Proofreaders: Vaanouney & Timaeus
Note: For easy character reference please refer to: Characters
Smoke and his private army members cautiously watched twenty newly transformed Tikbalangs still lying motionless on the ground. A few seconds later, some of the transformed monsters began to move and regain their consciousness.
He saw Rudel horridly examining his new winged Tikbalang form. Each wing had sharp ivory nails sticking out on top. Rudel’s black gigantic bat-like wings covered his entire body. The transformed Rudel expanded his monstrous wings which made Laernea shriek in terror.
He felt Rudel’s unease as the winged Tikbalang kept searching for his missing horse half. Instead of hooves, Rudel grew a pair of abnormally long and muscular Human feet. Instead of hands, Rudel had parted hooves attached to disproportionately long arms.
“Neeeeeiiiiiiiiggghhhhhhhh! Huh? Smoke, what happened?” Smoke’s heart ached when he heard the mutated Rudel’s question. “What did that Witch do to me? Tell me this isn’t real!”
Smoke remained silent. He couldn’t find the words to comfort the transformed Rudel. Slowly, the winged Tikbalang stepped outside of the casting circle that the evil Witch Terrabelle created before Smoke killed her.
The moment Rudel stepped outside, Smoke saw the awakened Tikbalangs running towards their direction. “Rudel, behind you!” Smoke cried out.
Smoke took out his power chainsaw bow and began firing at the charging monsters. Ichaival and Laernea followed their leader and attacked the monsters with their fire arrows enchanted by Igniz. Adder and Espion equipped their melee weapons and waited for the monsters to get within their reach.
They faced twenty Tikbalangs against only five of Smoke’s private army. With the odds stacked against them, Smoke and his men prepared for the worst.
Yet, a strange thing happened. The rampaging Tikbalangs disappeared when a cloud of dust erupted inside the casting circle. The earth trembled hard. Smoke unequipped his power chainsaw bow and reflexively pushed his private army members further away from the casting circle.
After the ground stopped shaking and the dust finally settled, Smoke saw a black winged Tikbalang flying above the casting circle. The transformed Rudel used his Earth Manipulation and created a pit so deep that the Tikbalangs could not get out of it.
Smoke watched Rudel fly down and land next to him. “How did you do that? I thought you couldn’t use your Earth Manipulation ability here?” He asked.
“Same here. I just saw the Tikbalangs coming and I knew that I should do something. The next thing I knew I was flying over them and the ground responded to my will of creating a pit designed to capture them.”
“Maybe you inherited Terabelle’s Earth Manipulation when you smashed the black orb?” Smoke thought out loud. He intentionally left out the part of Rudel’s transformation into a winged Tikbalang.
“Maybe. But we have to do something about these Tikbalangs. I’m afraid that they could escape and hurt the ordinary residents of Pferde.”
Smoke remembered the rare hand accessory that he looted from Terrabelle, the Horse Ring of Domination. He quickly took out from his backpack window and examined it.
| Horse Ring of Domination
A rare silver ring created by one of the witches of Wysteria, Terrabelle. It has the head of a Tikbalang embossed on top of the ring. It was crafted to control her created Tikbalangs.
The Horse Ring of Domination looked like a simple item but its passive bonuses alone gave Smoke a great increase in his Earth Manipulation ability. It boosted his Earth Affinity to 90%
‘I’ve got to try this out.’
Without a word, Smoke equipped the Horse Ring of Domination. He then stood in front of the pit with the Tikbalangs inside it. He raised both his arms. The ground on top of the pit began to shake once more.
Swiftly, he joined his hands together. CRAAACCCKKKK! He created a resounding noise when his hands connected. Earth bars came out from the top of the pit and formed a prison over the Tikbalangs.
‘Now to try out its active ability.’
“Rudel, I think I can do something about the Tikbalangs.”
Smoke ran on top of the earth bars, which surprised his private army members. “Smoke, what in Cuezaltzin’s name are you doing?” Laernea cried out in fear. “Get out of there. You don’t know if those things you made can hold you! Or worse, the Tikbalangs could grab you!”
Once he got to the center of the pit, he made the earth bars separate and dive down to the bottom of the pit. He then turned around and faced his party members.
He waved goodbye to his party members as he dove into the pit. Igniz swiftly followed after him. Smoke thought he heard everyone gasped when he jumped down. THUD! He landed smoothly with the aid of his Hooded Cloak, Wings of Cologus.
Igniz automatically released more of his luminescence and lit up the place. Twenty Tikbalangs which were three meter tall gathered around the earth-formed funnel. The monsters began bashing their hooves into the earth bar as they tried to get to Smoke.
Dust scattered everywhere as the monsters surrounded him and kept on smashing into the earth bars. He checked his mana bar and saw that he still had (102,031/214,593 MP) left.
The DarkElf raised his right hand, which had the Horse Ring of Domination. He pointed it to the nearest Tikbalang in front of him and activated the Tikbalang Dominate ability.
The Tikbalang head embedded on the Horse Ring of Domination glowed with an emerald light. A similar emerald color glowed in the targeted Tikbalang’s eyes.
|– 5,000 MP consumed
+ Successful: Tikbalang Domination
> You fully control this Tikbalang for the next 24 Hours
“Neeeeiigggh! Master I obey…”
The three-meter Tikbalang bowed down. Its Human knees bent on the ground while its lengthy hooves gave it an awkward posture. The Tikbalang’s name and life bar displayed above its head changed from red to green.
A smug smile appeared on Smoke’s face. A thrill of excitement overcame him as he imagined an army of twenty Tikbalangs. He already had three Maneators at home.
‘If I could raise these guys’ levels close to 300, then facing Duke Burmistrz will become a reality.’
Smoke pointed to the Tikbalang beside his dominated monster and used his Tikbalang Dominate ability again.
The Tikbalang head embeded on his ring glowed an emerald color once more, but this time the targeted Tikbalang’s eyes glowed a fierce ruby color.
|– 5,000 MP consumed
– Failure: Tikbalang Domination
> You do not have control over this Tikbalang
“What the hell!”
Smoke knew that there were three attributes that controlled the Horse Ring of Domination’s success, but he thought that since he had two out of the three, he would have better odds.
He used the ring’s active ability until he ran out of Mana. He got fifteen Tikbalangs on the first run and waited until he got 5,000 MP to use the ability again.
Two minutes passed and he saw Rudel fly in after him. “Laernea sent me down to check on you. Although I said that I didn’t hear any sounds of fighting, she still insisted.”
“Just give me five more minutes. Hmmm… maybe more, and I’ll have all twenty Tikbalangs under control.”
“You can control them? Are they sane like me?” Rudel asked.
“Umm… You’ll have to see for yourself.” Smoke pointed to a kneeling Tikbalang nearby. He motioned for Rudel to try and talk to it, while he waited for his MP to regenerate.
Rudel sat down in front of the kneeling Tikbalang. His bat-like wings folded neatly but the sharp ivory claws remained protruded.
Smoke could tell that the controlled Tikbalangs were mindless drones. He didn’t wish for such a tragedy to befall on the noble Centaurs, but at least if he could control them he could redirect the carnage these monsters were capable of.
When he saw Rudel’s reaction, he knew that the winged Tikbalang came to the same realization. “If it’s any consolation, I think we could still reverse the Witches’ curse if we have all three of their blood vials.” Smoke said reassuringly.
“Personally, I’m not an optimist but this time I’ll gamble on hoping for that cure.” Rudel uttered the words with conviction before he flew out of the earth funnel that Smoke had built.
After ten more minutes, Smoke finally dominated all twenty Tikbalangs. He ran out of Mana and it would take him another ten minutes to regain enough Mana to manipulate the ground to elevate them upwards.
So, he ordered his platoon of Tikbalangs to climb up the funnel as he opened four doors from the earth bars. Smoke climbed out first as his Tikbalangs followed. One by one the controlled Tikbalangs climbed out of the earth funnel.
Smoke stood in front of his twenty Tikbalangs. His party members stood in a daze as they watched him command the monsters. He told them to stand guard and attack any enemies of the Centaurs.
He then gave out the order to his party members to head for Deropa’s house. He needed to talk to Pferde’s village elder. Rudel decided to stay behind. He didn’t want his people to see his transformation.
The DarkElf could sense Rudel’s inner turmoil and decided to do something about it.
“Rudel, I’ve never done this before, but I would like to ask you if you could honor me by being a part of my private army?”
“What? You want me to join you even after I’ve transformed? What if I go berserk and lose control of my senses?”
Smoke extended his right hand and waited for Rudel to shake it.
“I have complete faith in you. I know that your willpower is stronger than any of the Witches’ spells. As a sign of my trust, I’m gonna loan you this Horse Ring of Domination.”
Smoke took off his newly acquired item and gave it to Rudel, but the winged Tikbalang pushed Smoke’s hand away.
“No! I can’t accept that. Don’t you need that to manipulate the ground in this area?”
“You’re right, but this is just a loan. I have something special in mind for you. If you’re willing to be a part of my private army.”
The winged Tikbalang bowed down before Smoke.
“I would be honored to be a part of your private army, but I have one condition. While I am in this form please stop calling me as Rudel. Until my curse is removed, I shall be called Ledur.”
“No problem with me.”
|+ Rudel a.k.a Ledur has joined your Personal Army
Rudel was a Volataur from Pferde. He was next in line to become Pferde’s Village Elder. However, he was cursed by Terrabelle and transformed into a winged Tikbalang. While in this form he wishes to be known as Ledur.
Tikbalang Control: Able to control up to six Tikbalangs.
As Smoke read Ledur’s information window, he could barely contain his excitement. This winged Tikbalang had the highest level out of all his private army members.
He wondered if Ledur’s level was already that high when he was still in his Volataur form. He dismissed the thought immediately.Otherwise how could he have stood a chance against him at Earth Manipulation?
* * * * * *
Back inside the village, Smoke felt the villagers’ eyes carefully observing him from inside their homes. He gave them a wave and a smile but it didn’t help alleviate the dire situation.
He briskly walked towards Deropa’s house. He knocked three times before he heard the old Volataur call him inside. Due to the sensitive topic, he asked his private army members to stay behind.
He only allowed Igniz to follow him inside.
“So, what exactly happened? I tried calling my Centaur Warriors but I couldn’t reach any of them. Except for Rudel, and he doesn’t accept my call.”
“Well you see…” Smoke told Deropa their entire arduous battle with Terrabelle. If Rudel and the Centaur Warriors didn’t sacrifice themselves then even more innocent villagers would have been hurt by the mutated Centaurs’ rampage.
It took a while for Deropa to absorb all the disconcerting information. He kept pacing around with his cane inside his wooden house so much that Smoke felt the wooden floor could give out at any given moment.
Steadily, Smoke noticed that Deropa’s pacing slowed down. Until he finally stopped.
“So? What do I do now? Those Centaur Warriors were our last line of defense. If the other two Witches come after Pferde we’re done for. I don’t want to be the Elder who goes down in history as the one that lost Pferde.”
Smoke understood the burdens of being a leader. Personally, his top priority was always the survival of his people. So, he gave Deropa his unsolicited advice.
“If you stay in Pferde, you will only be putting your villagers in harm’s way. How about the Simiavulgs? Do you think they would be willing to help you?”
“I doubt that they would be willing to help us. I don’t have any qualms with them but our villages have always kept to themselves.”
Due to his habit, Smoke ruffled his head as he pondered on for answers. He did this action to show Deropa that he did not have any plans in advance.
Yet the reality was that he had been holding on to this idea from the beginning. He just didn’t know how Deropa would take it.
“What about if you migrate?”
“Migrate? And where do you propose do we do that? We’ve been here for hundreds of years.” Deropa spoke with uncertainty.
Right from the start, the goal of Smoke’s journey to the western part of the Wysteria continent were two things. First was to hunt down the Witches of Wysteria and second was to recruit citizens for Verbrannt.
“I know that, but you have to consider the condition that Pferde is in. It would take years to completely rehabilitate this place.”
“Then where do we go?”
“I’m thinking that if we need to move somewhere far. There’s a village called Condortl just past Mount Aeriloc and they’re in a similar situation.” Smoke began cautiously. “I was thinking that your two villages could migrate together. Traveling in numbers does slow a group down but it also gives better protection.”
Deropa slowly walked with his cane to a chair and sat down.
“I guess migrating with another village sounds better. It will help my villagers understand just how dangerous this place has become. But you still haven’t answered my question. Where do you propose we migrate to?”
“There’s a prospering village just outside of Coatl. It’s called Verbrannt. My friend Sierra runs that place. It’s currently focusing on its defensive power. So you can be sure that your villagers will be safe there. I’m sure they will give you a seat at the village council when join them there as well.”
Smoke saw Deropa nod with relief. His Charisma was only at 34 but his intimacy with Deropa compensated for it. He had convinced Pferde’s elder.
Before Smoke left Deropa’s house he had to tell him about the individuals he planned on guarding them for their journey to Verbrannt.
“I’ll have Adder join you. He is my second in command in the private army. He will lead you to Condortl as he will tell them of my plan for their migration.”
Deropa passively nodded until Smoke went on to say.
“Just one more thing. The Tikbalangs were Terrabelle’s creation but twenty of these monsters are now under my control. Their leader is a winged Tikbalang named Ledur.”
He instantly saw Deropa’s relieved face turn into a horrified Volataur.
“Don’t worry you’ll like Ledur. I promise…”
* * * * * *
A video of a DarkElf fighting together with a Volataur against a single Witch robed in brown displayed on Nash’s desktop screen.
He didn’t need to edit the video that much because the other Zectas players already saw his weighted chain and sickle. He just left out the parts where Terrabelle cursed the Centaurs and turned them into Tikbalangs.
His last video on his solo fight against the Brandals earned him a check worth $15,000. He hoped that a similar check would come his way with this boss fight video.
Yet, the real reason why Nash was very pleased with the $ 15,000 check was because his birthday was coming this weekend. He already told his family members that they would go to the lakeside resort called Etona Lawa.
He made all the necessary preparation that allowed him to stay offline from Zectas for more than forty-eight hours. Since it took almost that amount of time for the Pferdean Centaurs and Condortlians to head for Verbrannt.
With Adder in charge and Ledur in control of his Tikbalang army, Nash felt that he had nothing to worry about it. He even loaned out his newly acquired rare ring to Ledur just for this trip. He couldn’t wait to see the red werebear’s expression when she sees the new recruits he sent her.
As per his agreement with the arcade manager, Smoke sent an email informing him that he will be away from Zectas for more than forty-eight hours.
Nash thought he had the whole trip figured out, until he got the resort’s information. He only bought accommodations for four people, but to his surprise Lake Etona Lawa Resort had another promotional offer. Aside from the already low prices, the lakeside resort also included a four plus one sale.
His frugal nature would not allow him to waste the free accommodation. Yet despite this fact he was still in a dilemma. Where could he find someone who could go with them on such short notice?
He could invite master Cacoy, but he couldn’t picture him having fun at the lake. He did however decide that he could borrow his silver suburban for their long drive to the lakeside resort.
He thought about inviting his arcade manager, but Nash knew that he was busy with his three kids. Going on a weekend get away wouldn’t suit him as well.
Nash was left with only one logical choice. As he searched for his phone, a part of him knew that she was the person he really wanted to invite in the first place.
He picked up his phone and dialed Sherry’s number.
Riinngg Riiinng Riinng Riinng.
He smiled when he heard the old telephone ring back. He liked how Sherry was quirky that way. He prepared to leave a message on her phone when he unexpectedly heard her answer his call.
“Hey, Nash, what’s up?”
“Oh, hi. I thought you’d be inside the game.”
“Nah, I needed some time off from my side quest. I’ve been looking everywhere for… Oh, nevermind about my sidequest.”
Smoke sniggered. He remembered Sherry searching for the labyrinth’s exit.
“Still searching for something, huh?”
“Quit it! I bet you wouldn’t have found that exit if you were the one looking for it throughout the entire Otaczac Forest.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Mitleid’s clue was more of a distraction.” Smoke kept an awkward grin as he spoke with Sherry. He didn’t notice it until he saw himself in the mirror.
“Anyway, my family and I are going to lakeside resort for the entire weekend… Umm… We have one extra accommodation… And I was wondering if you maybe wanna come or something?” Smoke asked in his most nonchalant voice.
“A whole weekend away from Zectas? Have you ever been away that long before?”
“No, this will be my first time.” Nash knew that he couldn’t just ask anyone out of the blue like that. “I understand if you don’t wanna go. I just thought I’d ask you that’s all…”
“Hey! Who said I wasn’t coming. Tell me when and where and I’ll be there. Just let me get a few things sorted out in Zectas first, okay?”
“Sure, sure. No problem. How about in front of Cafe Soeurette? At… five in the morning tomorrow. Think you can do that?”
“Yeah, I know that place. You better not keep me waiting, Nash.”
He remained on the line until he got the busy dial tone.
* * * * * *
BWEEP BWEEP BWEEP BWEEP BWEEP.
A hand reflexively came crashing down on the black rectangular alarm. Nash woke up to a chilly fifty-one degree fahrenheit morning on his birthday.
He groggily checked the time and saw four-thirty displayed in his digital alarm clock. He headed to his brothers rooms to wake them up.
Yet, as soon as Nash opened the door to leave his room, his brothers and grandma surprised him with a strawberry tart pie. A single lit candle stuck out at the center of the pie.
From when they were younger, their Mima Daphne always made them pies for their birthdays. Sadly, Nash’s grandma stopped making the birthday pies when her hands lost their strength.
Donny excitedly greeted his eldest brother. “Happy Birthday, Nash. I came up with this whole idea. Seth just tagged along and helped me with some stuff,” explained the youngest Smoak.
Seth interjected. “Ha! If Mima wasn’t there to guide us I doubt the pie would have turned out like this.”
“Now, now, boys. This is Nash’s day. He doesn’t need you two to start it by fighting. Go ahead, Nash. Blow out your candle.”
Nash silently watched his two brothers bicker with a smile on his face. His birthday was off to a great start. He blew the candle and took a slice of the strawberry tart pie.
“Alright, come on you two. We have to get ready. I told Sherry that we would pick her up at five.”
He borrowed Grand Master Cacoy’s silver suburban the day before. Ten minutes later, all four Smoaks excitedly rode on the huge car.
The birthday celebrant and his family arrived at Cafe Soeurette five minutes early, but Sherry was already there sitting in front of the cafe with five cups of hot drinks.
Nash got out to help Sherry with her bags. Mima Daphne tried to get out of the front seat to let Sherry sit with Nash, but Donny stopped his grandma.
“No, no, Mima. You stay right there. Sherry can sit with me at the back.” Donny quickly said while forcibly pushing his grandma back to her seat.
“Sherry, you remember my Mima Daphne, Seth, and Donny, right?” Nash said while loading her bags into the suburban.
“Yeah, yeah. Of course. Nice to see you all again.”
“You can sit right here.” Donny said as he patted the seat next to him. “Seth can sit at the back. He told me he wanted to take a nap before we arrive. Isn’t that right, Seth?”
“Huh? When did I say that?” Seth shrugged as Donny shoved him to the furthest seat in the back.
Sherry comfortably sat down beside Donny. “Oh, I brought drinks for everyone. Mima, you like caffe misto, right? Nash, here. I got you a java chip frappuccino. Seth, yours is a green tea frap. And for Donny. I got you a double chocolaty chip blended creme.”
“Oh, my dear. You remembered everyone’s drinks, when we ordered them at your diner once, and how long ago was that? Almost two years ago?” Mima said in a very delighted voice.
“Of course, Sherry, remembers. Especially my drink.” Donny said. “By the way, I heard that they have horseback riding up in Etona Lawa. I also remembered you say you were a champion equestrian when you were fourteen?”
“Donny, you remembered. So, you were listening when I was talking to you. All you ever did was just stare at your chocolaty creme.”
“Right. Anyway, I was wondering if you could teach me how to ride a horse there?”
“Sure! If Nash and Mima are fine with it?” Sherry replied.
“Are you sure, dear? You don’t have to give in to Donny’s silly little request.” Mima Daphne said as she took a sip from her warm caffe misto.
“No problem with me. Donny, fasten your seatbelt and give Sherry some room. That seat’s suppose to be big enough for four persons.” Nash said as he started the three hour long drive to the lakeside resort.
For the entire trip, Donny grilled Sherry with questions. Sherry politely answered them, but Nash could tell that she had almost reached her limit.
Finally, they arrived in Etona Lawa lakeside resort. Nash followed the directions towards the parking lot. There they saw a sporty young girl with blond hair dressed in a green Etona Lawa camp suit.
She looked to be younger than Nash and Sherry. She waved at them when they arrived at the parking lot. She walked up to them as soon as they got out of the car.
“Welcome to Etona Lawa! My name is Betty and please allow me to guide you to your cabin.” Betty said with a big smile on her face. “You’re the Smoaks, right?”
“Yes, yes. That’s us. I’m Nash.” He shook her hand and answered her with a smile as Betty kept on her cheerful demeanor.
“Alrighty then. Follow me please.”
After they gathered their bags, all four Smoaks and Sherry followed their Etona Lawa guide through a serene foot path. Tall Douglas, Pine, Spruce, and Cedar Trees shaded them.
A few gaps in-between the trees revealed the majestic blue lake. There were already a couple of people swimming inside the lake. Others were riding on two passenger row boats and some where fishing further away from the crowd.
Betty stopped in front of a big log cabin. It had a porch with two antique looking rocking chairs. When they got inside, they were astonished at how spacious the cabin was.
The spacious cabin had a fire place with dried logs neatly piled inside. The lounging area had a comfortable looking sofa and a rug in front of it.
Nash quickly inspected the rooms and found that the cozy log cabin had three. The two larger rooms had two beds in it while the smaller room just had one.
He walked to the smaller room and called his invited guest. “Sherry, you can take this room. Mima and I will share a room and Donny and Seth can have the other one.”
“Thanks, I was wondering how our sleeping arrangements were going to be.”
Nash grinned mischievously. “Nah, you don’t have to worry about that. Alright, I’ll let you get settled in while I check on everyone.”
While Seth and Donny busily explored the log cabin, Nash walked over to Betty and shook her hand with a neatly folded hundred dollar tip in it. He normally wouldn’t have done it, but he intended this trip to be extravagant and special.
To his surprise Betty rejected it. “No, you don’t have to do that. My pay here is good enough as it is. I’m just happy to help.”
He watched Betty as she began to walk out of the door. “So, Nash, if you ever need anything don’t hesitate to ask. I’m staying in the main cabin.”
“Thanks for the offer, Betty. I’ll be sure to look for you if we ever need anything.” Nash happily showed their lakeside guide out of their cabin.
Once everyone got accustomed to their rooms for the weekend, they talked about what they wanted to do. Seth already decided on trying the kite surfing that Etona Lawa offered.
Nash wanted to come, but he promised their Mima to take her on a relaxing walk to get some fresh air. Sherry asked if she could come, but Donny insisted that they begin their lesson on horseback riding.
Before they went to their separate activities, he reminded Seth to wear a life jacket even if he knew how to swim and told Donny to follow Sherry’s instructions all the time.
He trusted Sherry to be safe with Donny, but his younger brother always had a tendency to show off in front of the girl he liked and it was clear that he had a major crush on Sherry.
With a comfy scarf wrapped around Mima Daphne’s neck, Nash and his grandmother started their walk on Etona Lawa’s nature trail. This activity was the only his Mima felt comfortable doing.
Further into the trail, his Mima began talking about how she missed her husband Percival.
“Nash, did you know that Papap was very much like Seth?”
“Really? From your old stories, I thought he was more like Donny?”
His Mima Daphne giggled. “His mischievousness only comes out when it came to his family members. He liked pranking all of us. Especially your father, Steve.”
“Yeah, I remember dad saying something like that.” Nash chuckled with his Mima.
“But there was one person in our family that your Papap could never prank.”
“I think we need to sit down for this one.” Mima Daphne said as she pointed to a bench by the nature trail made out of cypress branches.
“Your dad’s twin brother, Zach. You don’t know about him, right? Your dad asked me not to. Right after what Zach did to our family.”
Nash was confused. “What did he do? Why are you telling me this now? Do you know where he is?”
“I’m sure you have a lot of questions, but I’m doing this now because I feel that my days with you three boys are coming to an end. Also, I’d like you three to meet your uncle.”
“But if dad said that we should stay away from him, shouldn’t we follow dad’s wishes?”
He stared at the open field. His mind wandered off as to why his dad did this. Suddenly, he felt Mima’s hand pat him on his shoulders.
“True, but I think you should make that decision on your own. Zach is still my son, despite of what he did in the past. Besides, I know from his mails that he has changed.”
“Why didn’t he come to Mom and Dad’s funeral? Or even to Papap’s? I was still four back then, but I don’t remember anyone by that name.”
His Mima shook her head. “No. He was there. He came to both the funerals, but he respected your father’s decision about not letting you know about him.”
“Why would he do that? Also, I just realized that he has never sent us any money? Any kind of support? If he wanted to respect dad’s decision then he really did a great job. I never once felt his presence.”
“He did offer to send us money, but I asked him not to. I was still able to support us when your parents died, right?”
Nash crossed his arms as he rejected the idea of having an uncle.
“I didn’t even go to college just to support us!” Nash simply snapped.
His Mima grabbed hold of his hands and tried to calm him down. “I know! I’m so sorry for putting such a heavy burden on you. That’s why I contacted Zach and asked for help.”
For the first time Nash stared angrily at his Mima. “So, what you asked him for help about two years ago? Let me guess, he turned you down, right?”
“I didn’t get any reply from him until last month. He apologized and said that he got caught up in something important. He had only finished the second phase and only got to check his mailbox just a few days ago.”
“Really? Doesn’t that sound too convenient? Now that we have a house and have some decent income! Mima, I wanted this weekend to be a memorable and relaxing one. I’m also aware of your condition that’s why I planned this whole thing, but please let’s drop the topic about my uncle.”
He heard his Mima Daphne give a deep sigh. “Alright, I’m sorry for bringing it up.”
With the need to change the topic, Mima Daphne spotted an archery field from the nature trail. “Nash, did I tell you about the time your Papap got invited to play in the olympics?”
Nash quickly took her cue and eagerly asked. “Was he really? You never mentioned that. Come to think of it, you never spoke much about anything that happened in the past.”
“Hahaha! Good! You see, I promised myself not to be like one of those old ladies who keep on talking about the same thing over and over again.” She smiled.
“Don’t get me wrong. I love reliving my memories, but I try to keep these things to myself. But who knows? Maybe this is the sign that I’m already getting really old that I’m starting to blab a lot of things.”
“Now, we don’t want that Mima. You’re still young. How about we make some new memories right now? Instead of thinking about Papap’s archery skills, I’ll show you mine.”
“I didn’t know you knew archery?” His Mima asked.
“Well this will be my first time, but I think I have the theory down.” Nash said with a grin.
He led the way to archery field. They found the one in charge and asked if they could borrow a set of bow and arrows. Mima Daphne comfortably sat in the viewer’s bleachers and watched Nash try out archery for the first time.
The Etona Lawa archery guide explained that there were two scoring methods in their archery field. The five zone imperial and the ten zone world archery. It used the same colors with a slight change in points because of the outer and inner rings.
| Five Zone Imperial System
White – 1
| Ten Zone World Archery System Outer White – 1
Inner White – 2
Outer Black – 3
Inner Black – 4
Outer Blue – 5
Inner Blue – 6
Outer Red – 7
Inner Red – 8
Outer Gold – 9
Inner Gold – 10
Most beginners started with the five zone imperial system at a distance of forty meters, but the field currently available was the ten zone world archery system.
Nash stood in front of a target with a distance of seventy meters away. He clutched the metallic green bow in his hands and felt confused just looking at it.
It didn’t look anything like the one he had in Zectas. He was surprised to see that the bow in the real world had many complicated attachments.
There was a sight, sight window, center stabilizers, fiser, arrow rest, nock point, and many other parts that the guide mentioned that he forgot.
He closed his eyes and pictured himself that he was inside Zectas. He pulled the arrow back and aimed for the target.
The arrow soared awkwardly from his bow and dropped on the ground some thirty meters away. He couldn’t believe at how short his shot was that he felt like digging a hole in the ground and hiding in it.
He fired again and again and again. Until the tenth arrow he finally nicked the target. He searched for his Mima in the bleachers and saw her give him a round of applause.
He kept on firing more arrows until he felt that he knew how much force he should put into his fingers and shoulders to get the desired distance.
After three successful hits on the outer white zone, he looked to his grandmother once more but this time he found that she started reading a pocket book she had brought in her fanny pack.
With all thirty-six arrows out he decided to walk to the target and collect his arrows. He kept on practicing again and each time he finished a round of thirty-six arrows he got more arrows in the target.
On his tenth round of thirty-six arrows, his Mima called him and asked if she could return to the cabin ahead of him. He immediately dropped the bow and arrows and ran to her.
“I’m so sorry Mima, I got caught up in the moment. I never realized how much I liked firing an arrow before.”
His Mima touched pinched his cheeks. “Don’t worry about it. Your Papap was the same. You go on ahead and practice some more. I already asked one of the guides here to escort me back.”
“Are you sure?” Nash asked.
“I’m positive. Now, go and have fun. You looked good out there.” His Mima gave him a hug before she went to their cabin.
Nash instantly picked up the bow and resumed his training. After another fifteen rounds of thirty-six arrows, all of his shots went inside the blue, red and sometimes gold target zones.
He tallied his score and found that he got 268/360 (74.44%) points from all thirty-six arrows. Yet, if he had used the five zone imperial system, his score would have been 284/324 (87.65%) points.
It was then that a middle aged man wearing a jersey with the flag of Austria walked up to him. “Hello there!”
He turned around and observed the middle aged man closely.
“You know, you have an interesting form but if you’re trying for a different technique on drawing your bow I’d like to make some suggestions.”
“Huh?” Nash simply raised an eyebrow as he was caught off guard by the stranger.
“Sorry if I disturbed you, but you looked too interesting to ignore. I haven’t seen anyone as dedicated to archery as you in a while.” The middle aged Austrian stretched out his hand for a handshake. “My name is Nico. How long have you been practicing?”
Nash shook Nico’s hand firmly. “I dunno, maybe three?”
“Three, huh?” Nico’s excited face changed abruptly. “I guess I must be wrong. I could have sworn you just recently picked up the bow. If you’ve been practicing that long and still haven’t discovered your own pull. How about I give you a few tips?”
“Sure, why not?” Nash shrugged and stepped aside as Nico showed him a different posture.
Nico began explaining the positioning of the foot, the fingers, the shoulders, and the breath. He said that all of his body parts had a specific task and a purpose.
Nico fired six arrows and all of them went into gold target zone. Five inner golds and one outer gold. Nash could only whistle at what he saw.
Nash followed what Nico taught him to the letter and fired into the outer red, followed by another outer red, and slowly moved his way inward.
In the next series of shots, he got an inner red, then finally his first outer gold quickly followed by another outer gold. Nash turned around and shook Nico’s hands excitedly.
He saw from Nico’s smile that he was impressed and confused, but Nash wasn’t sure if Nico was pleased with him or at his own teaching method.
“Nash, you managed to do an orthodox shot perfectly. Provided that I slightly modified of it course, but still you did it. What was the reason for your awkward stance before?”
“Oh, I just stood like that because I usually dodge or run around after I fire an arrow. It would be game over for me if I stood in one place. I didn’t realize that until you showed me.”
Nico’s face grew more confused. “Moving around in archery?”
Etona Lawa’s horn for supper time blew and Nash had to stop his archery practice and join his family. He thanked Nico one more time and ran straight for his log cabin.
Nico returned to his friends with a blank expression. “Hey, Nico. What’s wrong pal?”
“I dunno. I just met a kid who said he started practicing archery for three years now and doesn’t even know the orthodox stance.”
“Well, maybe he got a bad coach or something?”
“Yeah, I think that could be it.” Nico said with a bothered face.
“Quit thinking about it. Come on, let’s head out to our cabin.”
“The kid said something really strange.”
“He said that he had that awkward stance because he needed to keep running around after each shot, otherwise it would mean game over for him. Are you familiar with any running archery competitions?”
* * * * * *
After dinner, Nash and Sherry found themselves in the front porch of their log cabin. They sat in the wooden rocking chairs in silence and enjoyed the panoramic evening sky before them.
Sherry broke the silence. “You know who would like it here?”
“Igniz of course. If there was one character in Zectas that could come to life I would vote for Igniz.”
“Really? I thought for sure you would have Sharur.” Nash said in a teasing manner.
“Sharur? Now why would I bring him? For you however I know you would pick Laernea. I know you like how she dotes on you.”
“Don’t be like that. Laernea is like my little sister. If I had one that was extremely furry.”
Both of them laughed as they talk about their friends in Zectas. As they laughed, Sherry abruptly took out a small gift wrapped neatly in red and green wrapper.
“Here, it’s not much, but I hope you like it.” She said shyly.
Nash hurriedly unwrapped his small gift and found a small silver necklace with a fiery silver Igniz at the center. “Wow! This is really nice. No wonder you talked about Igniz for a minute there.”
Both of them laughed again. “Thank you so much, Sherry. I love it!” Nash immediately wore the necklace and gave her a quick hug.
They sat back down their respective rocking chairs and resumed their enjoyment of the night sky. “This is fun. We should do this more often.” Sherry said out loud.
Nash smiled but it disappeared quickly. “Yeah it is. But I don’t think we can do it anytime soon. Oh, right. I also left a surprise for you in Zectas.”
“A surprise? Sounds intriguing. I wonder what the surprise could be… Maybe a fresh army of Avendre Mercenaries?” Sherry gave Nash her puppy eyes look.
“Oh no you don’t. You’re not getting me to tell you what the surprise is. I’ve still got a lot of things to do in Zectas but let’s drop the topic, okay?”
“Yeah… Same here I’ve got a lot on my plate as well. Verbrannt isn’t gonna defend itself. I was just saying that it’s nice to get out of the game once in a while.”
“Alright, let’s not talk about Zectas right now.” Nash said with conviction. He tried to think of something else, but the only other topic he could think of was her.
“So, Donny really likes you, huh? I hope he isn’t bothering you too much?”
“Oh, not at all. He’s a cutie. It’s really interesting to be with someone who talks as much as Donny.”
“Ah, I just remembered. I found an archery field and it looks really fun. I don’t know if it’s from all the archery I do inside the game, but I think I’m pretty decent at it. Want to join me there tomorrow?”
He saw Sherry’s troubled face. He thought it was about their checkout time in the lakeside resort.
“Don’t worry. We check out at noon. We still should have plenty of time for you to try out archery.”
“Umm… Sorry, I can’t. I haven’t really done any archery in Zectas, and Donny made me promise to teach him more advance tricks tomorrow.”
“Oh, okay…” Nash fell silent.
He could feel Sherry’s intense gaze as she waited for him to say something else. He looked back at the stars and remained silent. Sherry followed his example and did the same.
Minutes passed and the two of them remained silent. They enjoyed the solace of each other’s company. They didn’t need words to convey what they felt at that moment.
Nash casually grabbed Sherry’s hand and held it. Then a sudden meteor shower fell from the sky. Sherry got to her feet and held on to the porch railings tightly.
He stood behind her and said. “Quick, close your eyes and make a wish. Maybe you’ll even find the thing you’ve been looking for inside the game.”
Sherry arched her elbows and hit Nash’s right rib squarely. “Ouch!” Nash winced in pain. Yet, a few seconds later he saw Sherry close her eyes.
Nash calmly hugged her from behind. He then gently leaned in and kissed her softly on the lips.
* * * * * *
Sierra opened her eyes and found herself inside the King’s quarters of Verbrannt Castle. She excitedly searched for the surprise that Smoke had left her.
She opened her status window and various other windows. She found nothing out of the ordinary, until she saw the status window for Verbrannt.
+ Ownership of the Verbrannt Village belongs: Sierra.
The flourishing village of Verbrannt has grown considerably. However, misunderstanding and unease is rampant in the village. Due to the fact that various races and cultures in Verbrannt are now forced to live together.
Curiously, she walked out the balcony and saw a village of Centaurs camped inside the castle grounds. The dramatic rise in Verbrannt’s population overwhelmed her.
She couldn’t believe how many Smoke had convinced to join their cause. She remembered Smoke’s grand fight with one of the witches and was impressed at the sight of a flying Centaur.
Once she got to the ground floor she found Adder complete with two arms. ‘Just how many surprises does Smoke have?’ Sierra thought to herself.
“Adder, when did you get your left arm back?” The red werebear gave Smoke’s commanding private army a big hug.
“Not too long ago.” Adder gave Sierra a sincere smile. “But I’d like you to meet Eldmar and all of the Condortlians who migrated here to Verbrannt.”
Sierra was in a trance. Verbrannt’s growth had touched her deeply. After she met with the Condortlians, she thought that Smoke’s surprise had ended, until Adder said. “This time, I’d like to introduce Smoke’s latest private army member.”
“What he got a new member? Who is it? It isn’t the flying Centaur is it?”
“… Just see for yourself.” Adder said.
Without warning, something blocked the sun. Sierra looked up to see what it was. A creature with monstrous wings started its descent towards them.
She gave a devilish smile. She thought it was the flying Centaur, but she couldn’t stop her face from showing a disgusted look when she found a monster with a head of a horse and a leg of a human.
“Sierra, I’d like you to meet Ledur. He is Smoke’s commander for the Tikbalang corps.” Adder said as he pointed towards the winged Tikbalang.
“Nice to meet you, Ledur. I’m sorry for my reaction. I was just expecting the winged Centaur to fly down.”
Ledur gave a wry smile. “Don’t worry about it. I think I would have reacted the same way if I saw myself diving down.”
“Adder mentioned, a Tikbalang corps? I’d like to see them for myself. Do you think I can?” She asked Ledur.
“No problem, but just be reminded they are not the same as me. So, it’s best to keep a safe distance from them. The Tikbalangs are hidden in a special earth dome that I built.”
The red werebear followed the winged Tikbalang into the special housing built specifically for the Tikbalangs. As soon as she saw the monsters, she knew that they were on schedule to face Duke Burmistrz.
With this much improvement from Smoke’s side, she felt that it was her turn to search for her new recruits. She left Adder in charge over Verbrannt.
Even if she left, the village had more defenses than it ever did before. She asked Sharur, Jinggu, Laernea, Gandiva, and Ledur with his special Tikbalang corps to join her.
Adder aided by the three Maneators and the rest of Smoke’s private army, she was confident to leave them on her search for the werewolves.
* * * * * *
In the past few weeks, Sierra had searched through the near areas around Repormatl. She found no tracks of any werewolves near the area.
However, she had a gut feeling that she could find some of them in the eastern caves of Bien Cache. She simply followed the path of the forests that had lesser monsters.
Sierra assembled a formidable party. All twenty-six of them were divided equally between Laernea and Gandiva. They had super-sized carriages.
She needed this specific party because the levels of the monsters near the caves were already in their middle hundreds.
Yet despite this, there was another reason. Sierra wanted to remove the latest scariest addition to Verbrannt. The Tikbalangs had an appearance that took a while to get used to.
After weeks of searching, they finally reached the last forest before the caves.
|– Entered Chercheur Forest
– Monsters inside this forest are highly aggressive.
Inside the forest, they found a family of six bison-like creatures. These monsters had a body length of 2.7 meters. The monster was massive, but Sierra was attracted to the horns. Its bronze horns had an antique feel about them.
One of the bison-like creatures ran towards Sierra’s party while the rest of the five bisons ran to the opposite side. Sierra was about to give the command to attack, but Ledur had already ordered four Tikbalangs to meet the beast.
One by one the Tikbalangs dealt a painful blow of 15,000 each. After each Tikbalang finished its attack, it attached itself to the charging monster and started to slow it down.
The monster’s life bar and name appeared, ancient bison (190,000/250,000 HP). When all four Tikbalangs finished their attack, the ancient bison stopped dead on its track.
The Tikbalangs jumped on the halted beast and ripped it to shreds. It didn’t take them ten seconds to finish the beast off.
Further into the forest, they found a herd of twenty wild war elephants. The herd had fifteen adults and five calves. Sierra remembered Smoke talking about these expensive mounts, and she planned on getting one of them.
Sierra gave the instructions to Sharur, Jinggu, Laernea, Gandiva, and Ledur. She told them about her plan, and she explicitly asked for Ledur to stay within her plan.
They formed a circle around one of the younger war elephants. Before Sierra could give her order, a pack of rabid werewolves came and attacked the herd of war elephants head on.
The war elephants’ pack leader trumpeted loudly and warned its entire herd. It rampaged against the werewolves. Sierra’s Advance Level 3 Animal Instinct ability informed her that there were fifty werewolves within the area.
Sierra ordered her members to stay hidden. She hoped that the werewolves’ deep focus on the war elephants would ignore their presence.
As the matured elephants faced the werewolves, the war elephant calves were left unattended except for a sole adult war elephant which guarded them.
Forty werewolves distracted the adult herd, while ten werewolves bypassed the adults and went straight for the last war elephant that stood between them and the calves.
The ten werewolves overwhelmed the sole war elephant with their incredibly fast Agility. This allowed the werewolves to attack the war elephant with their claws without getting damaged.
The war elephant’s life bar appeared (220,000/450,000 HP). Two more rounds of the same attack pattern and the werewolves killed the creature.
Each one of the werewolves carried an elephant calf over their shoulders, while the remaining five severed the body parts of the killed war elephant and carried a big chunk.
Sierra’s amazement over the werewolves grew. Not only were they fast, but they had notable strength as well. She resumed her attention on the battle of the adult war elephants and the pack of werewolves.
Most of the werewolves divided into three and fought against one war elephant, but only the two largest werewolves fought against the pack leader of the war elephants.
Unlike the normal sized werewolves, these two did not dodge the attacks of the war elephant. When the alpha war elephant struck them with its trunk, they were pushed back as they caught it with their bare hands.
The two werewolves’ life bars and names were revealed, Rear (210,208/250,000 HP) and Phen (215,198/250,000 HP). The two of them simultaneously countered the war elephant with a slash to the war elephant’s nose and check.
This time, it was the war elephant’s life bar and name that was displayed Leplusdur (720,000/800,000 HP). The two werewolves barely made a dent against the war elephant’s pack leader.
Yet despite this fact, Leplusdur ignored the two werewolves and went after the ten werewolves who were carrying the elephant calves.
The werewolves faced against the war elephants began their retreat. Sierra knew that if she didn’t do anything now, there would be no other chance.
As the war elephants followed their young, the werewolves strategically went their separate way. Yet, before the two werewolves could completely escape two silver bolts knocked the two werewolves back.
Sierra gave the order for Sharur and Jinggu to stun her targeted werewolves. Both of the lycanthropes winced in pain and searched for the source of the bolts.
When Rear and Phen turned around, the werewolves found themselves surrounded by unknown horse faced monsters. Ledur promptly threw a huge metallic chain over them and caught them.
The red werebear calmy walked over to them, and placed her palms over their heads. She then used her active ability, Lycanthrope Control.
A bright yellow light enveloped all three of them and Sierra read the message notification.
| Successfully Controlled Two Werewolves:
Phen ( 250,000 HP )
Immediately, she wanted to try out her control over them. “Phen, Rear, come here.” The two largest werewolves in the pack followed her command, and bowed down in front of her.
The red werebear ordered Laernea and Gandiva to track the trail that the werewolves left. She wanted to rally more of them and increase her own Lycan army.