Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 02 – Chapter 06

Proofreader: Vaanouney

Note: For easy character reference please refer to: Characters

Mounted Race.

A vast cloud of dust exited from the northern main gates of Coatl. More than a thousand racers pushed their mounts near their top speed.

Right from the start the racers were divided into three groups. The front runners, the main pack, and the stragglers.

Mounts with speeds that reached beyond 170 were the ones who composed the front runners. While the main pack mostly comprised of dirus wolves, as 78% of the participants were Cavalry Knights. Finally, the bulk of the stragglers’ mounts were made up of monsters who were built for endurance.

Their first checkpoint was the northern village of Utara. They had to travel 625 kilometers of wide plains, forest fragments, and treacherous swamps before they could reach there.

The Mounted Race was tagged as an individual event, but it was clear that members of the same guild joined in, and planned to work together.

Smoke, Gandiva, and Laernea rode carefully to be placed in the middle of the front runners. Smoke needed them to be there to start his plan.

Days before the Mounted Race, Smoke, Gandiva, and Laernea trained to speak comfortably while on top of their running steeds.

In a loud voice the DarkElf spoke to his Lioumerean companions.

“Running on these plains sure is a breeze. I wish we could travel on this kind of terrain throughout the whole race.”

Gandiva answered Smoke in an equally loud voice.

“You and me both, Sir Ilad!”

When the other racers heard Ilad’s name, they tilted their heads to get a visual confirmation. The moment they saw Smoke’s flaming armor and flaming hell boar, they knew that it really was the estranged winner of the Swordsman to Knight Tournament.

All three of them took notice of their gained attention. Laernea joined in on their rehearsed dialog.

“I think that the most problematic part in this first leg of the race would be Parjure swamp.”

“I know exactly what you mean. As a Flame Knight, my abilities are greatly reduced because of the swamp’s environment. Not to mention that my hell boar will have a hard time running through the marshes.”

In a booming voice, Gandiva asked.

“Do you think there’s a way for us to bypass that part?”

Smoke answered as clearly as he could.

“Of course, but now is not the time or place to have this discussion…”

The intended listeners’ curiosity were piqued. Some of the riders rode closer to them in hope that they would start to have another conversation.

For the next thirty minutes, Smoke and the Lioumereans kept on with their pace. However, this time they were slowly moving towards the right side, in the outer regions of the front runners.

When they had arrived at their intended location. The three of them restarted their practiced dialog. After they were done, they waited another thirty minutes to move to the last racers in the front runners group.

The three of them repeated the whole charade on the left side as well. They had just delivered their last performance when an enormous forest fragment of Otaczac came into view.

It had been two hours since the race started. The first one to reach the boundary of the forest was a Druid on top of his wind scorpion. He stopped on his tracks as there was no visible entrance into the forest fragment.

Slowly the racers started to gather in front of the forest fragment. Some of them went to the right while others to the left. All of them tried to find a gap between the trees big enough for their mounts to fit in.

It took another three minutes before Smoke, Gandiva, and Laernea reached the other racers. Straightaway, Smoke opened his map and checked for his location.

Smoke’s map had been updated by Caid’s gathered intelligence on Coatl’s regions. It had locations on abandoned roads, safe resting places, and other useful information.

After he got himself oriented, Smoke moved two hundred meters to the left. From there he brought out his Rzeka glaive.

The DarkElf fused his energy with Igniz’s to create a dark purple flaming glaive. Together with his hell boar, Smoke dashed into the impassable forest fragment.

Smoked used both his hands and stretched his glaive as far back as he could. With four multiple slashes, Smoke opened a path into the forest.

Before the dust had a chance to settle, Laernea and Gandiva quickly followed their leader into the Otaczac forest fragment. The other racers closest to the scene took advantage of Smoke’s created path.

The racers inside saw remnants of an old brick road with a width of two meters, and the faded backs of their three competitors. Forthwith, the other racers gave chase.

With Smoke’s created passage into the forest being the only visible path, a bottleneck had been created at the mouth of the entrance.

Other Flame Knights tried to imitate what they witnessed. However, as they hacked through the forest, they were only met with thicker and closer tree formations.

Smoke, Laernea, and Gandiva led the way. The blood pheasants, pine martens, and strigidae owls all steered clear from the racers.

The loud thunderous sound that the racers made as they galloped through the forest had intimidated them.

Gandiva and Laernea stayed behind to hunt the swarm of blood pheasants that gathered in the area while Smoke rode on ahead.

The bottleneck helped the participants from the main pack to catch up with the front runners. The racers traveled on the narrow forgotten road for another hour before they got out of the forest fragment.

Up ahead was the treacherous swamp with a different set of forest fragments on each side. However, it was clear from the map that going through the swamp was the fastest route.

Five hours had passed since the start of the race and the traveled distance had taken its toll on Ental. Smoke decided to take a short break in front of the swamp.


– Entered the swamp of Parjure
      – Monsters inside this swamp are highly aggressive.
      – Suggested level for entering this swamp is 100.

            
As he finished his preparations with the campfire. Laernea and Gandiva arrived with fifty blood pheasants each. They dismounted and started to remove the feathers from the blood pheasants.

When the other racers caught up with them, they were puzzled to see Smoke and his companions busy cooking a meal.

The racers disregarded Smoke and the Lioumereans, and focused on the swamp instead.

The mouth of the swamp was 500 meters wide and its end could not be seen, but the map indicated that its total length was 20 kilometers. There were more forest fragments on both sides of the swamp.

Its murky dark green waters camouflaged the unknown monsters living inside the swamp. There were poison-dart frogs with the length of three feet on top of giant lily pads scattered all throughout the swamp. They had a majority of black skin with scattered pigmentation of bright yellow.

There were also permiana dragonflies flying around the swamp. These winged monsters had a body length of five feet from head to tail and a wingspan of over eight feet. These monsters would occasionally dive down and grab one of the poison-dart frogs.

The racers in front of the swamp started to swat their own bodies with their hands. A scourge of mosquitoes appeared and feasted on their warm blood.

As Laernea and Gandiva were coating their blood pheasants with spices, Smoke added some sage and rosemary into the burning fire. This served as their natural mosquito repellent.

A party that belonged to a guild called Infime, decided to push through the swamp. They were composed of ten Rangers and fourteen Insect Warriors. While the rest of the racers stood in place, and thought to watch their progress instead.

The Insect Warriors were an advance variation of the Warrior job that specialized in defense. Their heavy armors were made out of giant insect carapace, and they used long stingers for their spears. There mounts were the massive tiger beetles.

The twenty-four racers tried to go directly in a straight line, but found that it got deeper as they went towards the center of the swamp.

The members of Infime withdrew, and started to travel near the shallow shore lines on the left. There were some visible movements in the swamp, but the boggy water made it impossible to distinguish what caused it.

They proceeded with extreme caution. The Insect Warriors formed a circular barricade around the Rangers. A hundred meters into the swamp, and a giant alligator snapping turtle came out of nowhere and chomped at the nearest Insect Warrior.

The monster’s surprise attacked snatched the Insect Warrior’s tiger beetle. The rider managed to jump off moments before the giant alligator snapping turtle swallowed his mount whole.

The Insect Warrior may have survived, but according to the rules, he had been officially eliminated from the Mounted Race. He was forced to hitch a ride with one of his guild mates.

The members of the Infime guild pushed on. Another fifty meters further into the swamp, and a different black giant snapping turtle came out.

However, this time they were prepared. The Insect Warriors used their stingers to attack the exposed neck of the giant alligator snapping turtle.

In a synchronous movement, the ten Rangers fired their arrows and targeted the snapping turtle’s head. It took them thirty seconds to kill the monster with a life of 70,000 HP.

When the giant alligator snapping turtle died, a poison-dart frog attacked one of Rangers with its tongue. It croaked loudly, and five more poison-dart frogs shortly came out to attack them.

The Insect Warriors divided themselves equally against one poison-dart frog. The Infime guild members swiftly killed the poison-dart frogs with a life of 30,000 HP, but not without their members being poisoned.

Their half submerged mounts were restless. It was clear that it was very difficult to fight with such unfavorable conditions, but it was still manageable.

Other racing parties which had more than twenty members followed suit. One group followed directly behind the Infime guild while others used the opposite shallow shore lines on the right.

The racing parties with less than ten members stayed behind. They knew they couldn’t survive against Parjure swamp with their numbers.

They gathered around Smoke’s party to see what one of the smallest racing parties would do. The other racers clearly noticed how calm they were.

Smoke gave small bits of grilled blood pheasant to Ental, he massaged his hell boar’s leg muscles which made her grunt with happiness, and the Lioumereans fed their stag moose with a handful of specially mixed hay.

After they were well rested. They packed up their belongings and headed to the forest fragment on the right side of Parjure swamp.

Smoke was about to create an opening to the blocked road when two other Flame Knights were already there hacking away the thick trees.

The real Flame Knights belonged to the guild called Confiance. They had giant fire axes, and they were lit with ruby red flames. When the hidden road was revealed the rest of his fellow guild members immediately followed him into the woods.

Their party was composed of two Flame Knights, two Electro Knights, one Aqua Knight, and three Shamans. All of them had bronze jackals for their mounts. These monsters were smaller than the dirus wolves but were also faster.

Smoke and the Lioumereans were the second group to use the old brick road. They were able to bypass the imminent bottleneck of racers in the newly created path.

This forgotten road in the forest fragment had a distance of 80 kilometers. It was more than twice the length of Parjure swamp. It was further, but offered a much safer route.

Twenty minutes passed, and the front runners on the forgotten road enjoyed an uneventful ride, when suddenly twenty black ctenosaurs leapt at them from the sides.

The Confiance guild members followed their standard formation against surprise attacks. They had their healers behind them while the five Elemental Knights protected them from the front.

Each Elemental Knight had to face four Brandal bandits at the same time. If it weren’t for their Shaman’s healing powers they would have been already killed against the multiple slashes inflicted against them.

Both of the Flame Knights could only manage to inflict some splash damage against their eight attackers with their great fire axes.

However, the two Electro Knights’ approach was different. They focused their electrically charged lances on one attacker and endured the damage against the other three bandits.

The Aqua Knight didn’t try to attack the four Brandals she was up against. She made sure to protect their three Shamans at all times.

Two minutes passed and two of the bandits were about to die. The leader of this black ctenosaur raiders threw his knives at the Electro Knights.

Unlike the damage from the ordinary bandits, the damage from the knives were high enough to force the Electro Knights to defend against them.

The two bandits who had less than 10% left on their lifebars moved back behind their formation. They rode towards safety while they applied healing salves on their bodies.

Before the two bandits had a chance to fully recover their lives, Smoke created a tall earth ramp, and together with Ental, they leapt over the Confiance guild’s defensive formation.

The DarkElf used his flaming Rzeka, and cleaved the two dying Brandals with a back attack from his glaive. The Brandal leader switched targets, and was about to attack Smoke with his whip, when he received multiple arrow attacks from Laernea and Gandiva.

Five minutes later, the other racers who followed them into the forest fragment caught up with them and saw the fight. They drew out their weapons and attacked the Brandal raiders.

This time it was the Brandals who were outnumbered three to one. The Brandal leader saw that the situation was hopeless, and ordered his men to retreat.

Despite the Brandals mad efforts to escape, their exit paths were blocked by the other racers. Everyone knew about the notorious Brandals, and their heinous acts against the villages outside of Coatl.

Everyone was united in the thought of cleansing them from the face of Zectas. The Brandal leader tried to force his way through. He fought against the two Assassins on top of metallic zebras who blocked his path.

He was able to dismount one of the Assassins and was about to do the same to the other, when Smoke arrived and severed the front legs of his black ctenosaur.

The Brandal leader jumped off of his dismembered mount. All the while, Gandiva and Laernea’s poisoned arrows never ceased their attacks on the bandit primo. His lifebar displayed (127,786/185,000 HP).

On foot, the Brandal leader had better mobility. He tried to flee into the thick tree formations, but both his feet were stuck on the ground.

Smoke used his ‘Earth Manipulation’ ability to capture the Brandal leader. The flames from Igniz’s infused energy grew hotter.

Flashes of Brandals hurting Sierra and the rest of his private army entered Smoke’s mind. He raised his Rzeka with both his hands over his right shoulder and charged at the trapped bandit.

The enraged DarkElf aimed his four attacks at the bandits right shoulder.

+ Attack hit Brandal Leader: Brusco. +FIRE DMG. CRITICAL HIT. Damage 9,011.
+ Attack hit Brandal Leader: Brusco. +FIRE DMG. CRITICAL HIT. Damage 8,998.
+ Attack hit Brandal Leader: Brusco. +FIRE DMG. CRITICAL HIT. Damage 9,029.
+ Attack hit Brandal Leader: Brusco. +FIRE DMG. CRITICAL HIT. Damage 9,032.

Followed by his Quadruple Mountain Strike, Smoke amputated the Brandal leader’s right arm.

+ Severed: Brusco’s arm. +MAIM DAMAGE. +FIRE DMG. CRITICAL HIT. DMG 14,064.

The Brandal leader’s lifebar was now at (77,652/185,000 HP). He desperately tried to reason with Smoke.

“Wait, stop! I’m one of the riches raid leaders in all of the Brandals. I can give you more than 10,000,000 zecs. If you’ll only let me go. I won’t even come looking for you…”

Smoke repeated the same attack on the bandit’s left arm, and severed it as well. The Brandal’s lifebar now displayed (23,652/185,000 HP).

Next, Smoke targeted the bandit’s legs and removed them from his body. The Brandal writhed in pain. He kept on shouting cursed words at Smoke. He was left with (5,350/185,000 HP).

The DarkElf rode over to the mutilated body of the Brandal leader.

“No one messes with me and my private army!”

“What? I don’t even know you…”

Smoke swung his Rzeka glaive and decapitated the Brandal leader’s head.

+ You’ve dealt a fatal blow to the Brandal Leader: Brusco.
+ You’ve killed the Brandal Leader: Brusco.
+ You’ve gained 300,000 exp.
+ You’ve gained a level.

His anger wasn’t satiated by the death of the Brandal’s raiding leader. He tried to fight the other remaining Brandals, but Gandiva and Laernea quickly stepped in, and blocked their leader’s path.

“Please calm down. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but you’ve been using your Earth Manipulation ability rather haphazardly. Gandiva and I have been blocking the view of the other racers, but if you join in on their fights they might see you use it.”

Gandiva joined in to help Smoke regain his senses.

“You’re really out of it, to the point that you even forgot to pick up the Brandal leader’s item.”

Smoke took a deep breath. He had another one of his rage outbursts. He couldn’t believe that in his maddened state he even forgot such an important act, to gather the Brandal leader’s loot.

+ Acquired rare bull whip: Brandal leader’s Sting.

“Inspect bull whip.”


Brandal leader’s Sting (whip)

  A rare black whip said to be the symbol dominance over the average Brandal bandit.
  Restricted to any variations of the Thief job.

  Damage: 20-30

  Equipment Ability:
    *Hold (Active)
      + can temporarily hold any monster with a medium type body size.
      + duration depends on the difference in Strength between the user and target.

            

“Thanks, you two. If you weren’t here I think I would’ve really blown my cover as Ilad the Flame Knight. Alright, let’s head out first. While the rest of the racers deal with the remaining Brandals.”

Smoke, Gandiva, and Laernea did not run directly to the first village. Instead they spent the next twenty minutes hunting blood pheasants, just enough time for the other racers to catch up with them.

The three of them joined together with the rest of the mounted racers headed for the northern village of Utara.

* * * * * * 

It took Smoke, Gandiva, and Laernea nine hours, but they finally reached their first pit stop, Utara village. It was a thriving agricultural village.

There were fifty stationed Cavalry Knights in the area. They were sent here to protect the citizens who were mostly made up of farmers.

Smoke noticed that the parties that went through Parjure swamp had already settled in the village. They were either treating their injured or were busy preparing their meals.

The DarkElf and the Lioumereans had their Race Sigils verified, it was the process that assured the participants passed through the correct checkpoint.

There were a total of 752 mounted racers gathered in Utara village. Only the racers from the straggler group were missing.

Smoke ordered the Lioumereans to start with their needed preparations for the next phase of his plan. Smoke searched for the Elemental Knights that opened the path to the forgotten road.

The DarkElf ordered Gandiva and Laernea to set up a camp besides the Confiance guild members. They prepared a campfire to cook with and started to grill the blood pheasants that they hunted earlier.

Smoke didn’t want to associate with any other players, but the situation with Sierra and his private army was extremely perilous. He needed to reduce the Brandals’ manpower ASAP.

The DarkElf faced his fear of potentially being betrayed. He would sacrifice anything in order to protect Sierra and his private army. He thought that this approach was the best way to protect him from potential treachery.

The Confiance guild members only ate stale bread. The aromatic smell of the grilled blood pheasants drove their starved leader to partial insanity.

Their leader was the female Aqua Knight that protected the Shamans against the Brandals. She went towards Smoke and spoke with him.

“Hello, my name is Mamelon. I’m the representative of the Elemental Knights and Shamans that you see there.”

Mamelon pointed at her companions.

“Hi, my name is Ilad. I’m the leader of our small group of three friends.”

“I’d like to thank you for coming to our rescue earlier. If you hadn’t jumped in we would’ve been dead.”

“What are you talking about? The other racers were only a few seconds behind us. You should thank them, not us.”

“Well, it was your flaming armor that I noticed. My men and I were curious how you get a dark purple flame when most Flame Knights only have ruby red flames?”

Smoke clearly noticed that Mamelon tried to make some pleasant conversation before she would tell him the real reason why she was there.

“I really don’t know myself. When I activated my flames they were just naturally that color. Oh, right we’ve cooked some extra grilled blood pheasants. Perhaps you and your guild mates would want some?”

“I wouldn’t want to impose, but since you insists I’ll tell them to come over.”

Mamelon went back to her group and all of them followed her to Smoke’s campsite. She introduced her party members.

“These two Flame Knights are Tirer, and Virer. The two Electro Knights are Flux and Courant. Our Shamans are these three beautiful ladies. Aida, Sauve, and Crisa.”

This time it was Smoke’s turn to introduce their names.

“Hi, my name is Ilad, the tigress Lioumerean is Gandiva, and the lioness Lioumerean is Laernea.”

The Electro Knight named Flux shouted his astonishment when he heard Smoke’s name.

“Ilad? So it really is you. I saw your fight in the Swordsman to Knight championship and the way you handled your matches were amazing. It’s really an honor to meet you.”

Flux shook Smoke’s hand enthusiastically.

“Umm… Nice meeting you too. Well, the food is ready so why don’t we grab some grub?”

The two groups had a pleasant meal together. They talked about their experiences and expectations in the race. After they finished their meal, Smoke asked the members of Confiance to spare him a few minutes.

“As you probably witnessed earlier. In order for us to survive through this race I propose that we sign a ‘Non Aggression Pact’. I had this auto-notarized in Coatl. With our two small groups together we have a bigger chance at finishing this race. What do you guys think?”

Mamelon looked interested with the idea, and she wanted to clarify the details of Smoke’s proposal.

“What exactly are the rules of this proposed Non Aggression Pact of yours?”

“The basic stuff really. You can’t harm in any way or form the members of the pact. We will aid each other until the southern village of Selatan. The support may only stop until Selatan, but the rule that we can’t harm each other will last for the whole duration of the race. So, are you in?”

“I think it sounds like a good idea. Can I have Crisa read through the Non Aggression Pact before we decide whether to sign it or not.”

“Sure, no problem at all. Please feel free to ask if you have any concerns.”

Smoke handed the NAP document to Crisa. She read the document for five minutes and gave it back to Mamelon.


+Mounted Race Non Aggression Pact

  ———-
  Rules:
  ———-
  * Members cannot harm each other or their mounts or impede in another racer’s ability to race.
  * Members must cooperate with any adversities that may occur before Selatan village.
  * Members will equally share all the loot before Selatan village.
  * Rare items and beyond that are picked up before Selatan village will automatically be put into auction and the proceed will be divided equally.
    ——————–
    Players Only:
    ——————–
    * In the event of death, the member will still receive the equal share
      of the total loot gathered before Selatan village.
  —————-
  Penalties:
  —————
  * Receives a Player alignment of Chaotic Evil.
  * Automatic Deduction of 1,000,000 zecs.
    – In the event the offending member doesn’t have the exact amount.
      A negative deficit will be reflected on his financial status.
    – The accumulated amount will be automatically divided equally among the non offending members.

            
Smoke was confident of his drafted Non Aggression Pact. The 1,000,000 zecs appeared expensive, but it was the ‘Chaotic Evil’ alignment that sealed the deal of the agreement.

‘Chaotic Evil’ was the alignment given to killers. People with this alignment were not welcomed anywhere. Removal of this alignment meant, you had to go to one of temples of the great gods and payed to be cleansed. The fee was 10,000,000 zecs or 90% of your total net-worth, whichever was higher.

Crisa scrutinized the Non Aggression Pact, and informed her Aqua Knight leader that there were no anomalies in the document. The leader of the Confiance guild members signed the Non Aggression Pact. One by one the rest of her members signed the document as well.

Smoke smiled as Mamelon handed back the document to him.

“I’d also like to inform you that there is a synchronized copy of this document in Coatl. Even if we do lose this document, we will still be protected and claim what is agreed upon.”

Mamelon and the rest of her party were about to leave when Smoke stopped her.

“Before you leave, I’d like to ask that we share this Non Aggression Pact with other parties that are in a similar situation like us. Preferably members with below seven members perhaps?”

“I guess it does make sense if we have more members. Alright, we’ll try to look for other potential recruits. I’ll contact you when we get them.”

Both parties bade their farewells. Smoke, Gandiva, and Laernea started to talk to parties with less than five members.

While Smoke went out and invited the other racers, he also sold the junk items that they looted and replenished their needed supplies.

On the other hand, Gandiva and Laernea were left to prepare more than a hundred grilled blood pheasants for the incoming guests.

Within the period of two hours, Smoke and the Confiance members gathered thirteen parties which had three to seven members each. A total of sixty four potential members.

Smoke fed them with the grilled blood pheasants, and proceeded to give out the same explanation to the other racers.

They knew about Ilad and some of the mounted racers heard about the Confiance guild. They were a famous guild from the northernmost city of Chayotl Kingdom(Western Kingdom), Centza city.

All the gathered racers thought that the pact made complete sense. They agreed with the Non Aggression Pact and signed the document. All in all, they had seventy five affiliates.

Their allies were composed of a variety of jobs. They had Elemental Knights, Cavalry Knights, Paladins, Crusaders, Druids, Shamans, Rangers, Pathfinders, and a Beggar.

The groups separated when everybody signed the document. Smoke started their private discussion when everyone left their campsite.

The DarkElf laid out a detailed 3D map of the racecourse.

“Remember Caid told us that the Brandals have a total manpower of around 1,000. They’re currently scattered in groups of 80-200 bandits. But, they’ve started to converge. I think they might head for Sierra and the others soon. These are the known locations of their smaller encampments.”

Smoke pointed to the eight known locations and the points on the map were highlighted.

“We’ll have to make the members of our Pact pass through these points. We were lucky that we only encountered twenty Brandals on the way here. Also, our current numbers aren’t enough if we face a converged group of Brandals. Let’s try to increase in the next village.”

Gandiva gave her opinion on how to achieve this.

“I think we could show them the clear benefits in joining our NAP when we cross Leiden bridge.”

Laernea was about to say something when a group of Cavalry Knights arrived in Utara.

Twenty nine Cavalry Knights who belonged to the guild called Feras arrived. Along with their guild leader, a Stealth Knight called Sagen.

The Feras guild members belonged to the stragglers group who had finally arrived in Utara village. All the remaining participants went to the racing official and had their Mounted Race cards updated.

From 1,359 participants there were only 1,045 left in the competition. The straggler group of the racers had taken the most losses.

Sagen looked around the village. It was clear that he was desperately searching for something or someone. When he spotted Smoke he ordered his men to join him towards the DarkElf.

The thirty mounted racers made such a commotion that all the other racers’ attention was on them.

Sagen and his men were still on top of their mounts. All thirty men formed a semicircle in front of Smoke, Gandiva, and Laernea.

“Hello, Sir Ilad. It’s a pleasure to see you managed to reach the first pit stop. Otherwise, it would have been such a shame.”

“I’m sorry. Have we met before? Your face looks familiar but I can’t quite place it. Oh, right you were the twerp that groveled in the finals of the Swordsman to Knight Tournament.”

Sagen and the Cavalry Knights all drew their weapons.

“You’re pretty brave. I’d like to see just how brave you are.”

Smoke looked up and stared into Sagen’s eyes.

“Do it. I’m ready for you anytime anywhere.”

Before Sagen could answer Smoke, the members of their Non Aggression Pact gathered behind the DarkElf and the Lioumereans.

They also had their weapons drawn out, ready to face all thirty members of Feras.

“Well, what it’ll be, Sagen?”

Sagen sheathed his sword and ordered his men to follow him.

“Looks like you’ve made some friends in the past few hours. Good luck on Leiden bridge. I hear it’s a tricky bridge to cross.”

All thirty members of the Feras guild left, and went to the opposite part of the village. Smoke’s hand trembled with anger. Gandiva and Laernea patted his back to try to calm him down.

* * * * * * 

The front runners had more time to rest because they arrived first. They left while the main pack and the stragglers were still recuperating.

Leiden bridge crossed one of the widest portions of the great Murray river. The bridge crossed over a length of 8 kilometers.

There were 162 kilometers of flat lands from Utara village to the obstacle that blocked Leiden bridge. Before the bridge there was a volcano called Mt. Entrave.

There were three routes to bypass the obstacle. First was a 30 kilometer hike up Mt. Entrave, second was a 70 kilometer bushwalking trip through the forest below, and third was a straightforward 120 kilometer run around the forest, and the volcano.

There were fifteen parties including Smoke’s in the Non Aggression Pact. Before they left Utara village, the party leaders held a meeting to choose which route to take. Five voted to stick to the plains, seven voted to pass through the woods, and three voted to climb through the mountain.

All of the party leaders voiced out their opinions. However, Smoke needed to convince them to choose Mt. Entrave because there was a Brandal base up on that Volcano.

“I can understand all of your reasons why you’ve chosen the safer paths, but didn’t we join this coalition in order to compete with the larger parties? Mt. Entrave is just a dormant volcano. Sure, it maybe the most dangerous of all the three routes, but the shortcut is worth the risk.”

Smoke made a dramatic pause, and looked at all the party leaders.

“Do you guys remember the Infime guild? They arrived in Utara first and left the village first. True, two of their men were eliminated from the race when they chose to cross the swamp, but we have to utilize this Non Aggression Pact to its fullest potential.”

There were more follow up questions after Smoke’s winded speech, but in the end he was able to convince the other party leaders to choose Mt. Entrave.

All 75 members were gathered on the foot of the volcano. They managed to see the Infime guild enter the forest.

Mamelon rode close with Smoke and commended his decision.

“Good work, Ilad. Looks like your choice to pass through the volcano will put us in front of the guys from Infime. I just hope that none of our members will be lost on top of Mt. Entrave.”

“Thanks! If we stick to the plan and watch each other’s backs, I think we’ll be just fine.”

All of the members took a quick twenty minute break. They rested their mounts while Smoke fed them some medicinal deer stew. When they were in their peak conditions, all of them rode their mounts to climb the volcano.

Smoke led the way as he had become the unofficial leader of the NAP members. Thirty minutes into their climb they spotted a Brandal encampment.

The DarkElf acted surprised and told everyone to find cover. He consulted with the other party leaders and asked them what to do next.

Smoke didn’t want to give away that he wanted to attack the Brandals and gave his fake proposal first.

“I’m really sorry about this. I think we should head back and use the forest route instead.”

One of the party leaders who originally chose to use the forest path quickly agreed with the DarkElf.

Mamelon on the other hand objected Smoke’s proposal.

“You’re not scared are you, Ilad? What happened to your speech about utilizing this coalition. I think we should take them head on. Besides I’ve always wanted to get rid of all those Brandal bastards.”

Smoke quickly supported the Aqua Knight’s interjection.

“You’re absolutely right. What was I thinking. If we turned back, there’s a high chance that they would spot us and come after us anyway. We were able to deal with the Brandals from before, I’m sure we’ll be able to deal with these guys as well.”

The party leaders had a quick meeting on how to attack the Brandal base. Among the members of the coalition there was the lone Druid with the wind scorpion mount. He did not belong to any party as he joined the Mounted Race by himself.

“Hello, I am called Soutien. I’ve heard that all of you have decided to attack the Brandals. I’d like to offer my services. With one of my Druid abilities I can sense how many bandits there are inside that base.”

Smoke’s ‘Cunning of the Dire Fox’ had increased to the point that he could accurately sense the 128 bandits inside the base, but he thought that it would be wiser to conceal this to the members of the coalition.

“That’s great news. We were troubled about that question as well. Please tell us how many Brandals we have to face.”

The Druid knelt down. He made rapid hand seals and pressed both his palms on the ground. His eyes turned white, ten seconds later he stood up.

“There are 128 bandits. 16 of them have Wizard variation jobs, 30 of them have Archer variation jobs, 20 of them have variations of the Cleric job, 60 are black ctenosaur riders, and 2 Brandal leaders.”

Smoke was impressed. His ‘Cunning of the Dire Fox’ gave the exact same count but it didn’t give him the job variations of the Brandals.

Mamelon gave out her idea on how to attack the Brandal base.

“Alright, how about we divide our group into two forces. A main force will attack from the front while an infiltration force will scale those steep roads, and jump from the slope above.”

The party leaders gave out the pros and cons about the suggestion and thought that it was a sound battle plan. Smoke, Gandiva, and Laernea volunteered to join the infiltration team.

Mamelon was voted to take charge of the 50 members of the main attack force while Smoke took command of the 25 members of the infiltration team.

Smoke and the rest of the infiltrators started to climb the slope. Smoke gave the signal to Mamelon when they got into position.

At once, Mamelon ordered the attack on the Brandal force. Thirty Cavalry Knights used their ‘Mountain Splitter’ ability and destroyed the walls of the Brandal fort.

The Brandals sounded their alarm and immediately formed their ranks. The black ctenosaur riders went out to face the main force.

Six Aqua Knights on top of their andalusian horses used their ‘Spring Force’ ability, and made the grounds muddy to impede the Brandals’ speed.

Smoke spotted the Brandals’ healers. It was the infiltrators’ turn to attack. He ordered his men to leap from the slope and focused their attack on the healers.

The 25 members of the infiltration team made quick work with the healers in under five minutes. Most of them had splash damage and the Brandal healers didn’t have any area healing ability.

It was already beyond their control when both of Brandal leaders noticed the second attack force. Mamelon and the main attack force charged the confused black ctenosaur riders while Smoke and the rest of the infiltrators targeted the Brandal Wizards.

The Druids, Shamans, Crusaders, and Paladins of the coalition made sure to heal everyone of their members. Their enforced five man buddy system worked splendidly against the Brandals.

The five man team was ideally composed of one healer, two melee attackers, and two range attackers. Not all the five man team had this composition but it was imperative that each team had one healer.

The infiltration team took advantage of the Brandal Wizards’ handicap against close range attacks. It took less than three minutes to wipe all of them out.

The numbers were almost balanced after Smoke and the infiltrators’ accomplished their task. The Brandals were left with 60 black ctenosaur riders and 2 Brandal leaders.

The angered Brandals went after Smoke since they had fewer men. Mamelon was aware that this would happen. That was the real reason why she ordered the Aqua Knights to make the grounds muddy.

The main attack force was able to catch the black ctenosaur riders and attacked them from behind. The Brandals were confused and frustrated. Some of them turned back and faced the main attack force while the others continued on to attack the infiltration team.

Smoke saw the confused state of the Brandals and without any notice he left the Lioumereans and the infiltration team.

He charged through the Brandals. He looked for one of the Brandal leaders and went on a straight line directly to him.

Gandiva and Laernea did their best to keep up with Smoke. The Brandals who saw Smoke coming stood their ground and readied their weapons to strike.

However, Smoke used his newly gained abilities with his Rzeka glaive and knocked back all of the bandits in his path.

His explosive attacks knocked back five to seven bandits. The damage was lesser than a focused attack, but it served its purpose, which was to give Smoke access to the Brandal leader.

One of the Brandal leaders was almost in sight, but the bandits got used to his attacks. As Smoke knocked a few bandits away another group would come back to block his way.

Smoke’s aggressive charge placed him in an undesirable predicament. He was now surrounded by the Brandals. The DarkElf was forced to keep on using waving his glaive in 360 degrees. He needed to push them back or it will be the death of him.

Groups of three to six black ctenosaur riders were lunged at Smoke, and he could manage to dodge 75% of their attacks. Smoke’s lifebar displayed (42,012/87,360 HP).

The Brandals were so focused on killing Smoke that they failed to notice that their numbers were slowly dwindling.

The Lioumereans and the other infiltrators did their best to kill the bandits that were blown away by Smoke’s attacks. Soutien and other healers who had a range healing ability kept on casting ‘Heal Balls’ and other similar abilities.

Smoke’s lifebar was reduced to (21,987/87,360 HP) when the infiltrators finally cleared out 30 of the Brandal bandits.

When the infiltrators were sure that Smoke’s life was secured. They shifted their attacks on the Brandal leader.
All of the infiltrators’ ranged attacks were thrown on the Brandal Leader.

Then came the onslaught of the melee fighters. On top of their mounts, they galloped towards the Brandal leader and took turns in attacking him to his last HP.

The coalition’s surprise attack and five man team formation defeated the Brandals stationed in Mt. Entrave. However, the victory was at a cost.

Eight players died in order to conquer the Brandal base, but as stated in the Pact those players would still receive any future loot acquired until Selatan village.

The Pact members searched through the base and the dropped loot from the dead Brandals. It was estimated that coalition obtained 25,000,000 zecs.

Mamelon eye’s grew big when she heard the amount.

“Who knew attacking a Brandal hideout could be so lucrative.”

The other members of the coalition shared the Aqua Knight’s thoughts. Smoke looked around at everyone’s faces. He saw the spark of greed light up in their eyes.

Smoke smiled. He didn’t expect that the other racers would voluntarily hunt the Brandals’ bases. He estimated that Brandals still had more than 800 men.

The bandits still had a formidable force, but Smoke was satisfied that he was on his way to reduce the threat against Sierra and his private army.

The healers tended to the injured members of the coalition. The persons who had Cooking abilities prepared the food that the Brandals had in stock.

Three hours had passed since they climbed Mt. Entrave. The coalition hastened their pace as they went down the volcano.

On their descent, the members of the Pact saw the parties who chose to pass through the forest. They had reached the entrance of Leiden bridge.

The parties from the forest rested in front of the bridge. Smoke and the rest of the Pact members rode their mounts to their fastest possible speed.

The resting racers heard their thunderous gallops, but they could only watch as Smoke and the Pact members whizzed past them.                      

* * * * * * 

Leiden bridge was one of the widest bridges that Smoke had ever seen. It was made of black bricks. Its width was sixty meters, and its length was nine kilometers.

The moisture from Murray river made the bridge very foggy. The visibility was only a two feet which reduced the Pact member’s speeds greatly.

The coalition was ahead of everyone, but they were on a slow pace. Two kilometers into the bridge, and Smoke felt hostile monsters with medium sized body types.

“Everybody stop! I think something’s up ahead.”

Mamelon quickly called their three Aero Knights. Vent, Gaz, and Blague.

“Guys, we need to see what we’re up against.”

Immediately, the three Aero Knights used their massive wind flails, and blew the dense fog away. The members were unsettled with what they saw.

A clan of bridge trolls started to climb from below Leiden bridge. Bridge trolls were the smallest of the troll species.

These monsters had green skins and orange hair. They were six foot tall, had irregularly long arms and short legs. Their hair grew from all the strange places. On their backs, elbows, and knees.

Their fang-like teeth, rabbit-like ears, and crumpled nose gave them a terrifying look. These monsters were all equipped with long wooden clubs.

Smoke used his ‘Cunning of the Dire Fox’ and detected that there were already twenty bridge trolls, and there were some more bridge trolls coming up.

Gandiva spoke to Smoke and Laernea.

“So that’s what a bridge troll looks like.”

Smoke thought to answer her with…

“Hey, at least it’s not an internet troll.”

Both the Lioumereans turned their heads, and asked Smoke simultaneously.

“What’s that?”

“Never mind. Let’s just look for their clan head. I read from one of Caid’s books that these bridge trolls will retreat once their head is killed.”

In his loudest voice, Smoke shouted this information to the rest of the Pact members. The bridge trolls numbers increased to forty, when Gandiva spotted an eight foot tall bridge troll.

“Everybody, I found him! It’s that tall monster on the right side of the bridge.”

The DarkElf looked at where the tigress Lioumerean pointed at. He saw the tallest bridge troll in the area. The monster had a long wooden club and a wooden shield.

At once, Smoke yelled out his orders.

“Everybody Train Formation, head for that troll clan head!”

The coalition shifted into the ordered formation. Fifteen persons with Knight job variations were stationed outside, on each side of the Train. Range and healer job variations were placed and protected in the middle.

The three Knights in front held their respective positions while the three Knights at the end of the Train Formation ran to the front.

This formation was slow but it gave them the best possible offensive and defensive power. The range attackers converged their attacks on the bridge troll clan head while the healers focused their energies on the Knights who defended them.

The Knights outside only used their abilities that could knock back their opponents. When one of the bridge trolls was damaged. It revealed its lifebar to be (162,208/170,000 HP).

The ranged attacks irritated the clan head of the bridge trolls. It started to escape down the bridge. Smoke instantly took action.

However, it was Soutien, the Druid on top of the wind scorpion, who got to the bridge troll clan head first. He tried to bind the beast with his Druid magic, but it was ineffective.

The bridge troll boss swung his gigantic wooden club and blew Soutien off his wind scorpion. The intelligent wind scorpion reflexively moved to the direction where Soutien was thrown and caught its rider.

Smoke knew that Soutien would be killed if he didn’t reach them in time. He made Ental run her fastest possible speed. The hell boar pushed herself to the limits. Smoke leapt off of his hell boar and with both his hands drove his Rzeka glaive into the clan head’s skull.

+ Attack hit bridge troll clan head: Balader. +STUNNED. +FIRE DMG. CRITICAL HIT. Damage 7,451.

The monster was stunned for three seconds. Smoke moved to the bridge trolls’ front side to give a clear shot to the arrows that flew right after.

The bridge troll clan head revealed its lifebar to be at (314,921/350,000 HP). The three second stun duration was almost done when Tirer, the other Flame Knight from Confiance used his stun ability.

The Pact members gained another three second window. Smoke, Tirer, and Virer took turns to stun the bridge troll clan head.

Two thirds of the coalition focused made a triangular defensive formation while the remainder of their members kept on with their attacks. Their synchronized attacks and stuns killed the monster in two minutes and thirty one seconds.

When the other bridge trolls saw that their clan head died, the monsters ran for their lives and leapt off the bridge.

Members of the Infime guild and other guilds who rested at the entrance of the Leiden bridge saw the entire event.

As the body of the bridge troll clan head started to fade, Smoke picked up a unique ring.

+ Acquired unique ring: Balader’s Ringen.

Smoke wanted to inspect the Boss loot but the item disappeared. It was automatically placed into auction, as it was stated in their Non Aggression Pact.

With Lieden bridge cleared from the thick fog and stinky bridge trolls, the front runners of the Mounted Race rode the long road towards the western village of Barat in peace.

* * * * * * 
Currently, it had been three days and four hours since the start of the Mounted Race. Smoke and the rest of the members of the Non Aggression Pact arrived in Barat safely.

Many factors were involved in order to cross Wundern desert with minimal casualties. The monsters hiding beneath the sands, the deadly scattered quicksand, and most importantly the sandstorms that destroyed anything in its path.

This was the reason why the coalition were leisurely eating the looted food from Brandal’s fort, and resting their mounts for the next part of the race.

Parties who had members above fifteen wanted to join in on their Pact. Smoke wanted to accept everyone, but the other party leaders were hesitant.

They thought that if they had more members the division between the loot would greatly decrease. Smoke pointed out that the other Brandal bases could potentially have 500 bandits in them.

Mamelon argued that 500 was an overestimation. The council of party leaders and Soutien voted to limit the members of the Non Aggression Pact to a maximum of 300. Everybody in the front runners group applied to join Smoke’s Non Aggression Pact.

As the main pack of the mounted racers arrived they were intrigued to see that the front runners did not go their separate ways.

The unfamiliar arrivals asked around and learned about the Non Aggression Pact. Most of them quickly applied, and their quota of 300 members was instantly achieved.

The new members were informed that Smoke, Mamelon, and the council of party leaders were the ones who led this coalition.

The other riders who were unfortunate enough not to join the Non Aggression Pact tried to form their own customized party.

However, the other riders were not able to bring themselves to trust each other, without the Pact’s security features.

An hour after the tumultuous formation of the 300 coalition riders, Sagen and the rest of the stragglers arrived.

When Sagen saw that the DarkElf had increased his men, Sagen promptly gathered his twenty-five guild members. He lost four of his men when they crossed Leiden bridge.

“Everybody! Ilad has increased his ranks by this much. Our only chance at extracting our revenge is from a surprise attack. Looking at them closely. Ilad is only really close to those two Lioumereans.”

Sagen faced him and checked on the conditions of their mounts.

“Alright, you have ten minutes to rest. We have to leave Barat village straightaway.”

The Feras guild members groaned but obediently followed Sagen’s command.

Smoke saw Sagen and wanted to play around with him. He was about to walk to him when the Feras guild leader and his men started for the plains, and directly headed out to Wundern dessert.

The DarkElf stood in disbelief. He decided to follow them with his eyes. He used his ability ‘Telefax Vision’. Sagen and his men rode their mounts at full speed.

Another fifteen minutes in, and the Feras guild members were in the territory of Wundern desert. Smoke started to go back to rejoin Gandiva and Laernea.

Smoke thought that Sagen was up to something and prepared some countermeasures. They still had another hour to rest before the agreed upon time that the coalition riders were to head for the desert.

As Smoke turned around he saw a black shadow appear in the corner of his eye. Smoke relied on his long range vision once more. The black shadow turned out to be a sandstorm in Wundern dessert.

Everyone barricaded themselves in Barat village. They waited another three hours, before the sandstorm dispersed.

Without delay, all the riders went on their way. The 300 members of the coalition faced the Wundern dessert with renewed vigor.

The desert had assorted creatures from small insects to harmless birds. However it also had formidable monsters.

Wundern desert had wild bronze jackals, nocturnal aardwolves, burrowed sandcats, poisonous chuckwallas, and the king of the desert the bearded dragon Pogona.

The coalition of riders struck all the hostile monsters in its path. The sandcats relied on their ability to travel under the sand, but with the Druids’ help, they efficiently tracked down the sneaky monsters.

The Druids pointed at the locations on the ground, and Knights with long spears and lances would pierce it with their weapon’s full length. Experience wasn’t included in the Pact. This made everyone work for their own XPs.

Packs of bronze jackals and nocturnal aardwolves were usually hard to capture. Despite that, the coalition’s overwhelming numbers gave them the needed manpower to capture every one of the mountable monsters.

They tied Calming Rope on the monsters’ necks and towed them to the next village. Calming Rope was a rope especially designed to help domesticate these rideable monsters.

A staggering haul of fifteen bronze jackals and twenty-two nocturnal aardwolves alone was estimated to be at 31,100,000 zecs.

The 300 coalition members were all in high spirits when the sand that they stood on drastically shifted. Some of the riders were thrown off from their mounts.

From the epicenter of the shifted sands emerged the ruler of Wundern. Pogona, the 60 foot long, bronze scaled, bearded dragon.
It was a flightless dragon, but its enormous size made it a horrifying monster.

Pogona used its split tongue hissed at the members of the coalition. With its spiked tails, it thrashed the Pact members behind it.

Everyone was stupefied. Smoke saw that no one moved at all. They just stared at the massive bronze bearded dragon.

Smoke knew that he had to do something. He tried his best to his loudest battle cry.

“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!”

The DarkElf dismounted from his hell boar and ran on foot towards the bronze bearded dragon. Pogona clawed the charging Smoke with its right front legs.

Using his ‘Cunning of the Dire Fox’ ability, Smoke dodged the attack and grabbed the dragon’s leg instead.

Smoke’s scream and his fight with Pogona awoke the astounded Pact members. All the ranged fighters released their projectile attacks.

Mamelon shouted her orders.

“All melee attackers, follow Ilad’s example and jump on the dragon! Healers pour out all of your mana and protect our people from dying.”

Pogona’s lifebar displayed (412,927/500,000 HP). The bombardment from all 300 members of the coalition kept on with their attacks.

The bronze bearded dragon was desperate. It tried to shake off the attackers that were on top of its skin. Pogona managed to throw some of them off, but the Pact members were relentless.

The king of the dessert tried to burrow into the sand but the Aqua Knights and the Flame Knights meddled with the sand, and made it impossible for the Pogona to escape into it.

Smoke ran up from the right front leg to the monster’s head. From there, the DarkElf shoved his flaming Rzeka glaive into the dragon’s right eye.

“KIRRRYYYAAAAAAAA!”

Pogona screamed in pain as its eye was gouged out. Smoke completely blinded the bronze bearded dragon as his glaive took out Pogona’s left eye.

Smoke went to the back of the bronze bearded dragon’s neck. He started to hack away the bronze scales to sever the monster’s head.

Tirer, and Virer, the two Flame Knights from Confiance helped with this endeavor. The king of Wundern dessert still had (207,416/500,000 HP) left.

This time, Flux and Courant, the two Electro Knights from Confiance, joined them in attacking Pogona’s neck. The monster tried to reach them with its claws, but its joints were not able to bend that far.

Pogona shook and thrashed its body. It rolled on its back, and tried to crush the attackers on its body. Smoke and the other Elemental Knights managed to jump off, but the other Pact members were not as fortunate.

The bronze bearded dragon’s weight alone crushed 15 of the Pact’s members and killed them. However, now that the dragon exposed its belly, the damage from surviving members increased.

The lighter bronze scales on Pogona’s belly had lesser defense than on its back. It took them another ten minutes before they finally killed the king of Wundern desert.

* * * * * * 

The village of Selatan was 20 kilometers north of Betul village. There was another forest fragment of Otaczac from Wundern desert before you could reach Selatan village.

Sagen and his twenty-five Cavalry Knights miraculously survived the sudden sandstorm that insurged when they entered the desert of Wundern.

They avoided any hostile monster and rode straight on to reach the thick forest fragment. He decided to travel on without substantial rest in order to set a trap against his hated DarkElf.

Sagen gambled on his target’s tendency to have a fair distance away from the rest of his allied riders. The Stealth Knight noticed that he only had the two Lioumereans close to him.

“Sir Sagen, we have our men in position.”

“Good, once that bastard Ilad is within view all of us will grab him and kill him. Don’t worry about the Chaotic Evil alignment. I’ll give the Ilad’s killer five times the amount needed to purify that alignment.”

The promise of zecs spurred on the Feras guild members. As they hid in wait of their DarkElf target. Five shadows casted over Sagen.

He looked up and saw five falcons flying above his men. He thought that it was strange to see a Hunter’s pet in the middle of the forest.

Then he felt the tall shrubs in the forest move. A lone one armed man came out. Sagen thought that he looked familiar but couldn’t recall from where.

Afterwards, a red Werebear came out from the opposite direction of the one armed man. Sagen finally remembered the one armed man. He was a member of Smoke’s private army.

The mysterious player who was as famous as Tristan and Amahan. He was confused about what they were doing there. The red Werebear went closer to him and asked him.

“You’re, Sagen, right?”

The Stealth Knight’s face grew more bewildered.

“Why do you know my name?”

“I heard that you were out to get Ilad, the Flame Knight from Coatl?”

“Huh? What does that have to do with you?”

“Well, he is a member of our group, and that means he is under Smoke’s protection.”

“So that’s why that bastard was so confident. I don’t give a damn about Smoke! I’m not afraid of him.”

Sierra nodded at Adder, and spoke.

“Then you’ve declared war against us.”

“HAHAHAHA! You, Ilad, and Smoke are hilariously. Guys I’ll give 10,000,000 zecs to whoever kills the one armed man and 20,000,000 zecs to the one who kills the Werebear.”

The Feras Cavalry Knights immediately charged at Sierra. Their damage against her averaged from 300-450 damage points.

After the twenty five Cavalry Knights attacked Sierra, her lifebar was left with (254,575/265,200 HP). The were astonished at how low their damage was. They thought to change targets. The Cavalry Knights shifted directions and went after Adder.

However, before they reached the one armed man, forty modified fishing nets were thrown from behind the tall shrubs.

The Cavalry Knights tumbled into each other and were entangled by the fishing nets. Sagen looked to the direction where the fishing nets were thrown from, and forty leather-armored Fishermen came out.

There were still movements from behind the shrubs. Four Hunters and two Range Siegers stepped out with their bows and ballistae pointed at Sagen.

All six of them released their bolts and arrows and pierced through Sagen’s armor. Jinggu and Sharur’s bolts knocked him off his mount.

Sagen scrambled to get back on his mount. The Stealth Knight tried to escape with his acinonyx cheetah, but Sharanga’s falcon dropped an eight trap system on him.

Sagen and his acinonyx cheetah were pinned down to the ground. They had no power to overcome the weight of special trap designed for the Maneator.

Sierra walked calmly towards Sagen.

“I heard Ilad promised you that he would reduce all the members of your guild to level zero. I think that such a thing would be too harsh, even for a bastard like you. So, I’m giving you this final chance. Stay away from Ilad or else I won’t be able to stop them from keeping his promise.”

While Sierra threatened Sagen a group of fifty leather-armored Farmers equipped with menacing pitch forks came up from behind her.

Sagen started to grovel.

“Thank you… Thank you… I promise, this time I’ll really stay away.”

“Good. I knew you’d be able to understand the situation.”

“Thank you. So, does this mean you’ll let us go now?”

“Huh? I never said I’d let you go. I only said that we won’t reduce your levels to zero.”

Sierra raised both her claws and started slashing Sagen. Everyone else followed suit and started attacking the trapped Cavalry Knights with fishing spears, pitch forks, bolts, and arrows.

* * * * * * 

Smoke, Laernea, Gandiva, and the rest of the Non Aggression Pact members reached the forest fragment before Selatan village.

Everyone knew that the Pact stated that only the loot acquired before Selatan can be shared. The Pact council decided to hold a meeting.

The Pact members were ordered to get some rest and prepare for the lucrative fight ahead.

Smoke gathered his Lioumerean friends and gave them strict instructions.

“Alright, we’re finally at the last stretch. I want you two to head out and get your Race Sigils verified.”

Laernea was confused, and argued with her leader.

“But, we still have another Brandal base to attack.”

“I know, but I also want you two to win first and second place in the Mounted Race. That’s why I explicitly indicated in the Pact that only the loot before Selatan can be shared.”

As Smoke explained further information about the Non Aggression Pact. They saw Soutien on top of his wind scorpion ride past them. Smoke instantly realized that the Druid was on to the loophole of the Pact.

“Damn! You two, chase after him. I think he’s gonna make a straight dash for the finish line.”

“Alright, but you better cool it at the Brandal base. Remember, you’re Ilad, the Flame Knight. You can’t use any other abilities outside of a Flame Knight’s.”

“Yes, yes, yes… Now, go! If you two don’t win this race, you’ll really see my angry face.”

Laernea and Gandiva smiled and unleashed the limiters on their stag moose, Bilis, and Tulin. The Pathfinder Lioumereans chased the Druid with all their might.

However, Soutien’s wind scorpion also had a limiter equipped on it. The Druid removed the limiter and increased his mount’s speed.

Smoke was still able to see them with his ‘Telefax Vision’, but they already looked like small figures. He decided to head for the Pact’s council meeting.

The DarkElf saw that the party leaders were already gathered. Smoke heard Mamelon talking.

“Like I said, We should get rid of these small Brandal outputs.”

Smoke seated himself, and voiced out his opinion.

“Rather than going after the outputs, why not head for one of their main strongholds? If we attack their smaller outputs we may lose some more of our members. Instead of smaller gains, let’s just go for the big gamble.”

The party leaders chattered on and discussed Smoke’s proposal. One of the party leaders agreed.

“I agree with sir Ilad. Let’s go for broke. I raise that we put his proposal into a vote.”

Everyone agreed and Smoke’s proposal got a 75% approval. The Pact members headed towards the Brandal’s second largest base.

Smoke used his ‘Cunning of the Dire Fox’ and sensed that there were 450 bandits inside the base. After their fight with Pogona, the bronze bearded dragon, the Pact members were reduced to less than 300.

They were at a disadvantage, but Smoke still needed to reduce the Brandal’s numbers. The Pact’s council of leaders decided that a three pronged attack would be the most efficient way to capture the base.

Smoke was assigned as one of the three leaders. He had his men ready on the left wall of the Brandal’s base.
He positioned himself higher up to give him a better vantage point.

The DarkElf ordered the demolition team to break down the walls when he got the signal to commence the attack. As he observed the progress of the attack, a specialized stunning bolt hit him behind his head.

Smoke’s vision turned pitch black. The next second he awoke he was bound and tucked discreetly behind a wagon. He tried to see the face of his captors. Macher’s face came into view.

“Hello, Ilad. Don’t take this the wrong way. It’s nothing personal. I just have a quest that rewards me with 100,000,000 zecs. I’m sure if you had this quest you’d do the exact same thing.”

Smoke received another attack on the back of his head and passed out.

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