Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 02 – Chapter 08

Proofreaders: Handibong, Otton, and Vaanouney.

Note: For easy character reference please refer to: Characters

The Last Maneator

Smoke saw that the youth who ran for his life was puzzled as to why he knew his name. Espion looked to be slightly younger than the DarkElf.

“Your father sent me to find you.”

The black haired young man’s face showed he was not convinced.

“And I’m just supposed to believe you because you know my name and my father’s name?”

The DarkElf frowned at Espion’s wariness.

“Your father told me that you started this mission to prove that you’re worthy of being his successor to his hidden job. He also told me you want to inherit his being as the next Beggar Evocati.”

After Smoke told Espion of his father’s current Beggar rank. He saw that the young Spy finally acknowledged him speaking the truth.

Espion spoke to Smoke in a commanding tone.

“Alright, let’s make a run for it. We’ll head for that tunnel.”

The DarkElf wasn’t confident he could outpace the three krampus. He instinctively thought of a defensive countermeasure.

“I don’t think we can outrun them, but I think we can outsmart them. Quick, use your wolf spider cannister repellent, and throw one of it into the furthest tunnel from the left.”

Espion did not move. Smoke immediately saw that Espion may have accepted that Caid had sent him, but it did not mean he would follow his orders.

“What are you talking about. I’ve done it a hundred times. Those gigantic krampus beasts may be powerful, but they aren’t smart. They still get lost in the labyrinth, and their movement speed is not that fast.”

Smoke didn’t have the luxury to argue with the young Spy. The DarkElf briskly snatched one of Espion’s wolf-spider repellent cannisters, and gave it to his dark ember sprite.

“Igniz, throw this deep into that tunnel.”

As Igniz followed Smoke’s command, the DarkElf ran to one of the corners of the great hall, and piled up the web-entangled corpses of fire salamanders and crested newts. The wolf spider’s pungent webs masked any other smell.

Smoke had built an igloo cocoon out of the wolf spider’s victims. He signaled Espion to join him. The young Spy was hesitant, but ran as fast as he could towards the makeshift hideout.

The igloo cocoon was sealed as soon as Espion was inside. Smoke made peepholes in order for them to see what the monstrous krampus were up to.

The three colossal krampus formed a V-like wedge formation, and decimated the fire salamanders, crested newts, and wolf spiders.

Even with all three races combined. The three krampus still made light work of the monsters inside the great hall.

Once they were done with the monsters, the krampus started their search for Espion. They found the scent of Espion’s wolf spider repellent in one of the tunnels, and rapidly followed the tunnel’s path.

Espion was about to speak, but Smoke covered his mouth to silence him. They waited for another five minutes before they started to talk. Espion finally asked the question which had bugged since he met Smoke.

“Okay, where’s the rest of your men, and how do we get out of here? Oh, and what do I call you?”

Smoke had never met such an impertinent young man before. He was glad that his brothers, Donny and Seth, were raised with proper manners.

“First off, my name is Smoke, and I’m the only one here to rescue you.”

Espion was flabbergasted when he heard that Smoke was alone and there was no one else coming.

“But didn’t Da send out all his men to find me?”

“Da? Who’s Da?”

Espion stared at Smoke with an all knowing look.

“Caid, my father. I call him Da.”

“Oh… Anyway, Caid did send out all of his men, but no one figured out where you were. Luckily I found you here, inside the labyrinth.”

Smoke had no idea that Espion would be inside the labyrinth, but he thought that it was better for Espion to think that he was on top of the whole situation.

“Da must really think highly of you to send you here all by yourself. So, how do we escape?”

The DarkElf froze as he had no idea on how to escape the labyrinth himself.

“Let’s discuss that later. First, we need to find a safe place to regroup.”

“Follow me, I know a good place.”

Espion led the way through the complex tunnel system of the labyrinth. His years of living inside the warren maze that Caid had built in their house, helped him navigate inside the labyrinth.

Smoke couldn’t believe how Espion memorized the labyrinth without looking at any kind of map. They traveled through the fourth forked chamber with multiple tunnels, when they met three crested newts.

The DarkElf took out his electro charged bullwhip, and instinctively captured one of them. The captured crested newt was weak against electrically charged attacks, which meant it was good as dead.

“Espion, you take the crested newt on the right and I’ll take the one on the left.”

Once again, Espion did not follow Smoke’s command.

“Why would I do that? When I can easily outrun them?”

One of Smoke’s countermeasures from being mobbed was to wipe out all the monsters he would encounter. In case he needed to retreat, and use the same tunnel.

Espion left him fighting the crested newts. He disappeared into the middle tunnel. Six minutes later he came back. He was running as if he was being chased.

All three crested newts in the forked chamber were already killed when the young Spy returned.

“You managed to kill all of the monsters already? But I was just gone for a couple of minutes.”

Smoke was infuriated. How could Caid’s son be such a spoiled brat.

“If you hadn’t left and helped me instead. We would’ve killed them in half the time.”

“Well, I wonder how long it’ll take you to deal with ten crested newts.”

Even without Igniz’s melded energy, a warm heat started to emit from Smoke’s body. If this young Spy wasn’t a quest he would have already left Espion behind.

The highest number of monsters that Smoke had seen outside of the great hall were only six.

“I’ve never seen this many monsters in one group. Where they at the tunnel up ahead?”

Espion gave a sheepish look.

“In an enclosed place like this tunnel. I can probably dodge upto eight monsters of this caliber. But, I could cross a throng of these monsters in one of the great halls. These guys are so absorbed fighting each other that you can literally run on top of their heads, and they wouldn’t notice. So, I kept on running to the third forked chamber from here.”

Smoke couldn’t believe what he heard.

“You mean to tell me you made this mob?”

Espion raised both his hands and shrugged.

“Not really. It was just coincidental that all of them followed me here. I think these monsters must have been spooked by the three krampus chasing after me.”

Smoke shook his head left to right in disbelief.

“How in the world did you manage to survive all these months trapped inside the labyrinth?”

“Like I said. I can outrun them. It’s just that you’re here now. I don’t think being separated from you would be a good decision, and aren’t you here to help me escape?”

Smoke inhaled a deep breath.

He thought Espion might be annoying, but maybe there was some hope for him yet.

“That was why I told you to kill the three crested newts from before. So a situation like this wouldn’t happen.”

Smoke was furious, but he knew that this wasn’t the time or place for a lecture.

“Alright, from now on we kill all the monsters we encounter. Got it? The tunnel’s narrow entrance will probably only allow three to four monsters to come out at the same time. Do you have any ranged attacks?”

Espion took out numerous black throwing knives.

“I only have these.”

“Okay, I’ll block the entrance while you attack with your knives. Remember, focus on only one enemy. We want to dwindle their numbers as soon as possible.”

Espion nodded.

Smoke wanted to use his Rzeka glaive, but the room wasn’t big enough for the needed maneuverability. Instead, he chose his electro enhanced flamdius sword and Armored Armadillo Shield.

The young Spy had an impressive attack speed. The number of thrown knives was reminiscent of Alteria’s attack speed, the fecund lizard matron who previously enslaved Adder’s home village.

Although, Espion’s 500-600 damage points from the throwing knives did not faze the crested newts, but every damage was important. Smoke bashed one of the monsters with his shield and stunned it.

One of the crested newts escaped Smoke’s defense and went after Espion. The DarkElf swiftly switched his flamdius sword with his bullwhip, and caught the beast before it got close to Espion.

“Espion, leave the captured monster alone, it’s already as good as dead. Focus on the enemies left inside the tunnel.”

Another crested newt replaced the captured monster, and Smoke was up against four crested newts once more.

Earlier experimentation showed that Smoke was able to dodge up to two crested newts with his Agility of the Horned Rabbit ability.

Smoke depended on his shield to block the attacks that were unavoidable. As he kept on dodging he felt something was missing. He noticed that the throwing knives which flew over his head had stopped coming.

The DarkElf made a quick glance at Espion, and saw the young Spy focus all of his attacks on the crested newt captured by his bullwhip.

A minute passed, and Espion shouted with euphoria.

“I DID IT! I killed the crested newt.”

Smoke was exasperated.

“Great… Now can you go back to the plan, and attack the monsters I’m trying to block.”

With his combined dodges, blocks, and attacks, Smoke was able to reduce the four monster’s lifebars to 30% of their maximum capacity.

Espion was impressed at Smoke’s fighting ability. He copied the DarkElf’s attack, and scattered his knives to all four crested newts.

“No! Focus your attacks on one monster only.”

“But if I spread my attacks like yours, we would be able to kill all four of them at the same time.”

This was Smoke’s first time teaming up with someone who blatantly disregarded his instructions.

“You don’t want to listen to me? Fine! Do it your way then.”

In one swift motion, The DarkElf unequipped his sword and shield. He leapt upward, and grab a hold on the wall. Smoke climbed to the top of the ceiling. He attached his harness there, and watched as all nine crested newts enter the forked chamber.

“Smoke? Smoke, what are you doing? Do you want me to leave you? Get down from there and help me!”

As Espion shouted at the DarkElf. Nine crested newts surrounded the black haired Spy and began to attack him. He tried his best to dodge all of the monster’s attacks.

Smoke switched weapons and took out his powersaw bow. He focused his attacks on one crested newt at a time. After Smoke killed his third crested newt, Espion noticed that it was easier to dodge the attacks.

Smoke yelled out at the upstart Spy.

“Now do you understand why I ordered you to focus your attacks on one monster?”

Espion remained silent. Instead, he kept on dodging the six crested newts that were left.

After Smoke killed another crested newt, he gave Espion a different command.

“This time I want you to use your knives while you’re dodging, and hit the monster with the lowest life. Every injury inflicted on an enemy is an important damage.”

Espion conceded and followed his orders. He directed all of his attacks on the monster with the least HP left. Smoke followed his attack and targeted the same monster.

The DarkElf helped reduce the dying monster’s life, but made sure to give the killing blow to Espion.

The young Spy brimmed with confidence, as he started killing off the monsters one by one. This was how Smoke showed Espion how important it was to follow a strategy.

They dealt with all ten crested newts in under ten minutes. When the last crested newt fell. Smoke detached his harness, and used his hooded cloak to land safely on the ground.

Espion was invigorated, this was his first time to experience such a rush. While Smoke started to collect the loot, the young Spy forced himself back to his aloof nature.

“If you’re done collecting scraps, can we proceed to the safehouse that I mentioned earlier?”

Smoke shook his head once more. He felt that this was not the last time his head would shake in disappointment.

“Sure, but please remember. We’re going to kill any monster that comes our way. Well except for those krampus. I think we couldn’t handle that kind of monster at the moment.”

Espion nodded. He headed to the same tunnel where the crested newts had came from.

“This way then. We’re almost there. It’s just six more of these forked chambers away.”

The two of them met groups of two to four crested newts or fire salamanders along the way, but with Smoke’s battle plans and Espion’s cooperation, they were able to deal with the monsters rapidly.

There were random forked chambers that held the jigsaw puzzle of either a maneator or a krampus.

Espion dealt with the jigsaw puzzle in a flash. He had learned to do them as a reflex in the months that he’s been trapped inside the labyrinth.

When they arrived in the sixth forked chamber, Espion took the second tunnel from the right, out of the five choices available in the room.

Espion stopped at the tunnel’s midway point. He faced the wall, and there they were met with a door like impression.

There was a spherical cavity on the wall, similar to the sealed room where Smoke came from. There was also a  plaque on the wall which stated:


   I am always around you but often forgotten.   I am pure and clean most of the time,
  but occasionally rotten.
  What am I?

            
Smoke thought that there was another hidden figure that needed to be placed in the spherical depression. Espion smirked as he told Smoke to answer the riddle.
“It took me a while to answer this one myself. I don’t see any monsters around. I think you have some decent time to solve this riddle.”

“Riddle, huh? Sure, I’ll give it a go.”

Espion was already impressed with Smoke’s battle prowess, but he wanted to test the DarkElf’s intellect as well.

Smoke stared at the plaque, and in a hushed voice repeated the sentence over and over. He thought that there was clearly something that should be placed inside the spherical cavity.

He was stumped as to what it could be. The riddle didn’t state any form of figure. There was absolutely nothing tangible that could be placed in the spherical depression.

“Since there’s nothing here. I might as well try this.”

Smoke went closer to the spherical cavity, and faced it squarely in front of him. He took in a deep breath and blew out all his gathered air into the depression.

Espion was taken aback at how fast Smoke answered the riddle. The wall started to shift and the door like impression opened up.

Smoke and Espion went inside, and the door closed shortly after.

“Good, that was quite easy wasn’t it. I think I’ve covered this entire floor of the labyrinth, but I couldn’t find any way to get to another level.”

The DarkElf looked around the room, and found that it had a similar size to where he was teleported by Duke Burmistrz. The room had an area of 150 square meters.

“Espion, is this where you’ve been hiding for the past few months?”

“This room, and two other rooms similar to this one.”

“So, what’s in this room?”

“Well, there’s those two jigsaw puzzles of a horse and a man. It’s on that opposite wall over there. I’ve already completed them, but nothing happened.”

“What about the other two rooms?”

“The one farthest from this place has a receptacle. The plaque in that room stated ‘Place the stone of vision to meet the second revision.’ I searched the whole room and found nothing there.”

“And what about the last room?”

“That room is somewhere in the middle of the labyrinth. That room had no plaque and just had a pedestal at the center of room. In between these rooms are dens of the fire salamanders, crested newts, and wolf spiders. Each den has about five hundred or more. Whenever they go beyond that number these monsters meet in one of the great halls and fight it out.”

Smoke thought that the monsters’ behavior must have been meant to maintain their numbers. He went to the two jigsaw puzzles of the horse and the man. He checked on the puzzle and thought that it looked to be done correctly.

He started to ask Espion about his life inside the labyrinth for the past few months as he thought about the two jigsaw puzzles.

“What did you eat for this past few months?”

“There are edible moss scattered all over the labyrinth. There’s also a part of the labyrinth that isn’t covered in marble and it has an underground spring. There are some fishes there. Of course you just have to be careful of the monsters that gather there as well. I’ve already figured their schedule to stay away from them. There are also times where I can’t go to the underground spring and I just crush these green edible moss and extract all the moisture out of them. I can probably squeeze out half a glass if I’ve gathered enough.”

“Why didn’t you try eating the crested newts and the fire salamanders?”

“I was afraid I might get poisoned by their salmonella, and I don’t have any of my detoxifying items left.”

Smoke nodded. It was wise of Espion to think about the poison that was contained in these monsters’ meat. Of course this wasn’t a problem for him because he had high poison resistance.

“That does make sense. Now, about these two jigsaw puzzles. Did you try to change their places?”

Espion had been inside the labyrinth for months, and still wasn’t able to solve this problem. He answered Smoke haughtily.

“Yeah, I already tried that. Nothing happened. I’ve been trying to solve those two puzzles for months now. I bet, I’ve already tried anything that you can possibly think of.”

“Mmm. Alright, then. I need to log out for now. I’ll be back in a couple of hours. Oh, but let me cook a quick meal for you before I go.”

Espion was surprised when he heard Smoke say that he was going to log out.

“You’re a Sonstwelter? I never thought my father would associate himself with a Sonstwelter?”

“Well, your father and I have a lot of things in common. Igniz can you prepare a campfire to cook on?”

Smoke quickly prepared a tasty medicinal deer stew for Espion. Smoke thought that this meal should increase his intimacy levels with the young Spy.

After a few minutes, Smoke gave Espion the aromatic stew.

“This smells delicious. Aren’t you gonna have some?”

“Nah, I’ll have some later. You enjoy the meal”

As Smoke was about to log out, he distinctly heard Espion cry out ‘This is so delicious…’

* * * * * * 
Nash got out of his gamepod with a smirk on his face. If his leadership skills and battle strategies weren’t enough then his tasty meal should have sealed the deal, and earned him Espion’s respect.

It had been a while since Nash was all by himself in Zectas. He was so immersed in the game that he forgot the time and skipped his scheduled breaks.

From the moment he was stuck in the sealed room by Duke Burmistrz,  Nash only thought of solving the mysteries that the labyrinth had to offer.

His recent encounter with Espion reminded him that he had not informed Sherry of his situation,
and the special restrictions inside the labyrinth.

It had been almost two days since he last spoke to anyone of his private army. He only realized that they probably were worried sick about him.

He gathered his thoughts before he touched his cellphone. Then he dialed Sherry’s number. He was glad that they decided to exchange phone numbers.

Nash had never called her before because there was never any valid reason. He waited in anticipation as Sherry’s phone kept on ringing.

Until finally, he got her voicemail.

“You’ve reached Sherry Levine. Leave me a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

“Hi, it’s Nash. Uh… I’m really sorry I haven’t informed you of my whereabouts in Zectas. I was so caught up trying to solve the puzzles in the labyrinth that I…. Oh well, at least I’m inside the labyrinth now, right? Also, as it turns out the leader of the Brandals was Duke Burmistrz, and Macher was working under him. I knew there was a reason why I had a bad feeling about him. Can I ask you to tell the rest of the private army not to worry? I’ll call them as soon as I’m out of the labyrinth. That dungeon disables all forms of communication to the outside world. I think that’s everything for now?  Oh, and I also found Caid’s son, Espion…”

BEEP!

After he informed Sherry of his location in Zectas, Nash decided to check his latest video feed.

The month was about to end, and the video results had not arrived yet. He had planned his scripted video in advance, but he wasn’t done editing the video until a few days ago.

Since the time when Igniz became his symbiote, Nash’s video feed option was increased from his own perspective to include Igniz’s point of view.

This was also the reason why he managed to get incredible angles in his video feeds which helped increase his followers.

As he disguised himself as Ilad. He had Laernea and Gandiva stand beside Igniz. The two Lioumereans were ordered to shoot their fire arrows and poison arrows at himself.

This gave the impression that Smoke was training Ilad as he fired the arrows at the Swordsman. The maximum number of arrows that Laernea and Gandiva could manage were only four at a time.

Which was half of what Smoke could usually do, but this was acceptable since this was a training session and not a real fight.

He kept on recording himself training as Ilad from a Swordsman up to when he received the Gora Knight Armor set.

When he disguised himself as a Flame Knight. He had Igniz hover in one spot, as he practiced using his Rzeka glaive.

Nash double checked the videos and was convinced that it looked like Smoke was watching Ilad in training.

He was about to release his edited video when Sagen released his own video feed of the time when Sherry attacked him during the Mounted Race, near Selatan village.

Nash never thought that it would be Sagen who would help him promote his video. Nash barely made it in time for the video feed’s deadline. As soon as he published his video of ‘Smoke training Ilad’, the number of views rose dramatically.

At the rate of the number of views, he thought that this was the month when he could finally deposit the needed funds for Donny and Seth’s college fund.

Aside from check for his video feed, Nash also earned $3,000 from the items that he sold at auction. $2,000 came from the well timed selling of his mantis blades, and the remaining $1,000 came from various rare item drops from the monsters that he has killed.

Yet, with Donny’s recent win at the state level of AUTOMATA (Amateur Unarmed Tournament Open Martial Art Techniques Association), earned him the right to compete for the championship at the national level.

Grandmaster Cacoy, told him that it will probably cost $1,500 for the whole trip. The tournament was held at the west coast. The complete opposite of where they lived.

Their grandmother, Daphne, insisted on going with Donny. Nash also thought that it would be unfair if he didn’t send Seth with them.

Nash thought that the reason why he started working hard was in order for his family to have a better life. He could use $3,000 from the Zectas’ auctions, but that wouldn’t be enough for all of them to go on the trip to the west coast.

He thought that if his family shared a hotel room together the added cost shouldn’t increase as much. He wanted to go with them, but he realized that if he joined them he would only be an added expense.

Besides, he also needed to play Zectas, and if he did join them on the trip it would mean that he would be out of Zectas for more than two days.

Nash could not afford to be gone for that long. As he checked on the number of views again. He felt positive that he could reach the minimum requirement of 200,000,000 views, but there was no guarantee that the rate of viewers would remain the same.

Filled with conflicted thoughts, Nash went down to prepare breakfast for his family. He still had no idea whether to send all of them or only Donny to the AUTOMATA championships.

Nash called all of three of them to come down after he made coffee and cooked bacon with eggs. Donny was sleepy as always, while Seth held their grandmother’s hand, and assisted her down the stairs.

They were gathered at the table and began to eat quietly. Nash noticed that Seth was quieter than usual and asked him what was wrong.

“Is something wrong? Do you have a problem at school? You don’t seem like your usual self today.”

Seth merely shrugged and remained reticent.

“You better spit it out. You know I don’t like it when you’re this silent.”

“Well, it’s just that you cooked bacon and eggs.”

Nash raised his eyebrow.

“But you like bacon and eggs? Isn’t this one of your favorite food?”

“Yes it is, but you only cook bacon and eggs whenever you have bad news. Like when you said that I couldn’t go to summer camp. Or when you said that mima Daphne got sick. So, I’m guessing that these bacon and eggs mean that only Donny is gonna go to the AUTOMATA championships.”

Their mima Daphne and Donny ate on silently. The two of them tried their best to stay out of Nash and Seth’s discussion.

“But, I haven’t even told you that I…”

Nash stopped himself mid sentence. He hadn’t informed his brothers that he hadn’t paid their college fund in a few months.

Nevertheless, he wasn’t able to stand the sadness in Seth’s eyes as the two of them spoke.

“What I mean to say is that you and mima are going to join Donny on the AUTOMATA trip, but I was planning it as a surprise and you completely ruined it.”

Seth’s smile widened from ear to ear.

“Are you serious? Are you really letting all of us of go with Donny?”

“Of course I am…”

Their mima Daphne gently touched Nash’s hand and asked him.

“Are you sure about this? I was going to ask Donny to skip out on the tournament altogether. What with all the expenses that we have. Are you sure you can spare the money?”

Nash plastered a confident smile.

“I got this grandma. Don’t worry about it. What’s the use of money if my family can’t enjoy it?”

Nash decided to use the $3,000 from the auctioned items and $1,500 from his emergency funds. He secretly prayed that his video feed could reach the needed amount.

* * * * * * 

Smoke opened his eyes, and saw Espion playing around with Igniz. As soon as Espion noticed the DarkElf, he stopped on his tracks, and pretended to be looking at the two jigsaw puzzles on the wall.

“Oh, you’re back. I didn’t see you there.”

“So, what have the two of you been up to?”

“Well, Igniz here showed me a couple of his abilities before, but currently I’m busy solving these two jigsaw puzzles. How was your trip back to your world?”

“Let’s not talk about that different world. Let’s focus our attention here in Zectas.”

Smoke looked at the two puzzles and the wall.

“Still no progress, huh?”

“You think this is easy? Why don’t you solve it then?”

The DarkElf scratched his head. He tried switching out the places of the two jigsaw puzzles, and nothing happened.

“I told you, I already tried that one.”

Next he placed them upside down, but still nothing changed. Smoke tried other variations with the two jigsaw puzzles, but it was useless.

After an hour of various experiments on the jigsaw puzzle, Smoke gave in and left the two puzzles alone.

“How about we proceed to the room at the center of the labyrinth?”

“Are you sure? This labyrinth is really big. I think it will take us more than a day but less than two days to get to the that room.”

“Well, we don’t have anything left to do here, and I’d like to investigate those rooms personally.”

Espion hesitated. He thought that Smoke’s plan would be futile, but the DarkElf’s actions made him think a fresh pair of eyes could help.

“Alright, let’s go then.”

Smoke, Espion, and Igniz left the room with the two jigsaw puzzles and headed for the room at the center of the labyrinth.

The three of them pushed on. Smoke thought that as they traveled, he could ask some of his questions about the labyrinth, and all of them could be answered by Espion.

Owed to the fact that the young Spy had been there for a few months, Smoke thought that Espion had some information about the underground maze.

The first question that came to mind was ‘where are the maneators?’.

“I’ve been here for almost two days now, and I still haven’t encountered a single maneator. Do you know where they are? Have you met one of them?”

Espion looked back as he kept on running in front of Smoke.

“From the time that I’ve been here, I haven’t met a single maneator as well.”

“Do you think they’re in a different level?”

“I thought about that as well, but I remembered something I overheard from Duke Burmistrz when I was spying on him. Have you heard of the Tenebris?”

“Yeah, they’re the group of dark magicians who supposedly created this labyrinth right?”

“Yes, that’s right. Apparently, the Tenebris had been having problems with the maneators ever since their king escaped.”

Suddenly, Smoke got a bad premonition on what Espion would say next.

“I heard them tell the Duke that they terminated all of the maneators and replaced them with the krampus. They said that they’ve modified these beasts to be mindless monsters, and since its still in the testing phase they only have a few of them inside the labyrinth. These monsters were said to be only filled with the urge to kill anything that isn’t a member of the Tenebris or a fellow krampus.”

Smoke stopped running. Espion stopped as well and wondered if the DarkElf sensed any monsters nearby.

“Did you sense something? I didn’t hear anything.”

“No, no, there aren’t any monsters nearby. It’s just that aside from rescuing you. I was also here to rescue the remaining maneators. I wonder what König Mitleid will have to say about this?”

Espion was dumbfounded when he heard Smoke say the name of the maneator’s king.

“You know König Mitleid? How? That monster’s been gone for a long time.”

“I met him somewhere south of here. He’s given me a quest to liberate the maneators. I guess he didn’t know that the Tenebris terminated all of them. I guess this also means he’s the last maneator. He already felt guilty about leaving his brothers, and accidentally killing some of them. Looks like he won’t have a chance to redeem himself.”

“From what you’re saying it sounds like, König Mitleid is a decent monster. I always thought that he would be scarier than the krampus beasts that I’ve seen.”

“I used to think that as well. Maybe I misjudged him. He was bred to be a torturer. It wasn’t his choice to be one. A person should be given a chance to change himself if he wants to.”

Espion believed that Smoke was genuinely concerned about the king of the maneators. Originally, the young Spy thought that Smoke was only worried about failing the maneator’s quest, but it appeared that he was mistaken.

“Well, sorry to have brought the bad news to you, Smoke. But, we have to go. I don’t like staying too long in one of these tunnels. It feels like a krampus could come out of nowhere and grab you.”

“Of course, of course, please lead on.”

Smoke empathized with König Mitleid, but what really saddened him was the idea that he had lost a great potential ally.

He was secretly hoping that the maneators would join his private army as soon as he liberated them. He consoled himself with thoughts of the loot inside the labyrinth’s treasure room.

It was said that the locked vault contained a compendium of the Tenebris most prized possessions. He briefly took out the labyrinth key given to him by König Mitleid, and stowed it back into his backpack window.

Smoke had other inquiries for Espion, but the only thing that was in the DarkElf’s mind was the loss of the maneators. He could not think of anything else.

It had been almost two days. Smoke and Espion met several monsters along the way to the secret chamber at the center of the labyrinth. As a result, Espion gained one level before they reached their destination.

The DarkElf was somewhat disappointed with Caid’s son. Inspite of that, he did show great potential and promise.

It was revealed that Espion’s level was still at 82. The young Spy also distributed all of his stats on Agility. This explained why Espion’s lifebar was very low at 40,000 HP.

Espion’s dedication to one stat gave him a total of 668 Agility. While Smoke at level 92, only relied on his passive ability ‘Agility of the Horned Rabbit’ which gave him a total Agility of 452.

Smoke was envious of Espion’s dodge rate and attack speed, but he was also satisfied with the stat which he chose to raise.

His hidden basic stat, Wisdom, was now at 50. Even with such a low Wisdom stat, it had already reduced the needed acquisition time for gaining knowledge from books.

Espion called out Smoke’s name, and brought him back from his musings about stats and levels.

“Smoke, we’re here. Would you like to solve this riddle or should I?”

The wall in front of Smoke had a gate like carving. There were two doors on the gate. It was clearly larger than the previous secret room which Espion showed him.

It also had the same spherical cavity and a plaque which stated.


 No legs have I to dance,
  No lungs have I to breathe,
  No life have I to live or die,
  And yet I do all three.
  What am I?

“Ha! This one’s easy. All of these phrases describe my favorite element. Igniz, put some FIRE into the receptacle”

The dark ember sprite made a small fireball and filled the whole spherical cavity beside the embossed door.

Espion clapped theatrically.

“I knew you’d guess this one right away. A good thing too, because I’ve almost used up all of my fire moss.”

“Fire moss? What’s that?”

A loud mechanical sound was heard. Gears and chains started to move, after Smoke placed some fire in the spherical receptacle.

The gate like impression on the wall started to moved, and opened both doors. Smoke, Espion, and Igniz, went to the opening and entered.

Espion wasn’t able to answer Smoke’s question until they were safely inside the hidden room. The young Spy answered Smoke after all of them entered the chamber.

“Well, fire moss is a special type of moss scattered in specific parts of the labyrinth. It’s quite some distance from here. It makes a great fire after you light it up.”

“Alright, let’s rest up first. I’ll cook some medicinal soup. Igniz, can you please light the fire.”

Espion stepped in, and stopped the dark ember sprite.

“Wait, wait. I’d like to show you how a fire moss works.”

The young spy gathered the firewood. He then placed the fire moss at the bottom of the tepee shaped firewood. Rubbed the fire moss for friction, and the fire moss lit up, which lit the campfire.

When Smoke saw Espion’s demonstration of the fire moss, he remembered one other thing he was curious about.

“Say, how do you manage to navigate through this labyrinth without a torch or any other kind of light?”

Espion remained silent. He wasn’t sure if he could trust Smoke completely. Although he was impressed with the abilities that the DarkElf had shown, and his intellect and battle strategies were just as astounding.

Smoke sensed Espion’s hesitation, and speedily stopped his question.

“You don’t have to answer me. I was just curious that’s all.”

“No, no, I’ll tell you how I traveled through this tunnels. Ever since I was younger I’ve always wanted to become like my father. Because he was always so secretive. One day as I researched through our family library. I found a book that told me where to get the ability that would help me greatly.”

The DarkElf was pleased with himself. Espion sharing this information only meant that his intimacy level with him was almost at 80%.

“The book told me to kill 10,000 bronze and masked owls. I had to use traps and laid them on the bronze owls nests. It took me over ten years, and when I got my 10,000th kill I gained this ability called ‘Bronzen Owl Ears’. This ability gave me the monster’s echolocation ability.”

Espion grinned as he reminisced the countless days he spent earning this ability.

“It can also detect enemies, but its range is only for 100 meters. This was also how I was able to pick up on Duke Burmistrz conversations. If only I had the proper patience and waited until I gained the ability from the 10,000 masked owls. Then they wouldn’t have caught me.”

“So, the Duke caught you spying on him because you don’t have a proper camouflage ability? Just how many masked owls were left until you gained its ability?”

“Well, counting the ones I’ve killed it would be 9,999. Those monsters are harder to find than the bronze owls. I’ve been spying on him for more than a month before he finally noticed me though.”

Smoke had already met some iron owls in the forests around Nanahuatl. Yet, those monsters gave him no ability whatsoever.

He was interested in these bronze owls and masked owls. He thought that he would ask Espion about the location of these monsters later. At the moment, Smoke was only interested about what Espion heard from Duke Burmistrz.

“That’s still a lot of masked owls before getting that ability. Now, about the time you were spying on the Duke? What exactly did you hear?”

The DarkElf offered the finished soup to the Espion, and both of them started to sip through the meal as the young Spy pushed on with his gathered information.

“Some parts were about this labyrinth. About how it’s a special dungeon. As you’ve noticed you can’t contact anyone in the outside, and I heard that even if a Sonstwelter were to die they wouldn’t revive in the outside, but rather wake up here.”

Smoke already knew this part about the labyrinth. He had never been to any map in Zectas that disabled all forms of communication to the outside world.

However, it did make sense that this feature was added for those captured inside. Otherwise, the Zectians captured like Espion would have had the opportunity to contact their guilds, and have shared the information that they managed to gather.

“The Duke was out harassing the villages outside of Coatl. Milking them out of their last zecs. If they didn’t pay his weekly fees to the Cavalry Knights he would send out the Brandals and ransack the whole village.”

The DarkElf shook his head left and right in disbelief.

Espion proceeded, and spoke his opinion about the Duke.

“How can such a monster act all responsible and caring, when the truth is he was the true reason why the villagers outside were suffering?”

“Well, you know what they say. The greater the power the greater the abuse.”

The young Spy composed himself and pushed on.

“The Duke also mentioned that there were two ways to enter the labyrinth. One was through a quest accessed by honored players of the city. They were taken to the entrance of the first level of the labyrinth. They were tasked to look for König Mitleid.”

The DarkElf was taken aback when heard Espion describe the first method of accessing the labyrinth.

“Only to find out that he had escaped and taken the key with him. Most players wouldn’t even know how to find the maneator king, and if they did they would surely be wiped out by him.”

Smoke clenched his fists tightly. It reminded him of the day he met Tristan.

“Smoke? Are you alright? Is something wrong?”

Espion stopped talking midway as he noticed the DarkElf trembling with anger.

“Oh, sorry. It’s nothing. What about the second way in the labyrinth?”

“The second way was to be captured by the mayor or any members of the Tenebris. Those captured would be sent down here to the third level. Where the maneators were suppose to tear us limb from limb. But, as I mentioned before, I heard the Duke talk to one of the Tenebris’ high council say that all the maneators were exterminated and were replaced by these krampus monsters instead.”

Smoke nodded as he remembered the death of all of the maneators inside the labyrinth.

“What about the Mounted Race? Did you hear anything about that?”

“Umm… Only that the race was actually the main event for Coatl’s festivities. It was exclusive for the benefit of the nobles in Chayotl Kingdom(Western Kingdom). He sent someone by the name of Macher on a quest to gather participants that the other nobles would bet on. The Jousting Tournament was only there to throw people off the Mounted Race event.”

“Do you know what the Duke was planning to do with all that money from the bets in the Mounted Race?”

“I think he plans on conquering the whole kingdom. One city at a time. Heck, he even promised that Macher fellow Centzo city.”

“So, anything else you heard from the Duke?”

“I think that’s it. Oh, and he often gets called to answer to someone named Lizardo.”

Smoke only heard the name Lizardo once before, but he got an ominous feeling when he heard it again.

The DarkElf shrugged off the sinister feeling, and focused on the central hidden room instead. At the center of the room there was a single pedestal.

As they had both finished their meal, Smoke stood up and went closer to the focal point of the secret chamber.

He took out his Coatl Labyrinth Key which he got from the king of the maneators. He placed it on the pedestal and nothing happened.

“Pfft. Some key this turned out to be.”

Espion stood by Smoke, and saw nothing changed.

“Is that key the reason why you wanted to come here?”

“Yeah, it was given to me by König Mitleid himself.”

“Wait, what? This key is the one where those honored players were trying to look for?”

“I think so. It’s suppose to open the secret treasure room, but I guess this isn’t the place. Shall we head back to the last room you mentioned earlier?”

“Sure, maybe the key can be used there.”

* * * * * * 
Smoke and Espion maintained a fast pace as they traveled on the last hidden room. They traveled through several great halls.

They were stopped with the same jigsaw puzzle of the krampus. As what they did before, Espion was the one assigned to deal with the puzzle as he had mastered it.

After their third great hall and jigsaw puzzle. Smoke noticed that Espion’s unusual speed of solving the jigsaw puzzle got even faster.

“Espion, how many jigsaw puzzles like this do you think you’ve done?”

“I don’t know? I’ve lost count already. Why do you ask?”

“I think these puzzles aren’t here to simply block the path. I think they’re related to the first hidden room you’ve shown me before.”

“What do you mean?”

Smoke was adrenalized. He wanted to test out his theory ASAP.

“Let’s head back to the first chamber now.”

“But, we’re already halfway to the last hidden chamber. Can’t we stop there first?”

“I don’t think we can do anything in that room with another receptacle and plaque at the moment. We need to solve the room with the two jigsaw puzzles first.”

Espion was apprehensive, but followed Smoke’s orders.

“Fine, let’s go this way then.”

It took them almost two days to get to the central hidden chamber. However, with the monsters were cleared out, Smoke expected the trip back to be quicker.

Smoke edged Espion on as he ran close next to him. The young Spy wasn’t used to someone running close to him. Although it was a good distance between them, this still made him run even faster.

The DarkElf also dealt with the monsters they met as rapidly as possible. He used Espion as bait to lure the monsters’ strikes as he killed them with his back attacks. This time he didn’t give the killshot to Espion.

Espion tried his best to get more kills, but Smoke gave him no opportunity. This inspired Espion to try harder. After their eighth monster encounter, Espion finally managed to kill one monster.

“Not bad, Espion. At last, you managed to kill one on your own.”

“They say that the first one is going to be the hardest, and the second one is gonna be as easy pie.”

Five monster encounters later, Espion still didn’t get his second killshot.

After a day and five hours passed. Smoke and Espion were nearing the hidden chamber which required air to enter it.

Their increased pace and suddened contest to get the kill shots led them to the first hidden chamber in no time. Espion was disappointed when he saw the engraved door on the wall. For the young Spy’s second killshot did not happen at all.

Smoke took in a deep breath and exhaled all his gathered air into the spherical receptacle. As soon as they entered the room. He immediately went to the opposite wall from the entrance, where the two jigsaw puzzles were.

Espion looked over Smoke’s shoulders and asked.

“So, how are the jigsaw puzzles scattered all over the labyrinth related to these puzzles of a man and horse?”

“I think that those puzzles were designed to mislead you. You’ve been solving them so quickly and efficiently that you’re already doing it out of reflex. And whenever you look at these two puzzles here you solve them as is, right?”

“Yeah? How else would you solve them?”

“How about we take the upper half of the man, and we also take out the upper half of the horse. Then we swap their halves.”

Espion followed Smoke’s instructions. In under five minutes Espion was done swapping the two upper halves of the jigsaw puzzles.

One jigsaw puzzle had an upper body of a man and a lower body of a horse. While the other jigsaw puzzle had the upper body of a horse and a lower body of a man.

After Espion completed both puzzles, a low red light glowed on each one. Both puzzles started to change the image depicted on them. The mixed creatures were fused better.

Then the names of each creature appeared on each puzzle. The images on the puzzles started to move as the new monsters were fused together.

The one with the upper body of a man and the lower body of the horse was labeled as Centaur. Smoke had known about Centaurs, this was the reason why he thought to swap the two puzzles.

However, the other puzzle with the upper body of a horse and the lower body of a man was alien to him. He had never known about such a creature.

The second puzzle was labeled as Tikbalang. This monster had red eyes, it had gnashing teeth. It’s mane was made out of sharp black spines.

The Tikbalang’s upper limbs were from the horse’s limbs which gave the monster a hunched over appearance due to its extra long front arms which reached to its Human like feet.

Espion was astonished when he saw the two jigsaw puzzles changed.

“Whoa! I would have never thought to try that out. I think you were right about those jigsaw puzzles outside. Once I saw these two puzzles. My only thoughts were to solve them quickly.”

“Don’t worry about it. If I were in your situation, and was stuck here for months. I think I would have fallen for the same trick as you…”

Smoke wasn’t able to finish talking. Due to the pedestal that came out from the center of the room. On top of the pedestal was a shiny emerald colored gem.

The DarkElf went to pedestal and took the precious stone on top of it.

+ Received Stone of Vision.

“Espion, we just found the stone of vision. I think we better head for that room that was asking for this stone.”

With an open mouth, the young Spy nodded his head with anticipation.

“But, I have to log out for now. I’m gonna update my private army about our progress in the labyrinth.”

Espion looked confused.

“How can you tell them when you’re inside here with me?”

“I’m a Sonstwelter, remember? I have only one Sonstwelter friend that I can trust, and She’ll spread the news to the rest of our members.”

* * * * * * 
Nash got out of the gamepod and was pumped to continue on. However, he knew it was necessary to take his scheduled break, and get some shut eye.

There were numerous times that Nash wasn’t able to keep up with the strict schedule of the Uberman sleeping pattern.

In those times his head felt heavy, and his nose bled a little. He endured through those ailments and played on inside Zectas.

However, whenever his scheduled time to sleep appeared. He would often be in a situation where his adrenaline was high, and it was almost impossible to calm his mind.

Before he would try to go to sleep. Nash performed the meditation method that grandmaster Cacoy taught him with eskrima. He also drank a glass of warm milk with nutmeg and honey.

The warm milk was at mima Daphne’s suggestion, and he was surprised that it really helped him meditate into a tranquil place.

TUN-TA-TUN-TUN-TUUN! TA-TA-TA-TA-TUUN! TA-TUN-TUN-TUUN!

Nash’s unique alarm tone woke him up. He reflexively sat upright after he slept through the required amount of rest.

He quickly grabbed his cellphone. It was always in the same spot. Since, he only used it to check for the text of the manager of the game center.

As he picked up his phone to leave Sherry another voicemail, he was surprised to see that he received a message from her instead.

“Hey, Nash. It’s really great to hear your voice… Yeah, everyone’s worried about you. Especially Laernea, I think she might have a crush on you. I never knew Zectians could have feelings for Sonstwelters. Anyway I just called to tell you that we’re all doing great. Your plan on securing the other villages and gathering more men worked. We’ve recruited 500 men already. 300 Farmers and 200 Fishermen. Although, there was one occasion where we were almost wiped out, but a friend came and rescued us. We’ve secured practically the whole area where the exit is suppose to be. So, we’ve got you covered. Hope to see you outside of the Labyrinth soon…”

Nash was smiling, but he didn’t know what he was smiling about. He thought maybe it was simply because he heard Sherry’s voice?

Their being addicted to Zectas made it impossible to see each other in the real world. They couldn’t even catch each other on the phone.

However, he was still happy with their situation. He wasn’t ready for anything beyond what they had now.

Nash made a quick recall of what he was going to say before he called Sherry’s phone and left his voicemail.

After he updated Sherry with all the information he had gathered. He focused on a more important issue. His latest video feed in Zectas.

It was just four days since he uploaded the feed, and it was already at 119,921,267 views. This assured him of a check worth $10,000. He needed 200,000,000 views in order to get $15,000.

He needed $14,000 a month, for him to pay his grandmother’s medical bills, his brothers’ educational fund, his mortgage on the house, and for their day to day expenses.

Nash still had ten days before the video feed cycle ends. It was still a long way to go before he could hit the needed views, but he was still optimistic.

He then checked on the longest thread in the official Zectas forum. A thread entitled ‘Tristan vs. Amahan vs. Smoke’.


KyouKai: Tristan is way in the lead now. Sure, Smoke’s revelation of him being in Coatl city was intriguing and all, but that was it. He should clash with some wyverns. Then we’ll see who’s the real bad ass.

Ten: We shouldn’t let the number of their latest video feed dictate what their actual ranking is. Amahan maybe dead last between Tristan and Smoke this month. Yet, the Decane still remains the highest at level per player, and Amahan still has the highest level in the whole game.

Shin: Bah, all this theoretical talk is just boring. As someone mentioned before, they should just all meet up in one place and have an all out war with everything they’ve got.

SupahNovice-Disciple#12312312: Master Smoke! You’ve started to recruit players? And another DarkElf to boot! Why didn’t you call me? Or any of your other faithful followers? I’m sure if you invite us to your guild we’ll wipe out all of them. Both Tristan and Amahan at the same time.

TriTank: HAHAHAHA! And what good will a bunch of low level players be? I’m sure if Smoke ever makes a guild the average level would be below 80. HAHAHAHA, good luck trying.

SupahNovice-Disciple#11298592: Haters gonna hate…

TriTank: HAHAHA! Smart come back.

Hilot: I agree with what @Shin said. The number of views isn’t the true measure of how strong a player is. It’s his accomplishment in the entire game. Amahan, Tristan, and Smoke all have different qualities. Let’s just watch and see who really dominates the game in the long run. Now that Smoke’s revealed his location. They should occupy their own continent first before claiming world domination.

Tritank: For once, I kind of agree with @Hilot. Now, it’s just a contest to see who controls his own continent first. Tristan has just started his expansion in the unknown lands of the eastern continent. Amahan has long started before Tristan, but hasn’t progressed much in the last few months. As for Smoke… Well he has just shown us that he is in a main city of a western continent. Well, woop dee do.

KSKing: I still think they should have an arena battle and leave their guilds and private armies or whatever other allies they have behind. It should be a one on one on one. A three way battle to decide who really is the best. Smoke maybe at a clear disadvantage now, but when the time comes I think he’ll put up a good fight. Heck he even taught Ilad, right? Ilad won Coatl’s tournament. I’m sure Smoke will do great.

PurrFex: Meow!            

When Nash read that Amahan was dead last, he immediately wanted to know who was first between him and Tristan. He checked on Tristan’s video feed views, and was dismayed when he saw that it was at 218,084,943 views.

He decided to check on Amahan’s number of views and was disappointed that he was only ahead of him by around 50,000 views.

Nash took a deep breath. He needed to clear his negative thoughts, and decided to do some eskrima practice to clear his mind.

* * * * * * 
Smoke and Espion headed for the hidden room which required the stone of vision. Espion estimated the journey to take them four days at most.

The journey to the furthest room from the hidden air chamber kept on with Smoke and Espion’s ongoing competition.

Smoke was impressed with Espion’s tenacity. Even if he only made one kill shot to Smoke’s ten, it still showed his perseverance, determination, and his progress.

They already spent two days of the four day trip. In the past days, Smoke had increased his level by one, while Espion increased his by two.

As they passed the central area of the labyrinth. The three krampus monsters that were out looking for Espion got a hold of his scent once more.

With Smoke and Espion’s constant sprint competition, The DarkElf had gotten a sense of how to travel inside labyrinth in these past few days. He found his movement speed had a noticeable increase.

Then a window notification appeared.


  Beggar’s Adaptation (Dungeon Level Mastery)

  + You’ve traveled 30% of the 3rd level in dungeon: Zuchthaus Labyrinth.
  + You’ve gained 30% increased movement speed in this level.
            

Smoke eyes grew wide as saucers. He never knew that the Beggar’s Adaptation had this kind of effect. He wondered if this was only exclusive to dungeon maps. This Zuchthaus Labyrinth was his first dungeon after all.

With the increased speed, Smoke thought he could almost match Espion’s movement, but the young Spy was still ten meters ahead of him. Nevertheless, with this speed it was now possible to run away from the krampus monsters if they did encounter them.

Smoke wondered how it came to be. He checked on his ability list and found that his ‘Agility of the Horned Rabbit’ had increased its level. It was now at Advance level 5 with a bonus of +450 to Agility.

This made them out maneuver the three krampus monsters. Both Smoke and Espion ran for the nearest great hall. They needed to use the throng of monsters to block the three krampus’ path.

The DarkElf used his Rzeka glaive as a pole vault and leapt across the feuding monsters of fire salamanders and crested newts. While Espion vigilantly leapt over their heads.

When they were safely across. Smoke decided to test his arrows against one of the krampus monsters. He used a poison arrow, a fire arrow, and an electro arrow to see which element the krampus were weak against.

All three arrows were in the same damage range of 1,200-1,400. Smoke decided to use the poison arrows if ever they needed to face the krampus.

However, a quick mental calculation based on his inflicted damage told him that he would need approximately two hours in order to kill just one of them.

There was no possibility they could win against all three krampus monsters at once. Smoke followed Espion as he ran into a tunnel.

Espion cleverly lost the krampus monsters behind. Smoke and the young Spy kept on their fast pace as they made sure to have a far distance between them and the krampus monsters.

As their journey proceeded, Smoke asked Espion to head to all the great halls, and monster dens. He told him that they needed to increase their levels and their battle compatibility.

The DarkElf also took all of Espion’s weapons and equipment. He transmuted them with monster hides and the wolf spider’s threads.

Espion’s armor had increased its durability and defense. Smoke also increased the damage of Espion’s throwing knives.

Smoke thought that they couldn’t keep on running away from the krampus monsters forever. The four-day peregrination turned into a six-day training session.

Igniz was very useful as he served as a diversion when they fought against the monsters. The dark ember sprite also refined his firewall creation, and turned it into a blinding wall of light. Which gave Smoke and Espion their needed space to regroup.

Smoke had minimal improvement in terms of level increase. He only raised his level to 94. However, he wasn’t after his personal training.

For them to have a chance against the krampus, he needed to have a decent party member. What Smoke truly wanted was to raise Espion’s fighting ability.

Espion was only at level 82 when they met, but now he was at level 87. The young Spy was able to dodge up to eleven monsters at once.

Smoke hoped that this dodge rate was enough to stand against a krampus monster. They had traveled all of the possible monster dens and great halls in the area.

Both of them stood in front of an engraved door similar to the hidden air chamber. The plaque on the engraved door stated:


  I am called the bringer of life,
  but I do not have any form.
  Without me plants are in strife.
  I am very abundant in a storm.
  What am I?

            

Smoke looked at Espion, and raised his eyebrow.

“Are all the hidden chambers opened with elements?”

Espion nodded.

“Pretty much. Once you get one of them the rest are kind of easy.”

The DarkElf took out one of his canisters of water and poured some into the spherical cavity. The engraved door opened, and both of them entered at once.

The room had a similar size to the first hidden chamber which Espion showed the DarkElf. The rectangular room had an area of 150 square meters.

Smoke searched for the receptacle, and took out a shiny emerald, the stone of vision. He stood beside the inscribed plaque.


 Place the stone of vision
    to meet the second revision.

            

“Espion, are you ready?”

The young Spy motioned that he was excited to see what the stone had to offer.

“Do you think another gem will appear, and we’ll take that to the hidden Fire chamber?”

Igniz hovered near Smoke, as he placed the green colored gem into the receptacle. The whole room shook and dust started to fall from the ceiling and the pillars.

A large opening started to part on the far side of the wall opposite to the entrance. Smoke and Espion looked at each other and wondered whether they should walk closer towards the opening.

Ca-chunk! Ca-chunk! Ca-chunk!

Sounds of heavy chains being flung was heard from the opening. Smoke instantly realized that he had made a terrible mistake.

Slowly a pair of black horns came into view. It was followed shortly with two cold black eyes. Both of them saw the head of a huge krampus.

The gigantic hairy monster stepped out of the opening. Its eyes were fixed on the two intruders before it. It took its heavy chain and whirled it over its head.

The krampus threw its chain against Smoke. The DarkElf was able to dodge it, but the debris from the chain’s impact damaged him. Smoke’s lifebar displayed (91,867/92,212 HP).

The DarkElf briskly equipped his Rzeka glaive. Simultaneously, Espion threw sixteen fire enchanted knives at the krampus’ back.

With the krampus’ high defense, each throwing knife only damaged the beast for 240-310 points. Igniz trapped the krampus in a fire cage.

However, the krampus broke through Igniz’s fire cage like it was made out of red paper. The krampus’ lifebar displayed (342,680/350,000 HP). Together with its name, Herzog Popanz.

The krampus that they previously encountered only had 280,000 HP. Popanz had 25% more HP when compared with an ordinary krampus. Even the maneator king, König Mitleid only had 300,000 HP.

Lumbering, Popanz ran towards Espion with its iron chain spinning over its head. Popanz was about to launch his chain against the young Spy, when Smoke who stealthily circled around the monster, leapt from behind.

There was barely any space in the room for his weapon. Yet, the DarkElf swung his Rzeka glaive, and delivered a loud crashing blow, worth 2,100 points on Popanz’s right shoulder blade. The krampus winced in pain and stumbled forward.

Espion took advantage of Popanz unbalanced state and ran at the krampus with a pair of green dual knives. The Tail’s of the Virile and Fecund Lizards knives which Smoke had leant him, was lodged into Popanz head.

The krampus cried out, and tried to grab Espion with both its hands. The young Spy was able to dodge with a hair’s breadth.

Smoke and Espion stood on opposite sides of Popanz. The krampus looked left and right, and was confused on who to attack.

Popanz grabbed its heavy chain and started to swirl it around the whole hidden chamber. The length of the heavy chain was enough to cover the areas where Smoke and Espion stood.

On the double, Espion dodged down. While Smoke quickly unequipped his Rzeka glaive, and scaled up to the ceiling of the secret room with his rare gloves, Claws of Chiropterra.

Clinging to the ceiling with his right hand, Smoke took out his electro charged bullwhip. He aimed for Popanz’s right hand which held the heavy iron chains.

The DarkElf cracked his bullwhip, and stopped the heavy iron chains from swirling around the room. Smoke held onto Popanz’s caught arm with all his might.

The moment the attack of the swirling chains halted, Espion ran to Popanz. The young Spy performed thirty two blinding slashes on the krampus’ right armpit.

During their past six days of training, Smoke taught Espion to focus on the monsters’ limbs. A severed limb meant the monster would receive a maimed status.

Also, the damage of the amputating blow was more than doubled. Espion was inculcated to follow up after Smoke’s attack. The initial blow to Popanz’s right shoulder blade meant that the young Spy was supposed to attack the opposite side of the same limb.

The thirty-two slashes from the green dual knives only made a total damage of 8,640 points. The bullwhip’s electric shock damage only did 120 points every 3 seconds.

Nevertheless, Popanz was still caught. The krampus did its best to snatch Espion with his left hand, but the young Spy was too fast for it.

Espion kept on with his lightning fast slashes, and managed a total damage of 25,920 points. Popanz’s lifebar now displayed (312,940/350,000 HP).

The humongous krampus realized that it needed to free itself from the DarkElf’s bullwhip. It grabbed a hold of Smoke’s bullwhip.

Popanz focused all of its strength, and pulled Smoke towards it. The DarkElf was unhinged from the ceiling, and hurled rapidly into the Popanz’s dangerous hand.

Smoke did not resist Popanz’s pull. Instead, he welcomed it. As he was yanked towards the krampus, he took out his flamdius sword with his right hand.

The DarkElf used the momentum from the hauled bullwhip attached to his left hand, and lunged his sword into the Popanz right shoulder joint.

Simultaneously, Espion kept on hacking on the opposite side. Popanz had prepared itself for another attack that came near its torso.

The krampus hugged Smoke with all its might. The death squeeze attack damaged Smoke for 1,200 points per second.

Igniz and Espion became desperate. Igniz began firing his strongest fireballs on Popanz head, but its low damage at 150-200 points made no effect on the krampus.

While Espion climbed on top of Popanz shoulder and started to hack at his right shoulder joint with the green dual knives.

The Tail’s of the Virile and Fecund Lizards active ability to paralyze an opponent did not work on Popanz. Espion became desperate as he saw Smoke’s lifebar drop to (55,867/92,212 HP).

Igniz stopped attacking with his fireball attacks. The dark ember sprite knew he had to do something to save Smoke’s life.

He charged at Popanz with his top speed. Igniz’s dark purple flaming body was small enough to fit into one of Popanz gigantic nostrils.

The dark ember sprite rammed himself into Popanz nose. Once inside he began emitting bursts of powerful flame attacks.

Popanz’s fire resistance was weaker from the inside of its body. Each of Igniz’s flame attacks damaged the krampus for 800 points.

The dark ember sprite lodged in the krampus’ nose severely irritated the huge beast. Popanz released its death grip on Smoke, and tried to wriggle Igniz out of its nose.

As soon as he was released. Smoke activated his necklace, Heart of ReenTe. The necklace’s active ability increased the DarkElf’s lifebar at an amazing rate.

On the ground Smoke switched weapons, and took out his Rzeka glaive. He focused all of his energy on his feet and leapt up with all his might.

Smoke swung down his Rzeka glaive with a deadly blow, and finally severed the krampus’ right arm. Smoke damaged the krampus for 8,400 points.

Popanz cried out in pain as its blood began to gush out of where his severed limb used to be. The krampus’ lifebar shown (268,828/350,000HP).

Igniz remained safe inside the nose and kept on with his flame attacks. Smoke quickly gave the young Spy an order.

“Espion, grab Popanz’s iron chains, and lock its left arm into its body!”

Swiftly, Espion unequipped the green dual knives, and followed Smoke’s command. He managed to circle around Popanz three times.

Espion successfully disabled the krampus with its own weapon. Smoke switched his attacks onto Popanz’s kneecaps.

With a strong horizontal Mountain Split attack, the DarkElf knocked Popanz down to the floor. He started to chop off the krampus’ right leg.

“Espion, start on the back of Popanz’s neck.”

“You got it.”

Popanz writhed around on the floor. The monster was in complete pain. The maimed status and the loss of blood, drained some of the krampus’ strength.

Smoke kept on striking down Popanz’s knee cap. After his sixteenth stroke the krampus’ right knee was sliced off completely.

The combined attack of Smoke, Espion, and Igniz whittled down Popanz’s lifebar. It now displayed (145,628/350,000 HP).

“I’ve almost got its head as well.”

The krampus’ second severed limb gave back its drained strength. The monster busted out of its own chains. Popanz went after Espion’s head.

The young Spy was busy slashing the krampus’ neck that he didn’t notice Popanz’s claws were coming at him.

“Espion! Behind you!”

Espion turned around and saw the claws right in front of his eyes. He tried to dodge, but Popanz reached Espion’s face and scratched his right eye.

Igniz flew out of Popanz nose as he tried to look after the injured Espion.

Smoke moved in front of Popanz and swung his Rzeka glaive at the krampus’ eyes as well. The strike temporarily blinded the beast.

The DarkElf twisted his body as far as it allowed him. He stretched out his glaive for maximum force.

“Igniz, enchant my glaive!”

Immediately, his Rzeka glaive was covered in smouldering flames. Smoke struck Popanz’s neck with all his might.

However, the hit was not enough to decapitate the beast. Espion tried to help by throwing his enhanced knives at the back of Popanz’s neck.

Only eight out of his sixteen throwing knives hit their target. At the same time, Smoke kept on striking the front of Popanz’s neck.

Popanz tried to grab Smoke, but without its right arm and right leg it had a hard time trying to move.

Smoke, Espion, and Igniz kept on with their attacks. Until finally, Smoke delivered the finishing blow and decapitated Popanz’s head.

+ Your party has dealt a fatal blow to krampus: Herzog Popanz.
+ Your party killed krampus: Herzog Popanz.
+ Your party gained 400,000 exp.

As the body of the krampus, Herzog Popanz. started to fade away, it left behind a precious loot.

+ Acquired rare iron chains: ‘Swirling Iron of Death’.
+ Acquired krampus hide.
+ Acquired krampus horns.
+ Acquired krampus hooves.
+ Acquired krampus embryo.

Smoke didn’t have the time to check on the dropped items. He quickly stored them away in his backpack window.

After he secured the items, the DarkElf went to see how Espion was doing. The krampus’ attack blinded Espion’s right eye.

“Are you okay?”

“I’ll live. Don’t worry about it. If you hadn’t warned me in time, that monster would’ve probably cleaned my head off.”

Smoke prepared his medicinal deer stew after he applied bandages on Espion’s eyes.

As they ate, Smoke inspected the items and found that the acquired krampus embryo was described as the key to unlocking the center of the labyrinth.

Smoke told Espion and Igniz that as soon as they were rested they would head back to the central hidden chamber.

* * * * * * 

Back in the central hidden chamber of Fire. Smoke, Espion, and Igniz prepared for the worst. They were at optimum fighting condition.

Espion had his throwing knives at the ready, and Igniz was prepared to launch a series of fire cages or even lodge himself into another nostril.

Smoke carefully placed the krampus embryo on top of the pedestal at the center of the hidden chamber. Once again the whole hidden chamber shook as an aperture appeared on the floor behind the pedestal.

Smoke, Espion, and Igniz were on full alert. All of them stared at the opening on the floor with bated breath.

A minute passed and no horns came out from the opening. Smoke signaled them to start moving closer into the aperture.

Smoke switched weapons from his Rzeka glaive to his flamdius sword and Armadillo shield. Espion did the same and switched to the green dual knives.

Vigilantly, all of them peeked at the aperture. They all saw that there was a staircase which led downwards.

“Igniz, can you go do a quick check on what’s waiting for us below?”

The dark ember sprite gave a nod, and stealthily went into the opening. A few seconds later Igniz came out and gave the ‘all clear’ signal.

Smoke and Espion still had their weapons out as they went down the staircase. Igniz lit the whole room as it was required him.

The DarkElf saw that the hidden room inside the secret Fire chamber was actually a laboratory of the Tenebris.

The laboratory was larger than the room above at 300 square meters. It had mountains and mountains of books scattered all over the place.

However, there was one table that caught Smoke’s attention. On the desk was a journal entitled ‘How to Create a Maneator’.

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