Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 03 – Chapter 07

Proofreaders: Vaanouney & Timaeus
Editor: Timaeus

Note: For easy character reference please refer to: Characters

Failed Experiment

Smoke’s past failure on the jar of Sensus and the penalty from the Ways of Manatl quest were great motivators for him to be vigilant. He knew better than to head directly to where the kappas were.

Awkwardly rowing on a twelve-foot wooden rowboat, Smoke felt like a fish out of water. Due to the fact that he wasn’t given a time limit, he decided to inspect the vessel he was on.

He strictly limited himself to the protective rock formations near the shoreline. His white metallic staff was placed securely beside him. Its length covered two out of the three seats on the boat. As he practised rowing, he found that the oars would often escape the rowlock.

Ten minutes of rowing passed when he heard Grandmaster Indignus’ voice coming from the shore. “I know that I didn’t give you a time limit, but you know that your test ends today, right?”

KLANG!

Indignus loudly banged his red metallic staff on one of the rocks on the shore.

“Don’t worry about the boat! It won’t capsize easily even if twenty kappas board it. Now leave the protective rocks and row further into the lake! That’s where the kappas are… Hey! Are you even listening to me?”

Smoke smiled when he heard Indignus’ agitated voice. As much as he liked pestering the Grandmaster, Smoke felt that there was some truth to what he said.

However, he decided to tune out the red-staff wielder. Smoke knew that he needed to be as dexterous on this boat as he was on solid ground, so he continued with his focused rowing.

An hour of intense rowing practice passed and he thought he would check up on Indignus’ irritated face. He looked back in the direction of the Simiavulg masters, but only found Saru and four brown-staff wielders in their place. Saru was the only one left from the original audience.

Wondering where the five temple masters had gone, Smoke asked Saru where they were. The gorilla albino answered back.

“They left about thirty minutes ago. They said they had more important things to do than watch your rowing practice. They left representatives to witness your trial in their place.” 

Smoke shrugged his shoulders and rowed some more. ‘Good. I think I have the rowing part down. Now I just need to practise fighting on a moving boat.’

Carefully, he placed the oars inside the rowboat. He took his white staff with both his hands and began to rock the boat. He was steadily increasing the swaying motion of his vessel.

Given the strong rocking motion of the rowboat, Smoke found it hard to move and attack with the staff as he wanted to. He almost fell into the lake as he practised striking with his white staff.

‘It isn’t as easy as I hoped it would be, but at least Indignus was right about the rowboat not easily capsizing.’

He awkwardly kept on practising. He even heard the brown-staff wielders snicker and laugh at him. However, he did not falter. The extensive hours of training under the Pillar temple taught him to be even more patient than he already was.

Another hour into his offensive practice and he began to move as he wanted. He learned to use the boat’s rocking motion to his advantage. He struck his intended target whenever the boat would sway in that direction.

When he couldn’t strike, he’d dodge imaginary shadow images of the kappa monster. He spent another hour and half doing the same routine.

Due to Smoke’s close proximity to the shoreline, he could clearly hear the brown-staff wielders’ conversation.

“I thought he would row straight to the kappas. I see now why the great masters called us.”

“I thought so too, but this guy’s strange. He even has a purple Manatl,” Smoke heard a familiar voice. He looked at the Simiavulg who spoke and found that it was Lectus, his training instructor from the Pillar temple.

“Well, all I know is that he failed the test of the jar of Sensus, which explains why he still has that white staff.”

“I wonder if he’ll be stuck as a white-staff wielder forever?”

“Now, that’s just mean. I wouldn’t wish that to my worst enemy.”

The brown-staff wielders’ conversation ended abruptly when their topic became Smoke’s white metallic staff. Smoke thought that it must have been awkward since Saru, who was holding his own white staff, was standing right beside them.

‘Alright, I think I have all the bases covered.’ Smoke slowly rowed towards the deeper portion of the lake.

Smoke had only traveled a few meters away from the defensive rock formation when he noticed a strong disturbance in the green water. Three green, scaly kappas sprang out of it and immediately went after his boat.

One of the humanoid monsters climbed up the stern while the other two went up the starboard side. With his white metallic staff in hand, Smoke stood up and created a small Manatl on each end of his white staff. He carefully waited for the kappas to attack.

Suddenly, both of the kappas on the starboard side leapt up and attacked him with their sharp claws.

The monsters’ jump made the ship tilt starboard. Using the Manatl on the bottom end of his white staff, Smoke swiftly blocked the kappa on his right as it used a double claw attack for 6,000 damage points each.

HISSS HISSS!

Burn marks appeared on the kappa’s claws as Smoke’s Manatl absorbed its attack. A split second later, the kappa on his left performed the same attack. This time Smoke used the Manatl on the top end of his staff.

After the two monsters’ attack failed, they dove back into the lake and displayed  turtle-like shells that were covering their backs.

Apparently, the two kappas’ sudden retreat was a distraction tactic. If it wasn’t for his Cunning of the Dire Fox ability, he wouldn’t have sensed the kappa coming from the stern side of the boat.

The monster leapt up and attacked Smoke with a flying kick. He blocked the kappa’s clawed foot with the Manatl on the top end of his staff.

After Smoke blocked the monster, he redirected the kappa’s attack and threw it down to the bow of his rowboat.

With the monster down, Smoke stabbed it with the energy he gathered from all three attacks. He damaged the kappa for 43,000 damage points. The kappa’s life bar went down to (72,000/115,000 HP).

The kappa winced in pain from Smoke’s massive attack, but it alarmed him when he saw that the kappa survived his Manatl-energized blow.

He resorted to using his white metallic staff in a spear-like motion, with his left hand lightly holding the staff and his right hand thrusting and pulling.

Due to his low Beggar Rank, he could only do 25% of the actual damage of his staff’s basic attacks, since it was normally only usable by those with a Job related to Martial Arts. As a result, each of Smoke’s normal staff strikes dealt an average damage of 2,000 points. Thanks to his Agility of the Horned Rabbit ability, his attack speed was improved, allowing him to swiftly execute attacks with his white metallic staff. This gave Smoke his first kappa kill.


+ Quest: Ways of Manatl
    Ability Quest Updated!
    Level: A

    Grandmaster Indigus asked you to kill 100 kappas in order to pass this trial.

    Rules:
    – Defensive Ability allowed: Manatl
    – Offensive Ability allowed: Manatl-charged attacks
    – Weapon allowed: White metallic staff

    Failure Penalty:
    – Current level will be reduced by 30%
    – All ability levels will be reduced by 30%

    Kappas(1/100)

After reading the updated information, Smoke closed the quest window. ‘I thought I’d get the same results as Doctus and the others when they fought the Dikaya guild. I guess I still need to absorb more attacks before making a single killing strike.’

SPLASH SPLASH SPLASH SPLASH.

His musings stopped when four kappas leapt onto his boat simultaneously. Two came up on the stern and another two on the bow.

Due to the webbed monsters on board his boat, he only had enough space to stand in place and face all of these kappas at once. He took a deep breath as he readied his white metallic staff.

His left hand held the middle portion of his staff loosely, as it served as the fulcrum point of his attack, while his right hand firmly gripped its lower end. It gave power and control to his motions.

HISS SCHILD HISS SCHILD HISS SCHILD HISSS SCHILD HISS SCHILD HISSS SCHILD.

Smoke’s Manatl made scorching and repelling noises as it blocked and absorbed the kappas’ attacks. His staff fluidly moved from side to side as multiple claw swipes came his way.

He did his best to keep the monsters within the optimal reach of his white staff. After a couple of seconds of blocking the blows from the monsters on the back portion of the boat, his Cunning of the Dire Fox alerted him that both of the kappas on the front side leapt in to join the fray.

With his back exposed against two kappas, Smoke felt the monsters zero in on his weak spot. Since his feet were still firmly planted on the rowboat, only his upper body turned the opposite direction to face the kappas.

PLONG!

Using all of the absorbed Mana from the monsters’ attack, Smoke thrusted his staff into the nearest leaping kappa. His energized white metallic staff pierced the kappa and killed it in a single thrust.

Suddenly, a minimized quest window update popped up in the upper left corner of his view. Smoke ignored the blinking icon as he already knew the information it contained.

Despite killing the first kappa in a single strike, the second leaping monster still rushed in with its claws directly aimed at him. The monster managed to reach Smoke’s staff and grabbed a hold of its middle portion.

With his gained experience of the rocking motion of his rowboat, Smoke used the kappa’s inertia and threw it over in the direction of the two kappas on the back portion of his boat.

Both kappas dodged their flying kin as it flew past them and fell back into the murky green lake. The remaining kappas remained unfazed after Smoke’s single kill strike.

‘Am I missing something here? Do these guys know something I don’t?’

SPLASH SPLASH SPLASH SPLASH SPLASH SPLASH.

Six more kappas sprang up from the green lake and tried to climb the row boat’s sides. Smoke used his uncharged white metallic staff and attacked them before they could get on the boat.

He may have only dealt 2,000 damage points, but he struck the monsters in critical places. This forced the monsters on the sides of his boat to release their hold and return into the lake.

Despite his efforts, two Kappas managed to get on the boat unscathed. Smoke was about to execute another attack when he sensed the two monsters from before leap towards his back.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t defend against them in time and this distraction allowed for four more kappas to climb over the sides of his boat.

Two pairs of claws scratched Smoke’s back and dealt 6,000 damage points on each claw attack. His life bar revealed that he only had (141,850/165,850 HP) left.

Smoke arched his back in pain. He took a deep breath and held his white metallic staff on the middle portion with both his hands. As fast as he could, he began spinning it in a three-hundred-sixty-degree motion.

His right and left hands’ well-practised synchronicity increased his staff’s speed and power. A total of eight kappas prepared themselves to jump him.

SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD.

Only a few of the monsters’ attacks got past both Manatls on the ends of his spinning white staff. As a result, he still had (93,850/165,850 HP) left.

Alarmed by the damage inflicted by the webbed monsters, Smoke’s staff-spinning speed increased. A purple circular shape began to form as afterimages of his two small purple Manatls blocked and absorbed the kappas’ strikes.

PLONG!

In a split second, Smoke attacked a kappa with the energized blow of his staff. The kappa received a damage of 200,000 points and died instantly.

Smoke fluidly resumed his staff-spinning as he kept on blocking the kappas’ attacks. Whenever he absorbed more than twenty attacks, he launched a counterattack with his re-energized staff to kill a kappa in a single hit.

One by one, more kappas would take place of their fallen kin and get on top of his boat or try to go near him from the side. Whenever there were kappas that would try to prop themselves up on the side, he would strike their arms with the non-Manatl portion of his staff.

This ordinary staff attack only dealt 2,000 damage points, but still made the kappas let go of the sides of his boat. Smoke only allowed the monsters to get on either the stern or the bow.

He kept on this arduous attack pattern for the next thirty minutes. Suddenly, he saw that there were only two kappas left on his boat. He focused on only attacking one of them with his uncharged staff attacks, but still blocked both of the monsters’ attacks with his Manatl.

When he finally killed the targeted kappa, he used his energized staff and bashed it into the last kappa’s head.

After dealing with the last of the kappas, he decided to check the blinking quest window.


+ Quest: Ways of Manatl
    Ability Quest Updated!
    Level: A

    Grandmaster Indigus asked you to kill 100 kappas in order to pass this trial.

    Rules:
    – Defensive Ability allowed: Manatl
    – Offensive Ability allowed: Manatl-charged attacks
    – Weapon allowed: White metallic staff

    Failure Penalty:
    – Current level will be reduced by 30%
    – All ability levels will be reduced by 30%

    Kappas(33/100)

    Note: Kappas of levels 110-129 have learned to stay away from you.

‘No wonder the kappas stopped coming.’

Confident that the lower-level kappas feared him, Smoke decided to take a quick break. He took out the bread and boiled eggs that Saru gave him earlier.

Quickly, he wolfed down the food to recover his lost HP as he only had 60% of his life bar left. He needed to raise his Satiety level as well. He merrily enjoyed the bread and eggs as he gently rowed the boat towards deeper waters.

As Smoke ate, his mind wandered. Out of all the Simiavulgs, he only managed to raise Saru’s Intimacy level to 82%. Even his previously-high Intimacy with the great masters Doctus, Tenvis, Castas and Meras had now been reduced to 55%, after his Beggary ability wore off on his second day in Saruras.

His Intimacy with them was still high enough for them to request these favorable trial conditions, but not high enough to allow him entry into any of the specialized temples. 

‘At least my pseudo-full Manatl barrier worked. This staff is really useful.’

Despite the fact that his Cunning of the Dire Fox ability didn’t detect any monsters nearby, he still quickly shifted his mental state to battle-ready after he finished his meal.

‘This can’t be it? There has to be a reason for Indignus’ smug smile.’

After reading the updated quest window, Smoke was forced to row even further into the lake. He thought he heard something from the shoreline, but the sound was too faint to be heard clearly.

He wondered if they were reprimanding him for something related to this quest, but then he thought that he was safe since he’d been strictly following the rules Indignus had given him.

These thoughts instantly disappeared once Smoke’s Cunning of the Dire Fox ability picked up twelve kappas swimming fast towards his medium-sized rowboat.

Six of these webbed monsters managed to get aboard his ship while the rest tried to cling on the sides. He immediately noticed that these monsters were also larger and had darker green-colored scales.

He spun his white metallic staff into a blur. The kappas on the side of his boat were blown away by his basic attacks.

SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD.

As he repelled the kappas on the side, he also carefully blocked and absorbed the attacks of the kappas on board his ship.

PLONG!

Smoke’s white staff momentarily stopped spinning for a second as he executed another one-strike kill. Right after he killed the kappa, his staff resumed its lightning-fast spin.

Yet, he didn’t fail to notice the kappa’s life bar before it disappeared. It clearly displayed (0/160,000 HP). ‘I guess this will take longer than the last time.’

Two and a half hours went by as Smoke fought off the higher-level kappas until he was once again left with only two of them. It took him longer because of the monsters’ higher defense and bigger life bars.

He absorbed these two kappas’ attacks and killed them using only the staff’s ordinary damage. Afterwards, he sat down and opened the minimized quest window.

Smoke found that he had already killed 99 kappas. Just one more and his quest was done.

Serendipitously, the largest kappa that Smoke had seen sprang up from the starboard side of his boat. Smoke sniggered at the monster because he still had a fully-charged staff capable of instantly killing it.

PLONG!

Right after he killed his hundredth kappa, Smoke opened the blinking quest window again.


+ Quest: Ways of Manatl
    Ability Quest Updated!
    Level: A

    Kappas(100/100)

    Talk to Grandmaster Indignus to complete the quest.

As Smoke was reading the updated quest window, he saw Saru floating across the lake inside a white spherical Manatl. He heard the albino Simiavulg shout and point to his back. “Row back to the defensive rocks! Those are the twin bull sharks, Requin and Cornu. They’re second only to Calamar.”

“Huh?”

All of a sudden, his Cunning of the Dire Fox picked up two massive monsters. He estimated their length to be at four meters and their width to be at a meter and a half.

He sensed that these monsters were swimming rapidly towards him. He turned around and saw that two fins and a pair of horns were about to ram into his medium-sized rowboat.

Smoke looked back to the defensive rocks and knew that he couldn’t outrow these two monsters. He turned to face the lake’s Boss-level monsters and held onto his white staff tightly.

His survival instincts kicked in. The Manatls on both ends of his white staff disappeared. He raised his staff in front of the bull sharks and created a full-body Manatl.

The purple spherical Manatl barrier formed just in time for one of the bull sharks to leap across and ram both its horns straight into it.

SCHILD SCHILD.

Thanks to his mental image training of flowing water, Smoke knew exactly what to do. He calmly redirected the force of the bull shark’s attack to his left side, forcing it back into the lake.

The bull shark’s high damage reduced the Manatl’s duration and it had already started to fade. 

Unfortunately for him, the second bull shark performed the same attack and had its jaws inches away from his back.

THWAK!

As he readed himself for the bull shark’s teeth to sink in, Smoke saw an energized white metallic staff held by an albino gorilla Simiavulg come to his rescue. Saru arrived just in time to deliver a pinpoint attack on the bull shark’s belly.

Saru’s attack displayed the name and life bar of the bull shark. Smoke saw that this one was Cornu and only had (360,163/450,000 HP) left.

Smoke could not even rest for a second, as the first bull shark came back with its jaws wide open. He tried to hold his full-body Manatl, but it wasn’t strong enough and the bull shark’s razor-sharp teeth dispersed it.

THWAK!

Saru delivered a hard blow to the bull shark’s head and its jaws failed to reach Smoke. Saru’s blow reduced the bull shark’s life bar to (385,981/450,000 HP) and revealed its name: Requin.

After Saru’s destructive blow, Requin was forced back into the lake.

“We have to hurry back. Even the brown-staff wielders couldn’t handle both these guys at once.”

Smoke immediately sat down and placed both oars into the rowlock. Smoke rowed with all his might as Saru remained standing with his white metallic staff in hand.

His Cunning of the Dire Fox alerted him that the two bull sharks were on the opposite sides of his rowboat. The two monsters were coming in for another attack.

Both Requin and Cornu leapt from opposing directions for a synchronized attack. He then saw Saru raise his white staff parallel to the boat and instantly create a white inclined Manatl ramp on both sides.

SCHILD SCHILD.

Saru’s Manatl ramp forced the two bull sharks to jump across the boat. Smoke rowed even harder towards the defensive rocks. Saru’s life-saving techniques gave Smoke hope that they could survive this.

This time, Requin and Cornu came from the back and the left side of the rowboat. Saru kept calm and swiftly responded with the same inclined ramps.

SCHILD SCHILD.

Both bull sharks flew high into the air as the monsters’ attacks missed once more. Smoke and Saru were slowly getting closer to the defensive rocks when Smoke heard a gurgling sound coming from the murkly lake.

Smoke’s Cunning of the Dire Fox picked up another monster, even larger than the two bull sharks. Eight tentacles with coral spearheads for tips emerged.

Slowly, Calamar’s gigantic head rose from the green lake. Smoke saw Calamar’s eyes look in the direction of the two bull sharks.

Then he heard a loud noise coming from the colossal squid.

“GRAK GRAK GRAK GRAK GRAK!”

Smoke only rowed with his right oar a couple of times as he wanted to evade the colossal squid. Calamar stretched out its long tentacles and blocked their path, but didn’t directly attack their boat.

“Why isn’t Calamar attacking us? Is it feeding us to its bull shark underlings? ” Smoke wondered out loud as he rowed.

At the same time, the two bull sharks were swimming fast towards them prompting yet another attack. However, this time both Smoke and Saru were on their feet and had their energized staves ready.

Smoke still had some of the absorbed energy from Requin’s attack earlier, while Saru had plenty of absorbed energy from both of the bull sharks’ attacks.

When Cornu and Requin leapt to attack them, Smoke thrusted his staff into Cornu’s belly right after dodging its jaws. Smoke’s energized white metallic staff damaged Cornu for 40,000 points. Cornu’s life bar displayed (320,163/450,000 HP).

“GRAK GRAK GRAK GRAAKK GRAAAAK.”

Smoke distinctly heard Calamar make the same loud noise after he attacked Cornu.

‘Is Calamar laughing?’ Smoke wondered.

THWAK!

Meanwhile, Saru bashed Requin’s head in with his white metallic staff and gravely injured the monster. Requin’s life bar displayed (267,189/450,000 HP).

Saru’s hard blow forced the monster down towards the rowboat. The massive bull shark received even more damage when its body hit the sturdy boat before sliding down back into the lake.

Requin’s return to the water rocked the boat hard. The intense swaying motion almost capsized their rowboat.

“GRAK GRAK GRAK GRAAKK GRAAAAK.”

Smoke once again heard Calamar’s weird noise, which he thought to be the lake boss’ laugh.

“Saru, any idea why Calamar’s behaving like that?”

“I don’t know. Just be happy that he isn’t attacking us.”

Right after Requin flopped back into the lake, Smoke sensed Cornu leap in for another attack. Unfortunately, he couldn’t move fast enough to completely dodge it.

His left arm got lightly scratched by one of Cornu’s sharp horns and Smoke was damaged for 35,000 points. Smoke’s already-damaged life bar now displayed (90,850/165,850 HP.)

‘That was just a scratch?’ Smoke shook his head as he imagined how much damage a full-impact attack from the bull shark could do.

Requin and Cornu swam further away from Smoke and Saru before turning around.

The DarkElf watched as the monsters dived into the lake. His Cunning of the Dire Fox sensed that they picked up speed from below and leapt in for a low side attack. The bull sharks’ assault bypassed Saru’s Manatl ramp since it came from right below the ship’s side.

Saru was forced to create a white concave Manatl barrier around the entire starboard side of the rowboat.

SCHILD SCHILD!

Smoke eagerly watched as Saru’s barrier absorbed the twin bull sharks’ first attack.

SCHILD SCHILD! SCHILD SCHILD!

Smoke needed to do something to help Saru. Since the quest window confirmed that he completed the test’s objective, he was now free from its restrictions. He switched weapons and used his weighted chain and sickle.

With the aid of his Lunar Boots, Smoke leapt over Saru’s concave barrier. He used his hooded cloak to glide over the rowboat and threw his weighted chain into the water.

He activated the weighted chain’s built-in ability to return to him as he willed it and the sturdy iron chain wrapped itself around the twin bulls sharks. Smoke managed to wrap the chain around them three more times, which heavily restricted Requin and Cornu’s movements..

Saru canceled his Manatl barrier and attacked Cornu.

THWAK!

The bull shark’s life bar displayed (231,286/450,000 HP). Smoke landed on top of the rowboat and tied the iron chains to it. The boat briefly tilted and was filled up with some water.

He may have restricted the bull sharks’ movements, but it was a risky gamble. The bull sharks could break free from the chains at any moment and sink them.

However, he took his chances as he leaned in and grabbed a hold of the bull sharks. Hurriedly, he began stabbing Requin with his sickle.

The sickle proved very effective against the shark’s hard slimy flesh. He kept on attacking after confirming that both bull sharks still had a hard time moving.

“GRAK GRAK GRAK GRAAKK GRAAAAK.”

Smoke heard Calamar’s weird noise once more.

‘I guess this must be really funny to Calamar or something?’

Saru joined in and attacked Cornu with his uncharged white metallic staff. The two land dwellers continued with their relentless attack.

SPLASH SPLASH SPLASH SPLASH!

Both of the bull sharks thrashed and rolled about as they tried to break free, but they were only struggling against their own strength. The Chain and Sickle of Dasende proved to be a very dependable weapon.

“GRAKAAA GRAK GRAKAAAA GRAAKK GRAAAAK GRAAK.”

As Smoke and Saru kept attacking the bull sharks, Calamar also kept making its weird loud noise.

That was until Requin and Cornu’s life bars were reduced to below 15%.

At that time, Smoke and Saru both instinctively stopped as they felt a strong killing intent behind them. The two of them turned around only to see Calamar’s angry face.

“GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAK!”

Eight coral spearhead-tentacles instantly headed their way. Saru reflexively extended his left hand and created his strongest concave Manatl barrier in front of them.

CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK!

The first round of Calamar’s  tentacles came. Immediately, Smoke switched weapons and used his electro-charged arrows enhanced with his armor piercing ability Armor Break of the Armadillo.

Eight arrows flew towards the colossal squid. Yet, each of the DarkElf’s arrows only damaged the monstrous lake boss for only 125 points. It did, however, reveal Calamar’s life bar (799,000/800,000 HP).

‘What? How could my damage be that low?’

Suddenly, the bull sharks’ bodies were covered in black slime. Two huge feelers rose from the water and grabbed a hold of the twin bull sharks’ tails.

Smoke’s muscles flexed as he held on tightly to his chain and sickle. The two bull sharks were being pulled out of Smoke’s hold over them.

He felt Saru grab his waist as he was being pulled down from the boat. Smoke hurriedly released his iron chain’s hold on the two bull sharks.

“Whoa! Thanks, Saru. Calamar sure got us good.”

“Calamar isn’t done yet. Look!” Saru pointed at eight gigantic tentacles coming straight at them.

The albino gorilla Simiavulg quickly created another white concave Manatl.

CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK!

A barrage of tentacles poured down against Saru’s Manatl.

“Smoke, I don’t think I can hold out for long. You can glide, right? You better get out of here.”

The DarkElf couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This albino gorilla Simiavulg was willing to sacrifice his own life for a non-Simiavulg.

Smoke tried his best to row towards the protective rocks, but Calamar would block his every attempt and only direct them back to the deeper portions of the lake.

As Smoke watched Saru defend against Calamar’s attacks, he remembered how he used the knowledge from the book entitled “Simiavulg Etiquette” to increase his Intimacy with him.

Ever since he performed the Simiavulg bow for Saru, his Intimacy with him had been steadily growing. As he remembered this, thoughts about a different book he read in the Pillar temple’s library popped up in his head.

‘There was one book about a bullied a fish.’ He remembered how the fish turned the tables on its two bullies and became sadistic towards them, but kept them alive. Calamar swinging the twin bull sharks around could’ve been said to perfectly match that scene. Then, a sudden thought popped in Smoke’s head. ‘Could it be… I wonder if…’

“Smoke? What are you doing? Stop rowing and leave already!” Saru angrily raised his voice.

“How long can you hold your Manatl against Calamar?” Smoke asked, after a brief pause.

“I don’t know! All I know is that if you don’t leave now, you’re going to die!” Saru shouted back with his back against Smoke.

Smoke stubbornly remained in the rowing seat.

He used all of his strength and created some distance between them and Calamar as fast as he could. Using his recently learned ability called Manaception, he began to scan the lake bottom.

Unfortunately, while doing so, his rowing speed was minimal to say the least. Suddenly, he heard a familiar sound.

“GRAK GRAK GRAK GRAAKK GRAAAAK.”

Calamar stopped directly attacking Saru’s Manatl and went for the area around their boat. The colossal squid splashed two-meter-high waves towards their medium-sized rowboat.

Saru responded by creating a concave Manatl above their boat. Smoke happily kept rowing with all his might as he saw Calamar toying with them.

The colossal squid still held the twin bull sharks as it chased after Smoke’s rowboat.

Normally, Smoke wouldn’t dare to rely on information from a children’s book, but desperate people will cling to the very last sliver of hope.

He kept his eyes closed. He visualized the lake’s energy with his mind’s eye. He felt the multitude of living things inside it, from the microscopic organisms to the lake’s current boss, Calamar.

From the depths of the lake, he sensed a strong pressure of rushing water. He followed it with his senses and traced it to a hole with a diameter of half a meter.

‘Nah, not this one.’

He could feel the water coming out of the opening, which meant that this was the lake’s tributary.

About fifteen seconds later later, he felt a different surge of water. This time, the water was pouring into a hole.

His scan of the lake bottom detected a tunnel that was barely two meters wide in diameter. The entrance was about sixty meters behind them. He tried sensing if there was an end to this tunnel, but he couldn’t feel how deep it went.

‘This is it!’ Smoke concluded.

Smoke picked up speed and proceeded to the area where the underground river was located. As their rowboat moved, so did the colossal squid.

Calamar chased after them with much gusto. It playfully did random attacks to Saru’s concave Manatl barrier.

CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK!

Saru’s white Manatl barrier was showing signs of losing power. Once Smoke was directly above the tunnel’s entrance, he stopped the rowboat. Smoke then raised both of his palms over the lake.

CHINK CHINK CHINK CHINK!

Calamar’s sadistic barrage kept hitting the white Manatl barrier. Smoke tried to remain calm and focused on the mouth of the tunnel. He noticed that it had signs of being crudely excavated.

This unnatural expansion only reached to about five meters in, before the tunnel would continue with the width of about a meter and a half. However, the tunnel expanded naturally after a while, as it went further in.

He used his Earth Manipulation ability and concentrated on the tunnel’s mouth.

As the colossal squid got closer, he guessed that Calamar’s three-meter head could probably only shrink to about two meters.

Steadily, Smoke concentrated all of his ability into the opening. He expanded it to three meters, but the actual tunnel itself was still at a meter and a half.

The DarkElf pushed himself further and started working on the first meter of the tunnel.

“Smoke? Why are we stopping and why aren’t you rowing towards the protective rocks?” Saru asked in a worried and exhausted voice.

Smoke couldn’t reply and he got even more distracted after hearing a strange noise.

“GLUG GLUG GLUG GLUUUUUG?”

Calamar made a sound which Smoke hadn’t heard before. He could only guess what the colossal squid meant.

The colossal squid stopped attacking Saru’s white Manatl barrier and instantly disappeared into the lake as it dove in fast.

Smoke assumed that it was able to feel the slight change in the nearby flow of water, considering Calamar had been stuck here for so long..

“How did you do that?” Saru asked with an astonished face.

“I didn’t do anything to Calamar. I’m just making the underwater tunnel larger.”

“Underwater tunnel?”

“Honestly, it was just a wild gamble. In fact, I’m not even sure if I can make it large enough for Calamar.”

Smoke saw Saru’s puzzled face as the tired gorilla Simiavulg sat across from him.

It wasn’t noticeable on the surface at all, but as Smoke kept expanding the tunnel, he could feel the water surge towards it gradually increase.

It had already been ten minutes, but Smoke was only six meters in on his expansion of the underground river. His focus on it made him forget about Saru.

“Smoke, it’s been awhile already. I think we should try to make a run for the protective rocks.”

“I don’t think Calamar would allow that. Let me try something first.”

Smoke lowered his hands and cancelled Earth Manipulation. A few seconds later, Calamar’s angry head emerged from the lake’s surface.

The colossal squid surrounded their rowboat with its tentacles. Maddeningly, it thrashed the water around them. As a result, high waves appeared and rocked their boat around.

Immediately, Smoke went back to work. Calamar’s tantrum lasted a full minute before it realized that the tunnel’s expansion resumed. The colossal squid dove back into the water afterwards.

Steadily, Smoke kept on widening the tunnel. Little by little, he worked his way deeper into the tunnel.

His Manaception ability picked up Calamar swimming in front of the underground river’s opening.

Saru remained seated on the boat. Smoke watched the albino Simiavulg meditate. “You know, I think you can return to the shore with your floating method.”

“I could do that, but I don’t know if you’ll be safe from Calamar.” Saru answered.

“I’ll be fine as long as I keep expanding this tunnel.”

“So, how did you know about this underwater tunnel anyway?”

“I read about it in a book from the Pillar temple’s library. The one entitled ‘The Bullied Fish’.”

Saru assertively shook his head. “Huh? No, no, no. That book is supposed to teach kids to stand up against bullies, but at the same time not become bullies themselves. That’s why the bullied fish got caught in the lake.”

“Yeah, I understood that, but the way Calamar was letting us beat up the sharks and swinging them around reminded me of the fishes from the book.”

Smoke saw Saru raise his eyebrow, clearly unconvinced of what he said.

“Coincidentally, Calamar and the twin bull sharks are also the three monsters that stand out in this lake, just like the three fishes who came to the lake from the sea.”

The DarkElf checked on the colossal squid before he went on.

“So when it became obvious that we wouldn’t be able to take down Calamar, I decided to test this theory, hoping we could somehow use that information in our favor.” Smoke sheepishly answered.

“Well, based on what I’m seeing now. I think you might be right. Who would have thought that the children’s storybook was actually a history book.”

Smoke nodded all-knowingly.

Saru looked over the lake’s surface. “To be honest. No one dared to challenge Calamar. I’m sure Grandmaster Indignus or any of the great masters could handle him, but to us Simiavulgs he is more like a lake deity that had always been there.”

“Do you think I should stop expanding the tunnel?” Smoke’s expression changed as he didn’t even think about Simiavulgs’ reaction to him freeing Calamar.

“No, I think this is a good thing you are doing.”

Thirty minutes into his tunnel expansion and Smoke had depleted his entire Mana pool. In order to fully recover his Mana, Smoke tried to rest for thirty minutes, but Calamar rose up immediately after a minute and angrily thrashed around with its tentacles.

Smoke resumed his work with the Mana he had regenerated, but he could only last another forty seconds before he was forced to stop once more.

He tried to rest again, and again Calamar rose up angrily to the surface. This same process repeated two more times. Yet on the fifth break, as Smoke hurriedly resumed his work, Calamar did not submerge. Smoke saw it watching him carefully until his Mana was fully depleted once more.

Smoke raised his right hand to Calamar as he tried to make the colossal squid understand that he needed to rest. He rested for five minutes and Calamar began to angrily thrash the lake’s surface. He raised his hand again to ask for more time.

The Colossal squid would not calm down, so Smoke resumed his work on the expansion. Calamar remained on the surface as well. Smoke would raise his hand to take a break and slowly extended his resting periods. The longer breaks and slow pace appeared to be satisfactory to the colossal squid, as it no longer thrashed the water and eventually returned underwater.

Used to these cruel grinding situations, Smoke proceeded without complaining as he repeated his expansion process. Three hours went by in a flash. The only noteworthy event that happened in the past few hours was the increase of Smoke’s Earth Manipulation ability to Intermediate level 9.

His ability’s level increase improved the rate of his work on the underground river. Smoke had expanded a total of sixty meters into the tunnel when his Manaception felt a change from inside the lake.

From the mouth of the underground river, Calamar swam fast up to the surface of the water. Its colossal head rose up and the lake’s water flowed down its face.

‘I’m almost done. Please don’t tell me it lost its patience.’

The colossal squid stared straight into the DarkElf’s eyes. Smoke and Calamar shared a moment of silence that couldn’t be described with human words.

Calamar gave Smoke a wink before it dove back down. It took the two fully-recovered bull sharks with it as both of them remained wrapped around its feelers.

The colossal squid swam fast into the underground river and travelled through it much like how a bullet would pass through a barrel.

Smoke used his Manaception and noticed that Calamar managed to use its momentum to barely squeeze through the last couple of meters of the narrow part of the tunnel. It soon went out of Smoke’s range, as it continued on its journey back to the sea.

With the lake’s three strongest monsters gone, Smoke took a deep breath as he exhaustedly slumped down to his seat. After confirming that they were in the clear, Saru took the oars and started rowing towards the shore.

* * * * * * 
The setting sun limited the view from the rowboat. Smoke couldn’t clearly see the brown-staff wielders on the shore of Simiavulg Island.

As Smoke and Saru got past the protective rock formations, he could see the silhouettes of not four but nine Simiavulgs waiting for them. The brown-staff wielders were joined by Grandmaster Indignus, Doctus, Castas, Meras and Tenvis.

CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP.

A slow clap greeted Smoke and Saru when they reached the shore. The one doing the clapping was none other than the Grandmaster himself.

Indignus greeted Smoke with a forced smile. “Well done. I couldn’t believe that you triumphed over Requin and Cornu. Let me also congratulate you on surviving the encounter with Calamar. I’ve never seen anyone below a black staff escape from that colossal squid before.”

“Thank you, Grandmaster Indignus. It wasn’t easy, but thankfully Saru was there in time to save me.” Smoke said as he pointed to the albino gorilla.

Indignus’ smile disappeared. The Grandmaster’s angry eyes gazed upon his servant. “Yes, Saru… How thoughtful of you to save him. I saw that as well.” The red-staff wielder said in a snarky voice.

A clearly-displeased Indignus clicked his tongue and cleared his throat before he spoke again.

“As you’ve shown a suitable level of proficiency with your Manatl and succeeded in killing a hundred kappas, you have passed your test. I hereby award you with this sigil, which allows you to stay in Saruras.”


+ Completed Quest: Ways of Manatl

  You have been allowed to stay in Saruras village, but you will only be able to access its public areas.

  Rewards:
  * Intimacy with Simiavulg race has increased by 20
  * Saruras’ Emblem of Entry
  * 5,000,000 exp

Smoke smiled when he saw the massive experience reward. He guessed that another notification would pop up.


 + Level UP!

     You have 10 stat points ready for distribution.
     Your HP has increased by 5,000.
     Your MANA has increased by 5,000.
     Fame has increased by 1.


 + Level UP!

     You have 10 stat points ready for distribution.
     Your HP has increased by 5,000.
     Your MANA has increased by 5,000.
     Fame has increased by 1.

He excitedly watched the two Level Up windows pop up one after another. He could have leveled up more if he had been hunting monsters all this time, but Smoke was confident that gaining the Manatl ability was worth the trade-off.

“Now, you see, I had placed a sensor on the shore that would detect if any Simiavulgs stepped into the lake. I used my Lightning Dash to get here as soon as Saru triggered it.”

Indignus nodded his head towards Tenvis and Meras. The two temple masters walked towards Saru and tied the albino Simiavulg’s hands.

Smoke did not notice what was happening, as his focus was on the results of his quest. His eyes widened when he realized that Indignus had been watching them for more than four hours.

“You mean to tell me that you saw everything?”

Indignus happily nodded. “Yes. I saw…everything!”

‘No wonder why no one else came to help us against Calamar and the sharks.’ thought Smoke.

Smoke was confident that Indignus’ remark served to emphasize that fact. He didn’t realize that it wasn’t aimed at him until the Grandmaster’s gaze landed on Saru.

“As per our sacred rules, no one may interfere with a test in progress. Yet, Saru, you helped the DarkElf anyway. As such, you will be banned from Saruras until all of the current temple masters retire.”

“What? No!” Smoke shouted.

He looked at the great masters and pleaded. “You can’t do that. He was just helping me. Saru was just being a good Cuezaltzinian. How can he be punished for doing what is right?”

On the other hand, Saru remained stoic. Smoke wondered if Saru already knew that this would happen once he got off the shore to help.

Doctus answered with a sad voice. “What is right is to follow the rules. We cannot disregard our sacred laws.” Two of the brown-staff wielders approached Saru, grabbed him by his arms and started leading him away, making his tied hands apparent.

“Please, stop this now. Please, Indignus, he…”

Indignus raised his hand and gave Smoke no chance to properly defend Saru.

“Do not try to sway me with your words, DarkElf. We must uphold the law. The fact remains that Saru broke the rules and he will be held responsible for his actions.”

Indignus looked to the other Simiavulgs present and spoke.

“Saru shall spend the night in the Prison House while his belongings are gathered. He will be escorted out of the village tomorrow morning.”

“Doctus, you and the others could talk to Indignus. You could make him reconsider, right?.” Smoke desperately asked the orangutan Simiavulg to back up his claims as he used the Beggary ability on him, but got a warning notification instead.


WARNING: Cannot use Beggary ability on the same person for the next 31 days.
Countdown Timer:
> Doctus        [2 Hours left]
> Tenvis        [2 Hours left]
> Castas       [2 Hours left]
> Meras       [2 Hours left]
> Indignus  [5 Hours left]

Doctus only looked away with a sad face. Smoke looked at the other great masters, but all of them followed Doctus’ lead.

“Castas, you’re in charge of finding appropriate accommodation for our esteemed guest. I believe he could use some rest right about now.” Indignus commanded with an unpleasant smile.

Yet Smoke could see right through Indignus. He knew that the Grandmaster only wanted him out of the way.

Helplessly, he could only watch as Saru was taken away. Smoke was forced to leave the shore and awkwardly dragged his feet along while following Castas, who held her head down and tried to avoid eye contact .

* * * * * * 

Smoke stared blankly at the plain wall of the room that Castas got him. The chimpanzee temple master brought him to a tavern called The Contrite.

He had just cleared a level A quest, but he did not feel triumphant at all. Painful memories flooded his head as he thought about the sacrifices Zectians had made for him.

Adder lost his left arm to save Smoke, though it fortunately grew back. However, Mitleid was not as lucky. The Manaetor King, who Smoke had loathed before, became a close friend. Yet this friendship only resulted in Mitleid’s death. Rudel, the winged Centaur, next in line to be Pferde’s chief, was cursed to be a Tikbalang after he met Smoke.

Now, an albino Simiavulg would be banished from the only place he had ever known just because he decided to help him.

TUK TUK TUK.

His regretful thoughts were interrupted when he heard three knocks on his door.

“Who is it?” Smoke asked.

“It’s me.” answered Doctus. “I’ve come to bring the authorization letter you requested.”

Hurriedly, Smoke opened the door. “Thank you so much, Doctus.”

Doctus handed the scroll which allowed Smoke entry to the dungeon where Saru was imprisoned.

Smoke was about to dash to the prison when Doctus’ hand stopped him.

Doctus spoke with apologetic eyes. “Please tell Saru that I would have tried to save him if I could. But Indignus and the four representatives confirmed that Saru entered the lake, the designated testing grounds, before your fight against the kappas was over. He clearly broke the sacred rules and I am truly sorry it has come to this.”

Smoke nodded and went straight to the prison house.

The faint moonlight made Saruras’ prison house look even gloomier. In front of it stood Smoke, who was still on a call and busy whispering to his subordinates. “…Okay, Ledur, copy that.”

He was about to enter the prison when a blue-staff wielder blocked his path. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m here to see Saru. Doctus has allowed me to visit him.” Smoke showed the piece of paper with Doctus’ seal.

“Alright, follow me.” The blue-staff wielder led the way to Saru’s prison cell.

Cold and poorly lit, Saruras’ dungeon had the ability to suck out any optimistic thoughts you might have in your head.

Held prisoner in a windowless cell, Saru was sitting in the center of the room and meditating. Smoke walked over to the front of Saru’s prison cell. He performed a Simiavulg bow and waited for the albino’s response.

Saru stood up and walked over to him. The albino stretched out his hand between the iron bars and patted Smoke’s hand. “Sorry about all of this, Saru. You didn’t have to save me and get stuck in here.”

“Don’t worry about it. I did it for myself. I couldn’t stand Indignus’ way of thinking any longer,” said Saru with a smile.

“What’s the deal between you and Indignus anyway?” Smoke asked.

Saru made a dismissive gesture with his hand and said. “It’s too long of a story to tell. It’s late and you’ve had quite a day.”

“A day that could have ended very differently if you hadn’t rushed to my side. Please, I wish to know more about the Simiavulg who saved my life.”

Smoke saw Saru’s eyes glisten before he quickly turned his back. A few seconds passed before the Simiavulg faced him again.

“My father was Indignus’ predecessor. I don’t remember much about him myself, but I learned about who he was through his journal. His name was Indigatus. He made many contributions to  Saruras, the most famous one being the Sniping ability made available to the physical-type Manatl specialists.”

“Even after he reached the state of red-staff enlightenment, he still wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to gain more knowledge.”

Smoke noticed Saru stroking his white fur before the Simiavulg spoke again.

“When my mother got pregnant with me, my father infused Mana with the properties of all three specialized Manatls into my developing fetus. Sadly, my mother died giving birth to me.”

“Is that why you’re pretty good with Manatl? But why do you still wield a white staff? I thought it was a mark of a beginner?”

“I read this from my father’s journal. He wrote that white isn’t a color; it is an occurrence when all colors meet. That’s what he did with me. That’s why I turned into an albino Simiavulg. I’m supposed to have the aptitude for all three specialized Manatls, which is why I have a weird appearance.”

“The reason for having a white staff is, surprisingly, the same as yours. When the time came, I didn’t pass the test of the jar of Sensus. At that time, no one had failed the test before and everyone was confused.”

“I assume my father expected that I’d just become better at one specialized Manatl and slightly worse at the other two. In the end, of course, the sacred rules prohibited my acceptance into any of the specialized temples, but my father was confident that he would be able to teach me the ways of Manatl himself.”

Saru composed himself and took a deep breath before proceeding.

“However, two years passed and my Manatl showed no signs of advancing to the next level. I had improved my control over it and extended its duration considerably, but I was still unable to create any form of a specialized Manatl.”

Smoke nodded slowly as he listened.

“I can’t imagine how my father must have felt during those two years. Whenever he wasn’t dealing with issues around the village, he’d spend all of his free time with me. I remember him being restless and impatient. He had been committing so much time to teaching me, but to no avail. I probably looked like a burden to him in his quest for knowledge.”

Saru sighed, shook his head and went on.

“Soon afterwards, he left the village. His last entry in the journal states that he was leaving in order to find a way to bring out my latent potential.”

“So, there’s a chance your father might still be alive?” Smoke asked eagerly.

Saru quickly dismissed the idea and said. “No, I don’t think so.”

Smoke picked up on the sensitive topic and avoided it as he listened to Saru continue.

“Anyway, before he left, my father resigned and left me in the care of Indignus’ household. Out of respect for my father, Indignus raised me.”

The albino Simiavulg bit his lip.

“He used to be like a second father to me. He was kinder back then and taught me a lot. In fact, I received my father’s journal from him. But everything changed when he left Saruras village twenty-five years ago.”

“Indignus left Saruras? Where did he go?” Smoke asked.

“No one knows. All I know is that after he returned, he never treated me like a son again. Only as a servant or some kind of freak. To this day, he keeps reminding me of how I am my father’s worst mistake.”

Smoke couldn’t say anything. Although his parents died when he was young, he still wasn’t alone and no one had called him a mistake.

“Most other villagers weren’t very kind, either. As time went by, my peers all got promoted to staves of other colors, while I kept holding a white one by my side. Kids started calling me ‘stupid’ or ‘crazy’, while their parents considered me a failure. One day, someone must have said something along the lines of ‘me being a disgrace to the mighty Simiavulg race and thus undeserving of being called by a proper Simiavulg name’. Hence, they began calling me Saru.”

“What’s wrong with Saru? I like the sound of your name.” Smoke said as he tried to console him.

“You see, ‘Saru’ is what you’d call a Simiavulg kid whose name you don’t know. It’s the equivalent of being called ‘Hey, you’. It’s not a proper name.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m used to my new name. That’s why I was really happy when you performed the Simiavulg bow in front of me. In fact, I feel closer to you than to any of the Simiavulgs here.”

Smoke clenched his fists as he listened to Saru’s story.

“Saru, why did you remain here, in the village? If everyone is just making fun of you, don’t you think it would’ve been better to leave?”

“For a long time, I used to believe them. I used to think that I was some kind of failed experiment. But eventually….”

Saru opened his palms and created three small Manatl barriers that had the characteristics of all three specialized Manatls.

“So, your father’s experiment did succeed?!”

“I know it did. Of course, the damage had already been done by that point. I’ve never displayed these skills to anyone else except you. Since I wasn’t allowed to train in any of the temples, I used the information from my father’s journal and taught myself. I’ve assessed that, at the moment, my level of proficiency is that of a brown-staff wielder in all three of the specialized temples.”

“Wheet-whew!” Smoke whistled loudly.

Saru waved both his arms in disapproval. “I’m still far from my goal. Apparently, the brown and black levels of proficiency are worlds apart.”

Smoke nodded in silence as he intently listened to Saru.

“Although, I did get a clue from my father’s journal. In order for one to become a brown-staff wielder, he or she must obtain considerable amount of skill and strength through years of training.”

Saru smiled as he recalled his father’s journals.

“The tricky part is, for one to get to the level of a black-staff wielder, he or she would need to relinquish those hard earned abilities obtained while becoming a brown-staff wielder.”

Smoke shook his head. “Sorry, I don’t get it.”

Saru’s smile disappeared. “Hm, I can’t really explain it clearly because I haven’t done it myself. Hopefully, someday I’ll reach that level of enlightenment.”

“Knowing you, I’m sure you’ll reach that goal someday.” Smoke said encouragingly.

Both of them smiled. Smoke observed that Saru’s posture seemed different. The Simiavulg sat straighter and prouder.

Smoked rubbed his chin as he wondered. “Just out of curiosity, what is your real name?”

“Ahh, it’s been so long. I believe the name my father gave me was… Scelus.”

Smoke offered his hand to the imprisoned Simiavulg.

“It’s nice to meet you, Scelus.”

Saru was taken aback at first, but quickly smiled as he reached out his hand.

“It’s nice to meet you too, Smoke. Though I think it’d be best to just keep calling me Saru.”

SHUFFLE SHUFFLE.

The two white-staff wielders heard footsteps heading their way. Two blue-staff wielders came down. When they came into view, one of the guards called out to Smoke.

“DarkElf, your time is up.”

Smoke said his goodbye to Saru and went back to his room in The Contrite tavern. There, he logged off in order to get some much-needed sleep. Due to his test earlier, he had skipped his scheduled power nap.

* * * * * * 

On the edge of the shore, near the pile of rocks stood a busy Smoke. He quickly did an inventory check on the Simiavulg items he bought from the village’s merchant shops.

He limited his shopping time because he wanted to join Saru when he walked out of Saruras. As he finished his inventory, he saw an albino gorilla Simiavulg walking with his white staff in hand towards him.

Smoke smiled at the four great masters accompanying Saru. “I guess Indignus was too busy to see you off, huh?” Smoke asked Saru.

“We’ve already said what we needed to say to each other.” answered Saru with a straight face.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay in Saruras? Even if you can’t train in the specialized temples, I’m sure there’s plenty of other stuff you can do in the village.” Castas asked Smoke.

“I’ll come back. Besides, I think I already know how I could continue my Manatl training. I just have to do some other stuff outside of the village first.” Smoke answered.

“Please do. You’re more than welcome to come back any time. Just give us a call so we can have Doctus activate the bridge for you.” Meras answered.

“Remember to practise your Manatl daily. The Manatl ability is hard to learn, but is even harder to maintain.” Tenvis said to Smoke as they shook hands.

As Smoke finished his farewells with the great masters, he observed that all of them were facing Saru.

Castas cleared her throat and spoke. “I’d like this to be added into the annals of Simiavulg history. Today we bid farewell to Saru, a white-staff wielder who has done the most altruistic act I have ever witnessed in my life. For that, you shall be remembered as the one who fought off Calamar, the lake’s colossal guardian.”

The chimpanzee Simaivulg walked over to the albino gorilla. She kneeled down and raised her hand to Saru. She performed the Simiavulg bow before him.

Doctus, Tenvis and Meras followed suit. All of the four great masters kneeled down and gave Saru the Simiavulg bow.

Saru’s eyes teared up, but he forced himself not to cry. One by one, he touched the hands of the Simiavulgs who were kneeling before him.

Doctus stood up and spoke to Saru.

“Good luck with your life in the outside world, Saru. We know that the great god Cuezaltzin will not forsake you.” Doctus said as he offered his hand to Saru.

“Thank you, Doctus, and may the great Saruras village prosper and grow stronger.”

Doctus shook Saru’s hand. Afterwards, he walked over to the pile of rocks and plunged his black metallic staff into it. The algae-covered bridge submerged in the lake rose up.

Smoke and Saru went onto the risen algae-covered bridge. This time, there were no tentacles attacking the Manatl barrier as they traveled across.

He wanted to help prepare the Simiavulg for his life in the outside world. So, he told Saru various things about it and what he should expect to see on his travels. Smoke told him about the different cities and mentioned his power struggle against Coatl’s mayor.

He also told him about the revived village of Verbrannt and the members of his private army. Saru listened intently as he learned about Smoke’s life and the life outside of Saruras.

Yet, there was still plenty of things that Smoke couldn’t touch upon in the short amount of time that it took them to cross the bridge. When they reached its end, the blue-staff guardians of the village showed themselves and watched the two of them from the trees.

Smoke waved to the village guards, while Saru paid no attention to them. The albino Simiavulg was focused on watching the different animal life forms inhabiting the forest of Mount Yunggo.

Fifteen minutes after they left the village’s boundary, a charging lemurcat jumped out from between the gaps of the tall trees. With its two-meter striped body, it lunged at Smoke and Saru. The albino Simiavulg reflexively created a conical barrier to block the monster’s path.

‘Why didn’t my Cunning of the Dire Fox warn me of this monster?’

The DarkElf was taken aback by the lemurcat’s sudden attack. These monsters never dared to attack him when he was with Doctus and the other temple masters.

SCHILD SCHILD.

The lemurcat utilized its strong hind legs and leapt over Saru’s Manatl barrier. It arched its back in a strange manner and lowered its gaze towards Saru’s exposed back.

Thanks to Smoke’s battle experience, he anticipated the monster’s attack and pushed Saru out of the way. By doing so, Smoke got damaged by the monster’s claws for 40,000 points. His life bar displayed (136,250/176,250 HP).

Smoke wanted to practise using his newly-learned Manatl ability, but he still felt more comfortable with his conventional weapons.

Equipped with his weighted chain and sickle, he pushed the two-meter lemurcat backwards as he hit its head with the heavy iron ball.

Aided by his passive ability Beast Monarch, Smoke tripled his damage to the monster and bludgeoned it for 9,999 points.

GRRROOOWWWWL!

The lemurcat growled at the DarkElf as it winced in pain. The lemurcat’s life bar displayed (240,001/250,000 HP). Smoke readied himself for another attack, but the beast did not jump.

Instead, it wagged its tail and created a rattling sound. ‘Strange. I’ve never heard that when I first encountered them.’

Ten seconds later, three pairs of yellow eyes appeared in between the trees in the distance. He worried that they belonged to a three-headed monitor lizard, that hunted in a pack, which could prove to be troublesome.

He stared into the unknown monsters’ eyes and thought that they looked familiar. Quickly, he faced the lemurcat in front of him and found the same set of eyes.

‘I thought lemurcats didn’t travel in packs!’

Soon enough, the four lemurcats were circling around them. Igniz tried to break out so he could create a ring of fire or a firewall that would defend Smoke against the agile beasts.

However, Smoke stopped his symbiote. Among the things he mentioned to Saru, he had not talked about Igniz.

He worried that Saru would take it the wrong way if he found out that Smoke was hiding Igniz the whole time. He thought he would tell him only after Saru became a member of his private army.

But what good would it do, if Saru was killed here by these four monstrous beasts?

‘I have to secure my Manatl teacher.’

“Saru, I’ll distract them while you make a run for it.” Smoke spoke with conviction.

“I can’t just leave you behind. ” Saru quickly replied as he raised his white metallic staff and created a white spherical Manatl that enveloped both the Simiavulg and the DarkElf.

The four lemurcats attacked from all directions.

SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD

Saru kept his Manatl barrier up for fifteen minutes. Smoke wanted to attack one of the lemurcats, but couldn’t find an opportunity which wouldn’t result in having the other three pounce him.

Due to the lemurcats’ non-stop attacks, Saru’s Manatl started to show signs degradation.

“Normally, I could keep this sphere up for an hour, but these lemurcats are too fast and too strong.” Saru told Smoke as they watched the monsters claw, bite and gnash at the white Manatl barrier.

“Can you open up the barrier below us? I could dig a hole and you could escape through it. I’ll hold them off while you escape. I could glide away too.”

“Sorry, but I’m not comfortable running away. If this is my destiny, then I must face it head on.” Saru said firmly.

‘I didn’t know Saru was this stubborn.’ Smoke thought while letting out a sigh.

“Don’t worry, Smoke. Before my Manatl runs out, I’m sure that I can kill one of the lemurcats. I think you could handle one as well, right?”

“Yeah, I think so. But that still leaves us with two lemurcats.” Smoke worriedly said as he wracked his brain for a battle plan.

Saru nodded his head and said. “On my count, then. One… Two.. Three!”

The albino Simiavulg deactivated his white Manatl barrier and charged his white metallic staff with the gathered energy.

CRRRAAAACK!

Saru delivered a decisive blow to a lemurcat’s skull and struck it down to the ground. The monster shook erratically as its life bar was being fully drained.

Smoke wrapped his weighted chain and sickle around one of the lemurcats and disabled its limbs. He proceeded to gouge out its right eye.

The lemurcat desperately struggled, but could not overpower Smoke’s binding. The two lemurcats who were left unattended leapt up from behind Smoke and Saru and were about to sink their jaws into their exposed necks.

With his back towards them, Smoke swiftly wrapped his chain around one of the trees and kept the immobilized monster at bay. With both his hands raised, he created an earth wall with his Earth Manipulation ability. He immediately created a hole in front of the wall to capture the two lemurcats.

He jumped on top of his earth wall to search for the lemurcats, but found that his trap failed to capture them. The two lemurcats readied themselves on Smoke’s sides.

Saru tried to create another full spherical Manatl, but could only form a conical barrier. Smoke then heard a rustling from the trees.

When Smoke saw what was moving above him, he calmly stood still. He grinned as ten horse-faced monsters leapt down from the trees.

Both lemurcats looked up and saw that each of them had five Tikbalangs coming down on them. The Tikbalangs smashed their hooves into the lemurcats’ spines and broke them in several places.

GRRRROOOWWWWWLLLL!  GRRROOOOWWWWWLLLL!

The lemurcats cried out in pain, but the Tikbalangs mercilessly continued their onslaught. The lemurcats scratched and bit any of the Tikbalangs within reach.

However, ten more Tikbalangs leapt down and took the places of their injured brothers. As the injured Tikbalangs patched their wounds with medicinal leaves, the newly-arrived Tikbalangs finished the job and slaughtered the lemurcats with their hooves.

Immediately afterwards, the Tikbalangs went after the lemurcat that Smoke had caught with his weighted chain and sickle.

After making short work of the disabled beast, the Tikbalangs stood in front of Smoke and Saru.

The monsters’ red eyes glared and their nostrils flared with steam. Then, a winged Tikbalang approached from one of the forest clearings.

Smoke saw Saru tense up as the Simiavulg prepared himself for battle. “Settle down, Saru. These guys are members of my private army.”

The winged Tikbalang walked towards Smoke and shook his hand. “It’s been too long, Smoke.”

The DarkElf shook Ledur’s hoof and pulled him in for a brotherly hug.

“It has. I see that you’ve trained your Tikbalang brethren well.”

“Yes, some of them have regained their Centaur minds, which is why I’d like to give this back.”

Ledur took off the Horse Ring of Domination and gave it to Smoke.

“Thank you, Ledur. I knew that your leadership skills would help them remember who they really are.” Smoke patted the winged Tikbalang’s shoulder.

Smoke then looked at Saru and signaled the Simiavulg to step forward.

“Now, I’d like you to meet Saru. He is a good friend of mine from Saruras village. He is a great Manatl practitioner and he even saved me from a colossal squid.” Smoke said proudly.

Saru gave a courteous bow as Smoke kept smiling. This time, he introduced Ledur.

“Saru, this is Ledur. He is the captain of these Tikbalangs. He is actually a Volataur, a winged Centaur. Unfortunately, he and his brethren are currently under a curse.”

Ledur offered his hoof to Saru. The Simiavulg shook it without hesitation.

“A pleasure to meet you, Saru.”

“Likewise, Ledur.”

“Good. Now that I’ve introduced you two, it’s time to hear the updates on the missions I gave you.” Smoke said to Ledur cheerfully.

Having a personal army not only enabled him to face stronger monsters and complete harder quests, but it also allowed him to multitask side-quests.

He previously gave orders to Ledur to take Espion with him and find out the whereabouts of the remaining two Witches of Wysteria, as well as to find the temples of Vigilantez.

Ledur immediately answered. “Right. Espion and I haven’t found any signs of Horrabelle, but we did stumble upon some of Crucibelle’s handiwork. Her last known activity was near the mountains of Vor Eindrigen, so we searched around that area. Espion is currently following faint tracks she left after she decimated the village of Opferntl.”

“She wiped out an entire village? Did you see any strange monsters in the area?” Smoke asked, as he wondered if Crucibelle had the same plans as her dead sister, Terrabelle.

“No, Espion and I didn’t see any. All I can tell you is that only ashes were left of Opferntl village.”

“Alright, I hope that Espion remains safe. I’ll give him a call later. What about your second mission?”

Ledur nodded slightly before continuing with his report. “Together with the help of my Tikbalang brethren, we secured the entrances to two of Vigilantez’s temples.”

“You didn’t enter the temples, right?”

Ledur strongly shook his head. “No, you told us not to.”

“Good. I don’t know if there are any traps in there and I don’t want any of you to get needlessly injured.”

Ledur and the other Tikbalangs nodded their heads in unison as they appreciated Smoke’s consideration of their well-being.

“What’s our next step, Smoke?”

“Before discussing my own plans, I’d like to ask about Saru’s.” Smoke turned to face the albino Simiavulg. “What do you plan to do now? You know you’re more than welcome to join me and help spread Cuezaltzin’s justice throughout Zectas.”

“Thank you, I’m honored by your offer, but I’d like to explore the unknown world on my own for now. Maybe someday we’ll meet again.”

Smoke’s jubilant expression immediately changed. This whole time, he had expected that Saru would join his private army and be his Manatl mentor.

“But why? I mean, I know that you can handle yourself, but interacting with other people will still be a difficult task.”

“The Saru from before I met you would probably agree with you. But you’ve taught me to face the challenges head-on; to step out of my comfort zone. You’ve given me the confidence that I had always been lacking. For that, I am thankful, Smoke.” Saru offered his hand to Smoke.


+ Your Intimacy with Saru has risen to ‘Blood brothers’

‘Great, but he’s still leaving anyway.’

“I see. Well, if you ever change your mind or need my help, just give me a holler and I’ll be there as fast as I can.” Smoke shook Saru’s hand and pulled him in for a hug.

Smoke became a hugger after he noticed that it slightly raised Intimacy with the hugged Zectian if done correctly.

“Well, I best be on my way. I’m sure you and your men have a lot of catching up to do.”

Smoke nodded and silently watched as Saru walked towards the forest clearing.

“So, what should we do now? Head for Vigilantez’s temples or search for the witches?” Ledur asked once more.

“Let’s head over to the nearest Vigilantez temple after having a reunion party. I want a sure thing. I’ve already lost a bird in the hand as it is.”

Smoke noticed the albino Simiavulg’s pace becoming slower as he was about to enter the forest. He saw Saru turn around and wave him goodbye.

With a forced smile on his face, Smoke waved back.

‘All that hard-earned Intimacy for nothing!’

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