Beggar Legati can make a new Beggar. For those below that rank, we are given an option to pass our knowledge and abilities to our chosen successor. If we choose not too, then our rank and power will disappear together with our death.”
“Why was it changed? Wouldn’t this new process reduce the numbers of the secret society of Beggars?”
“Yes. That is precisely one of the reasons why this new system was implemented. It isn’t just the knowledge and the power that gets transferred. The process also melds the consciousness and the morality of the ancestor. This would safeguard the future Beggar generations from making the same mistakes of the traitor Giro.”
Caid examines Smoke closely before he resumed to speak.
“Aeternus Legati Darius must have complete faith in you. True that being a one stoned beggar is really difficult but it also gives you complete freedom. Trust me when I tell you that my decisions and mannerisms are not all my own. When I talk, my melded mind from my four ancestors converge to tell me what to say. It may seem like an unfathomable task to you but it becomes more natural over time.”
“You’re right. That’s really mind boggling. Can you excuse me for a second. I’m about to finish reading the books.”
|+Book: Verum de Mendicantibus Volume I.
Beggar > 1-2 stones, can only access 25% of true potential.
Beggar Evocati > 3-4 stones, can only access 50% of true potential.
Beggar Quaestor > 5-6 stones, can only access 75% of true potential.
Beggar Legati > 7-9 stones, has 100% access of true potential.
Beggar Imperator > 1 tyrian star diamond, has magnified powers of 125% of true potential.
Smoke couldn’t believe that he had four more ranks to go through before he could become Imperator. Nevertheless, he was greatly impressed with the Beggar Imperator.
When he saw the increased 125% of true potential description, he immediately wanted to become an Imperator. He knew that it was a long shot, but this knowledge would fuel his determination and set him focused on his goal.
|+Book: Verum de Mendicantibus Volume II.
From plain Beggar to Beggar Evocati
You would need the recommendations of two Beggar Evocati.
The young DarkElf was dismayed when he saw the acquired knowledge from the second volume. He thought that if he contributed once his rank would increase.
“I can’t believe how difficult it is to increase to the next level.”
“I know, and it only gets harder when you rank up. I’m still two recommendations short to turn into a Beggar Quaestor myself.”
“Thank you for sharing these books with me. I only saw the Legati and Imperator titles, I didn’t see the Validus or the Aeternus titles.”
“You get a title unique to you, when you become a Legati. Of course the titles of the Legati are shared to all the members of our brotherhood. Do you have a Beggar’s tablet?”
“What’s that? Dar… I mean Aeternus Legati Darius didn’t give me one of those.”
“That’s understandable, these things have only been made recently. I’ll give you one, I have five Beggar tablets here.”
“Can you maybe give me two tablets, please? I’d like to give one to Aeternus Legati Darius.”
“Of course, of course. Let me just go get them.”
Caid disappeared into thin air. He promptly returned after a few seconds. He brought two stone marble tablets. It had a length of ten inches, a width of seven inches, and a thickness of one fourth of an inch.
“As you can see, it’s currently a blank marble slab. But when you place your hand on it and recite these words ‘Mendicus Nuntius Exsto’ a screen will appear. Here you can check on the latest news from our brothers scattered all throughout Zectas.”
Caid handed the stone marble tablets to Smoke. Right away, he got the impression of a modern day tablet when he saw the demonstration.
He followed Caid’s example and tried to activate the Beggar tablet. He recited the words and at once the stone marble changed into a screen.
“The news displayed depends on the Beggar’s level. As I mentioned before, there hasn’t been a single stoned Beggar for quite sometime. I doubt if you can get any useful information at your current level.”
Despite what Caid said, Smoke was still excited to explore his new tablet.
“I can see all the names of the nine Beggar Legati.”
“If you can put that away for now, I’d really appreciate it.”
“Oh, right, right. That reminds me. I completely forgot to mention why I was here in the first place. I was hoping to ask you about Coatl’s Mounted Race event.”
“Hmm… That Duke may have called it a race but it’s really a survival game with a finish line. The event allows for anyone who meets the requirement to enter. You only need a mount and the zecs to pay their overpriced entrance fee. Guilds would send five if not more members to participate. There are only two rules in the Mounted Race event. Those rules are; ‘Your mount must be restricted to a ground type’ and ‘You cannot switch mounts’. I’ve gathered information about this year’s racecourse. I could share them with you if you like?”
“Please do! That would be a great help.”
Caid proceeded to tell Smoke about the Mounted Race’s course. He told him what monsters to expect and other useful information that could help him finish the race.
The Beggar Evocati cleared his table and placed a map of the racecourse. The two Beggars stood beside the map as they spent the next hours in a strategic discussion.
Smoke learned each section of the race, he gave his initial thoughts and Caid would either agree or refute them.
Caid also told him about the other implications involved in the Mounted Race event. It clearly wasn’t a simple race.
Both of them sat down when Caid finished sharing his information on the Mounted Race.
“Thank you so much for sharing all that info. If there’s anything I can help you with, please tell me and if it’s within my power I’ll do it right away.”
Caid rubbed his chin with his fingers once more. He had been doing this mannerism whenever he was deep in thought.
“Well, if things workout as we expected in this event. I think there is one thing you can help me with.”
|+ Quest: Find Caid’s son Espion
Search & Rescue Quest
Beggar Evocati Caid’s son has been missing for the past three months.
Accept the Quest? [YES/NO]
Smoke was shocked to see Caid’s quest from out of the blue. He never once mentioned his son.
“Can you tell me more about Espion? What he looks like? How old he is? Where you last saw him?”
“I think you misunderstood. Espion isn’t some missing child. He’s already grown up. In fact, his job is that of a Spy. An advance hidden variation of the Thief job. He wanted to help me investigate the corruption within Coatl. I fear that he was captured and is kept as a prisoner somewhere or… I don’t want to think the worst…”
Caid stopped his sentence, and changed the subject.
”So, will you help me find my son? My men are already looking for him as well but no one has found him anywhere. My Beggar instinct’s tells me that you have the highest chance of finding my son.”
Smoke was set on raising his intimacy with Caid. After all he needed the recommendations of two Beggar Evocati.
“I’m honored to accept this quest. I swear that I’ll find your son and bring him back to you.”
Caid shook Smoke’s hand and thanked him for accepting his quest.
* * * * * *
Smoke started his preparations to join the Mounted Race. He needed a trusty creature to ride on. He asked Laernea to help him pick out his steed.
Laernea got curious gazes from onlookers as she walked beside Smoke. The DarkElf disguised as Ilad, equipped in his flaming Knight armor was now known as the Estranged Flame Knight.
His nonchalant response to the people after he won the Swordsman to Knight tournament was the main reason for his newly earned nickname.
Smoke wasn’t bothered by the crowd and he told his Lioumerean companion to do the same. She was told to forget the crowd’s whispers, and to focus in their search for his mount instead.
“You’d want to look for a comfortable mount, but it should also have a decent speed at the same time. Unfortunately, there are no stag moose here in Coatl. Don’t worry, I’ll take you to best place to get a mount, southern district’s Bestride Stables.”
“As long as the mount obeys me then I could start from there.”
The lioness Lioumerean led the way. It took them twenty minutes to get to the famous stable.
A whole city block was occupied by the Bestride Stables establishment. There was a top view perspective of the building on the side of its entrance.
Smoke read the layout of the building. Because of its high walls on the sides and a wide open space in the center, it looked like an old military fort.
Smoke was hesitant to enter the building.
“Are you sure about this place? It looks expensive.”
Laernea tried her best to persuade Smoke.
“Let’s just go inside and check on their mounts.”
They were greeted by a lean Gnome when they entered the premises.
“Good Day! My name is Billig Verkäufer and welcome to Bestride Stables. How may I help you today?”
Laernea spoke in behalf of Smoke.
“Hello, I’m here with my master, Sir Ilad the Flame Knight. We’re here looking for a mount suitable of his caliber. Do you think you have something for us?”
“Of course, of course. Right this way Sir.”
The Gnome led them to a small coffee table with comfortable lounge chairs beside it. He took out a catalog and gave it to Smoke.
“We have a variety of mounts to choose from. If you’ve chosen one, we can head out to the stables, and you can check them physically if the mount pleases your taste.”
Smoke did not speak at all. In a rigid motion he took the catalog and examine its contents.
|+Bestrides Stables Mounts
* Acinonyx Cheetah
* Springbok Gazelle
* Dirus Wolf
* War Elephant
Smoke didn’t like any of the mounts that he saw from the catalog. The prices were too high. However he was curious to see all of them face to face.
“You really have a war elephant? Is it here, in your stables?”
Billig the Gnome salesman fidgeted before he answered.
“Well, you see war elephants haven’t been very popular because of their price and all that. We have to order them before they are delivered here. It’ll take us maybe two weeks in order to get one. Would that be a satisfactory?”
“No, I need a mount today. I need to start practising as soon as possible.”
“Very well then, you can choose from the rest then. I am happy to inform you that we have everything in stock. Except for the war elephant and the paracamelus.”
“Everything in stock, huh? Alright, I’d like to see these mounts in person.”
“Certainly, sir. Please follow me.”
Billig took them to the stables. There, Smoke studied each animal carefully. He was curious to see if any of them would call to him and would move him to pay the overpriced amount.
The acinonyx cheetah looked majestic. Its body alone was easily over five feet in length. It looked like in good condition.
Smoke tried to touch it, but the acinonyx cheetah stayed the same. It didn’t respond to any of Smoke’s attempt to familiarize himself with it.
“I don’t think this mount is worth 10,000,000 zecs, and I think it’s too aloof for me. Can you show me the springbok gazelle next?”
“Of course, right this way. I think you’ll find the springbok gazelle to be most satisfactory. It’s our most popular mount.”
The springbok gazelle was smaller than the acinonyx cheetah. Its body length was only three feet. It also looked uncomfortable to ride on.
“This is your most sold mount?”
“Yes sir, it is.”
Billig smiled proudly.
“I’d like to move on to your dirus wolf.”
Laernea tried to examine the springbok gazelle herself.
“I think this is a pretty decent mount, Smo… Umm, sir Ilad. It’s no stag moose but it has decent speed, there is an issue with its endurance though.”
Smoke smirked at Laernea’s observations.
“You’ve already pointed out most of the reasons why I don’t want to buy it. Not to mention that I ride with my armor on.”
“Oh, right. You have that heavy armor as well. Well, Billig, show us your dire wolf then.”
Billig kept his salesman smile on. He showed them on to the next stable.
“This is one of our dirus wolves. You can get a 75% discount if you are a Cavalry Knight.”
“If it isn’t obvious from my flaming helmet? I am a Flame Knight.”
Smoke irritatingly moved his head from side to side. He examined the dirus wolf. It was a specimen in prime condition, but the price was still too high.
“Wait, I thought your springbok gazelle was your most sold mount? I’ve only noticed a couple of those around Coatl. Whereas I’ve seen hundreds of dirus wolves all throughout the city.”
“Well, the city provides a level 5 dirus wolf when a Swordsman becomes a Cavalry Knight.”
Smoke looked unimpressed. This place had no mount suited for him.
“Laernea, let’s go. I think I’ll have better chances at finding a mount in the wild.”
“Are you nuts? Do you know how long Gandiva and I had to hunt our stag moose? The Mounted Race is gonna start five days from now.”
Smoke looked at the lioness Lioumerean in an offended manner.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to sound so rude. It’s just that with the given time constraint, getting a mount in the wild is just unrealistic.”
Smoke smiled at Laernea.
“Don’t worry, I was just teasing you. I wasn’t offended, but I was serious about this place not having a mount for me though. Thank you for your time, Billig. I think I’ll come back and see one of your war elephants in the future.”
The Darkelf started to walk out of Bestrides Stables, followed by a troubled Lioumerean. Smoke heard the Gnome salesman grumble as they headed out for the exit.
As they got out of the famous mount establishment, a group of five Cavalry Knights on dirus wolves came towards them.
“Good day, sir Ilad.”
“Oh, sir Macher, nice to see you. I was just about to contact you after I’ve procured a mount.”
“You’ve decided to accept my proposal then?”
“Yes. I’d be happy to partner up with you. Can we discuss the specifics of this partnership?”
“I’d be happy to. Let me just tell these guys to head on out without me.”
Macher gave the rest of the Cavalry Knights some instructions and they headed out. He got off his dirus wolf and went to Smoke and shook his hand.
“I know this quiet cafe. It’s just a block from here.”
Smoke, Laernea, and Macher walked towards Knackig cafe. The Cavalry Knight had his dirus wolf in tow.
When they got to the cafe, Macher tied his dirus wolf to one of the posts outside of the cafe. Macher requested that they be seated near the window. He wanted to see his dirus wolf while they spoke.
All three of them were seated in a small circular table and were served with a cold frappuccino. Macher had ordered the drinks for them.
“These are on me. I’m really impressed with you, sir Ilad. Quite a bold move playing the cool and silent Flame Knight. How did you know that the people would respond well with that?”
“What? What are you talking about?”
Macher raised his eyebrow.
“You can drop the act. We are going to be partners right?”
“Act? What act?”
“You know, you not talking with the NPCs and players, because you’ve blatantly avoided the masses they only want you more.”
“Really? But no one comes near me anymore.”
“Exactly, because you made it look like you were too good for them. Now, they only want to admire you from a far. When you officially join the Mounted Race, I’m sure that you’ll be the number one bet on winning the race.”
“That’s really weird. Anyway, tell me about our partnership. You’ll pay for my registration fee and you’ll get 10,000,000 zecs if I win right? I don’t have to pay you anything if I don’t win.”
“Well, to be more specific I would get 30% of all your winnings. No matter what place you may finish at. Here, these are the prizes for the Mounted Race.”
Macher gave Smoke a scroll with the prizes of the said event.
|+ Mounted Race Prizes
1st Place: Gold trophy, 10,000,000 zecs, and a golden armored carriage.
“Even the trophies can fetch a high price if sold at the auction.”
Smoke nodded his head as he listened to the Cavalry Knight.
“I was about to join, but I couldn’t find a mount. The ones in Bestride Stables were too expensive. Only a madman would buy a mount from that place.”
Macher told him some more information about the race.
“Remember the race is for 5,000 kilometers. You will need to travel to four special villages that will be announced two days from now. These villages will most likely be scattered all over Coatl. The race usually involves circumnavigating the city. Last year’s race lasted for six days.”
“That long? I guess I’d really need a great mount. Then clearly I can’t use a springbok gazelle. I don’t think it could survive that distance.”
“Well, most merchants buy the springbok gazelle to pull their carts. Their discount ability drops the price to 1,250,000 zecs.”
“Their discount ability can drop the price that low! Incredible, I wish my discount ability would work every time.”
Macher pulled back his shoulder when he heard Smoke.
“You have a discount ability?”
“I mean, I wish I had that kind of discount ability.”
“Yeah, you and me both. That dirus wolf outside was the same one that I got when I first became a Cavalry Knight. I raised it up to level 80.”
Smoke nodded as he hid his amazement. He knew how difficult it must have been to raise a level 5 dirus wolf.
“If you want, I can purchase a dirus wolf for you. I think it’ll drop down to 2,000,000 zecs?”
The DarkElf thought that two million zecs was a fair price for a level 50 dirus wolf.
“I’ll think about it. I don’t have that much zecs to spare. Two million zecs is still a pretty high amount. I’ll get back to you tomorrow if I can’t find a mount on my own.”
“Fair enough, but be sure to register before 8pm tomorrow. That’s the time that the registration is closed. Anymore questions about our deal?”
“Yes, where’s the contract?”
Macher smiled and pulled out a contract from his backpack window. He gave it to Smoke to sign it. The DarkElf signed the name Ilad over the contract.
A notification window only visible to Smoke popped up.
|+ Alias Documented: Ilad is now bound as one of your aliases.
note: If you use an Alias that is already registered by another user then that user will get the benefits of the contract.
Smoke pretended not to see the alias window. He shook Macher’s hand and smiled.
“Pleasure doing business with you. Listen, Laernea and I have to get going. We still have a lot of things to prepare.”
“I’ll be waiting for you at the finish line double grand champion.”
Macher said his farewell as the DarkElf Flame Knight and the Lioumerean Pathfinder went out of the cafe, determined to find a mount.
* * * * * *
Smoke and Laernea were back in Madam Dawny’s farm. They tried the other stable houses from the other districts but all of them had similar prices.
Laernea gave Smoke some advice.
“I think you should take Macher on his offer. I know you don’t want to spend too much on yourself but think of it as an investment.”
“Let’s wait for Gandiva. She should arrive any minute now. When she gets here we’ll talk about finding my mount.”
A few minutes later the tigress Lioumerean arrived with the next batch of double bladed mantis swords for auction.
“Finally! What took you so long to get here? Did something come up in Nanahuatl?”
Gandiva stared on the ground and tried her best to avoid Smoke’s eyes. She had promised Sierra to keep their meeting a secret from Smoke.
“Well, everybody was so happy with your gifts that they wanted to party a bit. I didn’t notice the time and one drink led to another and…”
“Argh! Okay, okay I get it. You partied with the Nanahuatlanos. I don’t mind, at least you were honest with me.”
“Of course. Thanks for understanding.”
“Yeah, I bet if I sent Laernea instead of you she would’ve partied with them too.”
Laernea interjected Smoke’s statement.
“Hey, I resent that.”
This time it was Gandiva who asked Laernea.
“Really? You’re telling me that if the Nanahuatlanos asked you to party and would offer you a cold otromundo you would say no?”
Laernea became silent and answered in the end.
“Fine. I guess if I think about it, I would’ve said yes as well. I mean who could deny a cold otromundo.”
The Lioumereans laughed at each other. They both knew how much they loved drinking otromundo.
“Ahem, ahem ahem. If you don’t mind I’d like to talk about my mount. Laernea, you update Gandiva about our development on that end. I’ll go out and do some practice swings in the meantime. Come get me when you’re done.”
Smoke equipped his Gora Knight armor. He wanted to be comfortable fighting with the armor on. He also equipped his glaive Rzeka.
Igniz, the dark ember sprite, and Ental, the hell boar, were outside as well. The two of them were up to their usual game of chase.
The DarkElf tried to execute his own attack called Mountain Split, but the damage on the ground was smaller when he didn’t use Igniz’s energy.
“Igniz! Come here. I need you to help me practice with Rzeka and this armor.”
Igniz immediately stopped playing with Ental and flew towards Smoke. The dark ember sprite went inside his tri-horned helmet and melded his energy with Smoke.
Smoke’s armor was coated in the usual dark purple flame. When Ental saw the flaming armor she instinctively ran towards him.
Ental’s speed was much faster than when she played with Igniz. Smoke was alarmed when he saw the charging hell boar.
He turned away from the hell boar and ran as fast as he could. Ental lowered her head and body. She scooped Smoke up and had him ride her back.
Smoke couldn’t believe what happened. He was mounted on Ental. He thought that she was an old retired hell boar but she carried him well.
Ental started to pick up speed. She ran towards one of the four foot tall fences surrounding the farm. Smoke wanted her to turn but he didn’t know how.
The hell boar picked up even more speed and leapt over the fence. Smoke was astounded at what the old hell boar was capable of.
He used his Earth Manipulation ability and created an earth pillar far ahead. The pillar was eight feet thick. He wanted to see if Ental would follow his instructions.
“Alright, Ental, let’s pulverize that pillar.”
Ental grunted to indicate that she understood. She picked up, Smoke used both his hands and readied his glaive. The moment the pillar was in reach he swung his long glaive across it and and explosive slash erupted. The pillar was completely obliterated.
“Whoa. Ental, slow down girl. Let’s see the damage we’ve made.”
The hell boar slowed down and turned around. She trotted slowly to where the pillar was erected. All that was left in its place were small pieces of rocks.
“Amazing! I thought you hated me girl. Good job, good job.”
Smoke scratched Ental behind her ears. The hell boar grunted in response. Smoke smiled as it looked like he found his mount.
“A free mount is the best the kind of mount.”
They went back to the farm. He still had to ask for Ental’s owner to let him use the hell boar in the Mounted Race.
The ride back was as pleasant as Smoke could imagine. When they got back on the farm he saw Madam Dawny standing on her front porch.
Smoke dismounted Ental and unequipped his Knight armor. He went to the owner of the farm and the hell boar to ask for her consent.
“Umm… I don’t really know what happened. Ental forced me to mount her. I know it sounds weird but believe me that’s what happened.”
“I believe you.”
Madam Dawny’s short answer left Smoke in a puzzled state. He wasn’t sure if she was okay with him riding her hell boar.
“Right. So, about the Mounted Race event, I was wondering if it’s alright with you… I’d like to borrow Ental for the event?”
Madam Dawny looked at her hell boar.
“Ental is old, but it looks like she wants to go on another adventure. Who am I to stop a friend from having fun? It’s okay. You have my permission to use Ental.”
Smoke was ecstatic. He finally had a mount. He thought that he should inspect Ental’s stats now that he could officially use her.
| * Ental
Special Ability: Inferno Tusks – Sets her tusks on fire.
Smoke plotted his schedule in the next few days. He would register himself and Ental tomorrow. He trained with the hell boar in the day and had Caid teach him at night. He followed the same routine until the day of the mounted race.
* * * * * *
The following day he went to register for the Mounted Race. He also asked Laernea and Gandiva to join the race. He would pay for their registration fees.
Gandiva couldn’t understand why it was okay for Smoke to pay for their fees, when he signed a contract with Macher to waive his.
Smoke told the tigress Lioumerean his way of thinking.
“It would’ve been a waste of money if I payed for myself. Whereas it is an investment when I pay for you two.”
To him 160,000 zecs was a logical gamble. He was confident that the Lioumereans could bring home 1st and 2nd place.
After they were done with the registration, Smoke went to another establishment. He left the two Lioumereans behind. He said that he would return quickly.
Ten minutes passed and their DarkElf leader returned. He was about to tell them to head on to the farm when he got a call from Sierra.
“Hi, Sierra. What’s up?”
“I have something important to tell you. I need you to shut up, and listen to me well.”
Smoke was stunned by Sierra’s voice. He decided to keep his mouth shut.
“There has been a major complication on our end. The labyrinth’s exit is still undiscovered and… Well, we’ve accidentally incurred the wrath of the Brandals.”
“The Brandals! Everyone in Coatl knows to stay away from them. Weren’t you suppose to stay hidden?”
“I’ve never been to Coatl! Smoke, please listen to me until I’ve finished what I have to say.”
Sierra told Smoke everything that happened to her and his private army. Everything except for Jinggu and Sharur’s close encounter with death.
“What’s done is done. We also have around 500 refugees with us. They need a new home. Their villages were ransacked and destroyed by the Brandals. I was having second thoughts of sending them over to Coatl. I don’t think that the city would take them in. I need your help. What should we do? Should we abandon searching for the labyrinth’s exit? Should we fight the Brandals?”
Smoke remained silent. It was too much for him to handle right away.
“You guys need to stay put and well hidden. I’ll think of something fast. I’ll contact you in a few hours from now. But for now just stay out of the Brandal’s radar.”
The DarkElf ended the call. He didn’t know what else to say. He racked his brain for an answer. He discussed it over with the Lioumereans and they were also stumped.
Smoke looked for a quiet place to think. He needed to talk to someone. He decided to call the wisest person he knew. He called Darius.
“Open Contacts Window.”
The game system opened a connection between Smoke and Darius.
“Hi, Sierra and everyone else are in trouble. I need your help.”
The DarkElf wanted to solve these kind of problems on his own. However, this situation needed a quick and efficient resolution. Darius knew that Smoke didn’t want his help. He knew that it was difficult for him to even ask.
“Okay, let’s calm down and think about this objectively. List all the resources available to you and list all the things that you need to resolve. We’ll start from there.”
Darius didn’t give Smoke any clear answers. Instead he offered critical discussions on the possible solutions that Smoke came up with.
He also told Darius about his first time meeting another Beggar.
“Have you heard of a Beggar named Caid? He’s a very interesting character. He’s stricter than you and insists on using honorifics.”
“Little Caid? I knew his father Eldion. He was the previous owner of Noir Emporium. So he has inherited his father’s Beggar status? His father was also strict. I guess that must be his father’s melded part.”
Smoke and the famous Beggar Legati spoke for the next two hours. It was the longest time that he been on a call in Zectas or in real life.
After his insightful talk with Darius, Smoke called Sierra back.
“Sierra, I know what to do…”
Smoke gave Sierra detailed instructions on what to do next.
* * * * * *
At last, the day of the Mounted Race arrived. Almost all the players and NPCs of Coatl were gathered at the starting point of the race.
Long wooden bleachers were built on each side of the road where the racers would start. The Mayor had a special platform made for him and his special guests.
Smoke, in his flaming Knight armor, was mounted on Ental the hell boar. Laernea wore a heavy leather armor and rode on top of her stag moose Bilis. Gandiva wore a similar attire and rode on top of Tulin.
All three of them were ready to face the race. Macher came out from the crowd and went to talk to Smoke.
“This looks like a fine hell boar. A little old but its scars are a great sign of its power. Good luck, Ilad. Remember anything can happen in this race. I hope your two Lioumerean friends are enough of a backup to help you reach the finish line.”
“Don’t worry about us. These two are very good at what they do. I trust them completely, and as for Ental here, we’ve bonded really well these last few days.”
“Alright then, break a leg, you three.”
Macher went back to the bleachers and joined the rest of the crowd, who also waited in anticipation for the race to start.
Aside from training with Ental, Smoke had also acquired knowledge on the different types of mountable creatures in Zectas. He was able to read the book series called ‘Mounts and Their Ups and Downs’, up to volume three. The series had seven volumes altogether.
The DarkElf looked around at the other participants. He noticed a couple of intimidating individuals. There was a male Druid who rode a wind scorpion.
The wind scorpion’s whole length with tail and stinger included was at fifteen feet. Its special claws enabled the wind scorpion to travel long distances as it slightly hovered above the ground. It has the ability to hover over long distances but is still classified as a ground type mount.
Next, Smoke noticed a group of six Hydro Knights mounted on andalusian horses. Smoke had read that those monsters were very elusive. Their average price was around 30,000,000 zecs, as much as a war elephant.
Finally, He spotted four Insect Warriors who rode on massive tiger beetles. They were as large as a normal tiger in the real world but were beetles with orange and black stripes.
Smoke tried to look for some more potential threats but a loud noise blasted over the speakers.
The announcer’s voice was heard over the boisterous masses.
“My Lord Duke Burmistrz, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present to you the 1,359 participants of this year’s Mounted Race! Our steadfast racers will circumnavigate around our great city. They will start their journey to the northern village of Utara. Where they will then cross the bridge of Leiden and stop in the western village of Barat.”
After taking a deep breath, the announcer finished the known route of the great race.
“From there, they will cross the desert of Wundern and stop in the southern village of Selatan. Finally they will traverse through the thickest forest fragment of Otaczac, and they will cross the finish line in the eastern village of Timur. Now, let’s hear a few words from our esteemed mayor.”
“Thank you, Ansager. It’s time to start our second of the three special events Coatl offers. Good luck, participants, and may the great god Tlaltezin protect you all. Oh, before I forget, I hope none of you will break the two rules of this race. Committing such a crime will be treated as a capital offense.”
Duke Burmistrz stepped down from the podium and sat down. The announcer took the microphone once more.
“Thank you, Duke Burmistrz. Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado…”
The announcer fell silent and gave a dramatic pause.
“LET THE MOUNTED RACE BEGIN!”
All the participants scrambled and rode their mounts at full speed. They were told to give the audience a great start.
Smoke and the Lioumereans were near the frontrunners. The last group of racers were composed of twenty nine Cavalry Knights on top of their dirus wolves… and a lone acinonyx cheetah whose rider was a Stealth Knight named Sagen.