Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 03 – Chapter 08

Author: John Nest
Proofreader: Vaanouney
Editor: Timaeus

Note: For easy character reference please refer to: Characters

Goblin Crucible

A sandstorm cleared up and revealed a four-story ruined castle carved out from the side of a mountain. A Paladin Lord looked down from the highest terrace and watched the scorching hot desert in the land of Grand Malodorant Dragonis.

Apparently, Tristan had made it to one of the lost cities created by the ancient Draconian race. The precious treasures once stored in this great castle had long been looted by plunderers throughout the ages.

Despite the castle being a complete ruin, Tristan still had his guild occupy it. The well-designed defenses of the castle stood the test of time. Tristan decided that it would be a fitting headquarters during his stay in the land of the dragons.

To fight on equal ground against the gigantic monsters of these lands, Tristan divided his men into regiments of one thousand members.

For a Sonstwelter, death in this area meant a one-way ticket back to the last checkpoint outside of Grand Malodorant Dragonis: a village situated two thousand five hundred kilometers away from where the ruined castle was located.

Originally, he headed to this challenging land with 10,000 DracoRicco guild members, but Tristan decided to weed out the weaker ones during a battle against four-and-a-half-meter-long wyverns.

This first culling left Tristan with 7,000 members. Yet at this point, the surviving members only numbered 3,203 individuals. This was due to the feuern wyrms.

The feuern wyrms were orange wingless dragons with a length of seven meters from head to tail, but the girth of their body was only one and a half meters.

These blazing orange dragons decimated most of his men and kicked them out of the land of the dragons by sending them to their last checkpoint.

Despite the fact that these dragons were wingless by nature, they could still fly thanks to the ability to transform the flame that spread along their backs into fiery wings.

Within the safety of the ruined castle, Tristan reorganized his men. He assembled the swiftest Light Knights to challenge the flame-winged dragons. He ordered his men to target one of the feuern wyrms that would stray far from its kin.

“Men, you are our final hope of obtaining a Feuern stone. Leave with the knowledge that you’re the best of the best. We will confidently await your arrival.” Tristan dispatched the last of his Light Knights with these final words of encouragement.

One hundred fastest mounted Knights rode out of the castle on brown acinonyx cheetahs. They branched out into groups of ten and traveled far until they found a pack of feuern wyrms congregated in the clouds.

The flame-winged dragons circled above them. From a safe distance, the knights stalked them for days. Finally, one of the feuern wyrms strayed away from the others. Due to the feuern wyrm’s massive length, it could only rest on long stretches of land.

The feuern wyrm’s orange scales slowly adapted to the shades of brown in the desert land with patches of green vegetation. This camouflaged it as an ordinary knoll, which made it hard for anyone to detect it in the desert.

Especially for the swarm of a thousand desert locusts in search of a vegetation patch. The ten-centimeter-long desert locusts all headed straight towards the feuern wyrm.

Lying in wait, the feuern wyrm suddenly sprang up with its mouth wide open. It sucked all of the desert locusts into its mouth like a vacuum.

The Light Knights used this opportunity and attacked the feuern wyrm from two directions.Ten Light Spears rained down from behind the big rocks where the knights hid.

From scattered locations, four more groups of Light Knights released their spears and confused the feuern wyrm.

The Light Spears’ damage of 20 to 50 points only tickled the feuern wyrm’s hard scales, but it annoyed the monster nonetheless. The wingless dragon could not tolerate anyone who would dare attack it.

After the feuern wyrm found the source of the attack, it spew fireballs and melted the rocks from which the Light Spears came from, only to see knights mounted on acinonyx cheetahs running in the opposite direction.

These Light Knights learned from their comrades who died in the previous hunting attempts.

Out of necessity, they moved faster with their brown acinonyx cheetahs. Their mounts in turn developed higher endurance, which was one of the acinonyx cheetahs’ weakest points.

The angered feuern wyrm stayed low on the ground as it chased after the knights. As fast as the feuern wyrm was, it couldn’t catch up with the veteran Light Knights.

With their lives on the line, the cautious knights quickly noticed a sunset-like glow behind them. The feuern wyrm opened its mouth and launched a fireball towards the fleeing knights.

The acinonyx cheetahs took drastic measures and leapt sideways. This created an opportunity for the feuern wyrm to close the distance between them .

SNAAAPP!

It tried to take a bite out of one of the Light Knights, but ate nothing but air. The wingless dragon was short by only two centimeters.

With the feuern wyrm’s mouth closed, the attacked acinonyx cheetah used it as a springboard and dashed away for dear life. The lost gap between them was quickly re-created.

Yet, it could not outrun the fireball that was launched in its direction immediately afterwards, and the acinonyx cheetah and its rider tried to take another evasive maneuver.

SCORCH!

The Light Knight and the acinonyx cheetah died instantly, even though the fireball merely grazed them. The rest of the fleeing knights rode at top speed of one hundred kilometers per hour. They still had more than sixty kilometers of desert to cover if they wanted to survive.

As the Light Knights scurried, they met a slew of monsters. There were aardwolves, sandcats, bronze jackals, and even a bearded dragon.

Yet, all of these monsters hurriedly scampered out of their path once they spotted the ferocious feuern wyrm chasing after them. The feuern wyrm kept spewing fireballs, but it mostly hit rocks, which melted upon impact. Unfortunately, even the splash damage from the feuern wyrm’s fireballs was enough to kill the knights that weren’t able to move away fast enough.

On the horizon, the sixty-nine remaining Light Knights finally saw the outline of the ruined castle carved out from the side of a mountain. The Captain of the knights called his guild master. “Master Tristan, we’re at the five kilometer marker.”

“Very good! Keep up that pace.” Tristan faced his guild members inside the ruined castle and shouted, “Everyone, the feuern wyrm is coming! Get into position!”

All remaining DracoRicco members scrambled to their designated locations. Aero Magi and Aqua Magi hastened to the second floor and excitedly waited at the windows of the castle walls.

While Assassins, Iron Knights, Elemental Knights, Paladins and a Shadow Phantom bolted outside of the castle gate and hid behind the giant boulders lined up towards the ruined castle’s entrance, Pyro Magi, Electro Magi, Hunters, Snipers and Rangers watched from up high on the third floor. Six hundred High Priests and Priestesses were scattered between all three groups.

To an outsider, this scene may have looked chaotic, but all of the DracoRicco members present here knew exactly where they had to go and what was expected of them.

The Light Knights saw the castle’s wide gateway and ran straight for it. The feuern wyrm remained focused on the knights and followed them blindly.

As soon as the last Light Knight entered the castle, a massive perlite gate was lowered and prevented the feuern wyrm from entering.

The feuern wyrm tried to melt the gate with its fireballs, but they proved to be ineffective against an unmeltable perlite gate.

As soon as it saw that the gate remained undamaged, the feuern wyrm formed its fiery wings and flew upwards, but the Hunters, Snipers and Rangers on the third floor immediately threw a perlite net at it and forced the monster to the ground.

Right after the feuern wyrm was netted, Tristan’s hidden ground forces came out from behind the boulders. They were carrying two-by-one-meter shields made out of the same material. The ground forces quickly nailed the perlite net to the ground.

Surrounded and netted, the feuern wyrm coiled its long body. It forced its mouth through the net and began spewing fireballs. Despite the restricted space, it writhed around to fire at all directions using the gaps in the net.

The wingless dragon’s do-or-die attack forced the ground units to back off as the fireballs blasted away ten of Tristan’s shield-bearing members.

As they were flung into the air, their backs were exposed and the feuern wyrm released multiple smaller fireballs aimed at each one of them. All of them were killed as soon as the small fireballs made contact.

Unbeknownst to the feuern wyrm, Tristan’s magical division comprised of Aero and Aqua Magi began creating two casting circles above its head.

As the casting circles moved horizontally and started to overlap, traces of frost mist could be seen in the air around them. The shield-bearing units then got within spear range of the monster.

They plunged hundreds of ice-enchanted spears into the monster’s belly, but could only damage it for 120 to 210 points.

“Don’t falter! Attack!” yelled Tristan to his guild members from the third floor of the ruined castle.

The ground units organized in a rotary motion worked with clockwork precision and alternated their spear throws at the tangled beast.

After five minutes and more than a thousand spear attacks, the feuern wyrm’s life bar displayed (468,560/800,000 HP). The accumulated damage weakened the monster and affected its flame wings.

This gave the Aero and Aqua Magi the much-needed opportunity for their melded freezing spell to work. The two casting circles of water and wind directly above the feuern wyrm merged into one. The combined casting circle descended upon the beast and enveloped it in a tube-like prison.

Tristan went down to the second floor and shouted. “Ground forces, retreat!”.

The shield-bearing division immediately followed the order and took refuge behind the boulders. Ice fog with almost zero visibility formed inside the tube.

The feuern wyrm struggled from within the tube prison filled with ice fog. After two full minutes of the combined spell of the Aero and Aqua Magi, the tube-like prison dispersed. Everything stood still, including Tristan’s forces.

A cold mist descended upon the ground forces from where the tube-prison once stood. “Aero Magi.” Tristan commanded. A strong gust of wind dispersed the mist, revealing a glistening feuern wyrm, frozen solid in its death pose. Its head stuck out of the perlite net with mouth wide open.

“Ryaaaaaaaaaaahhh!” Tristan shouted as he leapt with his two-handed dragonslayer sword from the second floor of the ruined castle.

SLICE!

In one fell swoop, Tristan severed the feuern wyrm’s head and killed the dragon. Under normal circumstances, the feuern wyrm’s experience reward would have given Tristan ten levels.

However, because there were more so many DracoRicco members participating in the fight, it only gave a big boost to all of their experience bars.

The members quickly gathered the materials dropped by the feuern wyrm. A Sonstwelter with a Job of a Shadow Phantom walked over to Tristan and handed him a Feuern stone.

“Thank you, Bones. Now we just need nine more.” Tristan grinned as he examined the orange stone.

“Tristan, I’m not sure if we can get that many with the members we have left.” argued Bones.

“Tch. Don’t be so negative. I want to resurrect Valdurath and that’s why we’re here. I’d like to see Amahan’s pathetic Djinn fight against a fully-recovered Ruby Dragon.” said Tristan as he walked towards his ruined castle.

“Hmm. Amahan did obtain three out of four Essence pieces that he’s supposed to collect. So maybe a fight between Valdaruth and Comataz will really happen.”

Tristan and Bones’ discussion was interrupted when a beautiful Arch Bishop greeted them as they reached the perlite gate. “Well done, but we still lost a total of eighty members in this hunt.”

“Stop reminding me, Aurora. Bones already told me the same thing.” said Tristan as he returned the salute the other guild members were giving him.

“By the way, have you guys seen Smoke’s latest video upload?” asked Aurora.

“The one where he did nothing but sit and meditate with a staff?” answered Bones.

Tristan shook his head. “I don’t get that guy. I wonder if he’ll get a lot of views with just that video. Though, I’ve never seen those ape-man creatures anywhere in Zectas before. Anyway, how is our food supply?” said Tristan as he tried to change the topic.

“We still have plenty of food, and I believe those curious-looking creatures are called Simiavulgs. They are supposedly as rare as Centaurs, if not more. Each continent is said to have only one Simiavulg village.” added Aurora.

“And how do you know that?” asked Bones.

“I read it on a thread posted by this guild called Dikaya. They used to rank fiftieth, but after they failed to enter a Simiavulg village, they dropped to below the top hundred.”

“Can we drop Smoke’s weird quests already? Who cares about what that freak is doing? Aurora, I want a complete status update on everything.”

“But I just gave you one before the hunt…” said Aurora with a sigh.

* * * * * * 
Nash watched the number of views of his Simiavulg training video soar to ten million. The video had a slow start, but it picked up more viewers after someone posted information about Dikaya’s failed attempt to enter a Simiavulg village.

Most of the comments were questions about the results of the Simiavulg training, but he didn’t answer any of them. There were many speculations and Nash loved reading them as he watched the comment count increase everytime the page auto-refreshed itself.


Nozzie: At the end of his Kung Fu training, Smoke will have a shaved head and a tattoo of a downwards arrow.

Emagine: He’ll get a stretching stick and fly around on a yellow cloud.

Earick: This guy is really something else. He isn’t showing us a lot of info on this quest; it kinda makes you think what this is all about.

Tirador: Yeah, it does look interesting, but will this training enable him to fight a dragon or a djinn?

Ligon: @Tirador – I told you to take a nap when you’re outside of Zectas. Prepare to pay the fine when you get back in!

UrLogicSux: LOL, looks like someone’s been naughty. Anyway, maybe if we study the video more closely, we could get some answers as to what this Simiavulg enhancement really is?

Sakto: I couldn’t agree more! I mean, Smoke taught us about Poison Resistance; maybe this time it’s just a little harder.

TriTank: Bah! Just another video of a freak trying to catch more views.

He tried not to be bothered by the haters, but hurtful comments still affected him. He wondered if he should show the other players his Manatl ability.

That thought quickly disappeared from his head as he realized that he would only be needlessly showing off his ability and would gain nothing significant from it.

After reading some more comments, Nash checked up on his auctioned-off items created by Darius. His wise Zectian friend had wares from double-bladed swords to enchanted gas masks.

However, Nash’s auction income had recently been reduced by half. All because Duke Burmistrz, mayor of Coatl city, placed a big bounty on Smoke and members of his private army.
To avoid capture, he had the Lioumereans shift their auction placements from the heraldic city of Coatl to the climatic city of Centza, located on the northern tip of the Wysteria Continent.

He detested this idea, but he was forced to ask Gandiva and Laernea to take the longer trips. Not only that, but they also had to traverse through rough terrain and constantly-changing weather.

This was the reason why Centza was called “The climatic city”. The landscape around it contained everything from hot desert plains to damp thick forests to cold icy passageways. Laernea and Gandiva traveled through these places as fast as Bilis and Tulin could carry them.

Nash had just started depositing into his younger brothers’ educational fund, which meant that he had nothing saved up for this month. He remembered his rare level 500 items and thought about auctioning off one of them.

The storm staff of Ehactl, the mirror of Meztli, the gloves of Itzli and the ring of Ezikill. He had not yet chosen which of these items to focus on, since they had high requirements of opposing affinities.

He decided to save the items for a later date, when he might really need the money. Nash checked the clock and saw that he had enough time to take his power nap before logging in back to Zectas. 

* * * * * * 

After almost twenty hours of travel, Smoke and his men arrived near the mouth of a cave. They remained hidden in a forest patch as Smoke studied the opening in the extremely steep mountainside from a distance.

Ledur mentioned that the location given to him by Smoke indicates that the temple of Vigilantez should be inside that mountain.

However, Smoke and his Tikbalang corps could not proceed to the clearing because of a Gobble Goblin encampment right in front of the cave. With his Cunning of the Dire Fox, he sensed that there were three hundred of these thin green monsters.

“I wonder where these monsters came from. We haven’t seen any of them around this area before.” Ledur explained to Smoke.

“Don’t worry about it. I think we could just charge right in. I mean, we have twenty Tikbalangs, these monsters should be easy even if there’s this much of them.” said Smoke in a hushed voice to Ledur.

“I’m not so sure about that. After all, some of them are equipped with weapons. I think a single Tikbalang could probably handle about ten of those Gobble Goblins.” answered Ledur.

“Ten, huh? I guess we can’t charge in then.” Smoke checked the clearing and looked at his symbiote. “Igniz, do you think you could keep in check half of the goblins?”

Igniz nodded without hesitation. The dark ember sprite had been itching to fight. Smoke took a few more minutes to iron out his plan of attack and shared it with Ledur and the rest of the Tikbalangs.

All of them fed on the lemurcat jerky Smoke had made. The jerky temporarily boosted their health regeneration rate by 2%. It wasn’t an increase as high as one given after eating a well-prepared meal, but it was better than nothing.

He ordered the twenty Tikbalangs to spread out, stay hidden and wait for his signal, while Smoke, Igniz and Ledur took to the skies.

Smoke’s Earth affinity was greatly increased by the Ring of Domination, which in turn enhanced his Earth Manipulation ability. Due to this, he tasked himself with creating three-meter-high earth walls on three sides of the Gobble Goblin encampment, and left the creation of the fourth wall to Ledur.

The winged Tikbalang descended first and caught the goblins’ attention as he started to create the earth wall. He was flying just beyond the reach of the leaping goblins.

Smoke remained at a higher altitude while creating three earth walls simultaneously. The task proved to be more difficult than he had imagined, as he only managed to raise two-meter-tall walls.

Just as Ledur’s wall reached Smoke’s desired height, the Goblins began throwing crudely-made wooden spears at the flying Tikbalang.

Ledur did his best to dodge the spears, but there were just too many of them. His life bar displayed (364,929/400,000 HP).

Igniz immediately swooped down and created a firewall across the enclosure. This divided the goblins in two groups.

The first group of Gobble Goblins numbered one hundred sixty. Ledur created two openings in his earth wall and ten Tikbalangs swiftly entered the enclosure through each of them.

With their hard black hooves, the Tikbalangs bashed the heads of the thin green monsters as they charged. The goblins fought back and damaged the Tikbalangs for 700 points.

The Tikbalangs had life bars in the range of 280,000 to 300,000 HP. Minutes after the goblins’ retaliation, the Tikbalangs revealed their life bars to be damaged by 5% to 7%, as each of them faced more than ten of the thin green monsters.

Ledur furled his massive black wings and dove down fast. He crushed two Gobble Goblins on the ground as he landed. In a blur, Ledur bashed the skulls of several green monsters with a single hoof strike.

Still up in the sky, Smoke observed the situation from above. He watched the Tikbalangs slaughter the goblins. A part of him feared that the killing frenzy might bring out their feral instincts and make them lose control again.

He looked over to the other side of the firewall and noticed that the other goblins just stood and watched their kin getting ripped apart.

He surmised that these monsters were afraid of fire, because none even tried to jump across Igniz’s firewall in order to help their fellow goblins.

Not satisfied with the current limit of his earth walls, Smoke took out the Digger’s Wand and created trenches inside the enclosure. ‘There. That should stop them from escaping.’ he thought to himself with a smile.

As Smoke finished digging the trenches, Ledur and the Tikbalangs were almost done with the first half of the Gobble Goblins. Smoke checked the life bars of his Tikbalang corps.

Smoke beamed when he saw that they still had around 60% left on their life bars. He ordered Igniz to lower the flames of the firewall and allow more goblins to cross it and fight the Tikbalang corps.

As Igniz lowered the firewall, Smoke slowly descended. On the way down, something unusual caught his attention.

The bodies of dead goblins remained on the ground. They did not disappear like the bodies of other killed monsters. Smoke knew that there were certain abilities one could use to make this happen, but neither he nor the Tikbalangs used such abilities.

He was then surprised by the Gobble Goblins’ strange behaviour. As soon as they stepped through the firewall, the green monsters sprinted to the corpses of the defeated goblins and started to cannibalize them.

Alarmed by this, Smoke took out his weighted chain and sickle in mid-air and used its active ability Cyclone of Slaughter as soon as he landed. The incoming Gobble Goblins ran to their own demise.

Despite Smoke’s efforts, more goblins broke through and ran past the range of the his sickle. The thin green monsters ate with much gusto.

The Gobble Goblins wolfed down fingers, toes, feet and various other body parts until the whole body was consumed. In a matter of seconds, the goblins devoured corpse after corpse. After eating a certain number of corpses, the monsters would run and hide.

Seconds later, larger Gobble Goblins emerged. Their skin became darker and their bodies grew in size. A Gobble Goblin finished its transformation, picked up a rusty crude sword and rushed towards a Tikbalang. It was soon joined by three more transformed goblins equipped with similar weapons. These one-and-a-half-meter-tall goblins delivered heavier blows and inflicted 1,000 points of damage on each attack.

Smoke jumped high in the air towards a spot near Igniz’s firewall and used his hooded cloak’s active ability Stunning Landing. He stunned three transformed goblins as he crushed the ground he landed on. He threw his sharp sickle at the immobilized dark green monsters and attempted to chop off their heads and limbs.

Yet he could not do so with only a couple of strikes. These monsters displayed a maximum life of (150,000 HP) instead of only (50,000 HP). Other transformed goblins started to run towards Smoke. Igniz took notice of this and created a fire cage to capture them.

Smoke shifted his attack pattern and focused on the goblins’ shoulders and legs until he successfully severed the targeted body parts. He turned around and looked back at his Tikbalang corps. “Don’t let them eat the corpses! They evolve if they do!” shouted Smoke.

He feared that Ledur and the Tikbalangs hadn’t noticed the transformation of the Gobble Goblins. Right after Smoke warned his men, ten dark green goblins rushed to him.

Igniz tried to force them back with multiple fireballs, but the transformed goblins were resilient against the dark ember sprite’s attacks.

Thanks to his Cunning of the Dire Fox, Smoke sensed the incoming attackers. He tried to jump away, but two transformed goblins grabbed his feet and brought him down to the ground.

Less than a second later, more Gobble Goblins jumped on him and pinned him down. Some used their crude weapons and slashed his dark purple skin while others clawed, punched and bit him. In a very short time, Smoke received a total damage of 45,200 points.

Three Tikbalangs came charging towards Smoke and tackled six dark green goblins off his back. Each Tikbalang fought hard against two transformed Gobble Goblins.

The remaining four goblins looked up to see what happened, which gave Smoke some much-needed space. He switched out the weighted chain and sickle for his white metallic staff.

He pulled himself up to a kneeling position with the goblins still holding onto him and forcefully created a spherical purple Manatl around him.

HISSS HISSS HISSS HISSS!

Scorch marks appeared on the dark green monsters as soon as they made contact with Smoke’s Manatl. He tightened his grip on the staff as the goblins continued their attack on his spherical barrier.

HISSS HISSS HISSS HISSS!

The goblins backed away after their second failed attack. They looked around and searched for their weapons.

Smoke noticed that the three Tikbalangs had difficulty dealing with six transformed Gobble Goblins.

CLINK CLANG CLINK CLANG!

Rusty swords and spears bombarded Smoke’s purple Manatl as the goblins attacked it with their crude weapons.

Smoke wanted to wait for one more round of attack, but his Manatl already showed signs of dispersing. He quickly canceled the barrier and focused the gathered energy on the end of his white staff.

The four Gobble Goblins jumped at him. Smoke dodged their weapons and claws as best as he could. With the aid of his Agility of the Horned Rabbit, he only received two attacks and got damaged for 8,419 points. 

Smoke quickly thrusted the energized end of his staff into the stomach of one of the goblins.

THUCK SWWISHH!

The struck goblin’s entire body shook as its life bar was quickly being drained to the point where was nothing left of it.

The remaining three goblins attacked him again after they recovered from the shock of seeing their comrade killed instantly.

The DarkElf kneeled down once more and created another spherical purple barrier.

CLINK CLANG CLINK CLANG CLANG CLINK!

As Smoke waited for his Manatl to absorb enough energy from the goblins’ attacks, he looked at the Tikbalangs who had saved him from his pinned-down position before.

He saw an alarming sight of three Tikbalangs half-dead on the ground. He became even more alarmed when he caught a glimpse of their life bars, which displayed less than 10% left.

“Ledur, I need your help!” Smoke called out to his Tikbalang captain.

However, Ledur did not answer him. As Smoke scanned the battlefield, he noticed that most of his Tikbalangs had little HP remaining. Ledur himself only had 50% of his life bar left and was still dealing with three dark green Gobble Goblins.

Smoke noticed that he had absorbed enough energy and dispersed his Manatl. This time, he evaded all of the goblins’ attacks as he leapt away from them. He held the uncharged end of his staff as he stretched it out and stabbed one of the Gobble Goblins.

The goblin’s body shivered as the charged attack went through it. Smoke watched the life bar of the monster drain as he killed it with one hit.

The two transformed goblins grabbed the remains of their fallen comrade and retreated away from Smoke. They fought over the dead body until it finally split in half. Both goblins hurriedly ate their shares.

Smoke desperately ran as fast as he could towards the feasting goblins. He switched back to using his chain and sickle as he sprinted.

With the knowledge that he couldn’t slice off their heads in one attack, Smoke used the metal chains to bind the monsters instead.

He threw the metal chains up and created two loops in the air. His high Dexterity allowed him to wrap both loops around the Gobble Goblins’ necks.

Smoke pulled as hard as he could and brought the two goblins down, preventing them from eating any more Goblin meat.

As the DarkElf held the two dark green monsters down, he saw several thin green monsters step through the boundary where Igniz’s firewall was before.

“Igniz, re-create your firewall! Don’t let any more monsters in.” Smoke pointed at the burn marks where the firewall once blazed.

His symbiote followed his command without delay and re-ignited the firewall. The ordinary Gobble Goblins backed away, frightened by the flames.

Smoke pulled the two loops into a tight noose and tried to keep the transformed goblins bound together. Moving in closer, he struck the sharp sickle down into their skulls as hard as he could until their life bars were completely depleted.

The DarkElf looked around and saw that Ledur directed the severely injured Tikbalangs out of the earth wall, while six Tikbalangs with more than 60% of their life bars guarded them as they escaped.

His Cunning of the Dire Fox indicated that there were still five transformed goblins left. He searched for the monsters on the ground, but could not see any visible life bars.

‘These Gobble Goblins are even clever enough to play possum.’ Smoke grinned as he switched weapons.

Smoke checked up on Ledur and saw him closing up the earth wall. Ledur walked towards him with six of his brethren in tow.

“Guys, there’s still some stragglers left. Follow my markers.” He looked at the battlefield again and confirmed the general direction of the hidden monsters.

He drew his power chainsaw bow back and released three fire arrows. The arrows traveled fast and struck different areas where the goblins hid.

“Everyone, double team on the monsters near the fire arrows! Leave the remaining two monsters to Ledur and me.” yelled Smoke.

The DarkElf nodded to his dark ember sprite. Igniz understood Smoke’s orders and blasted a nearby pile of goblin corpses, which revealed the concealed life bar of a straggler goblin.

Multiple fire arrows shot out of Smoke’s bow as he targeted the lying-down monster. As soon as eight fire arrows pierced the goblin’s back, it stood up and made a beeline for Smoke.

Smoke stood his ground and rapidly released fire arrows at the assailing monster. Igniz followed Smoke’s lead and threw fireballs at the goblin.

Another eight fire arrows then struck the charging Gobble Goblin’s chest, but its life bar still indicated (45,600/150,000 HP).

Smoke aimed higher and focused on the monster’s eyes. After one of his arrows pierced the goblin’s left eye, it covered its face with its arm and kept on running towards him.

Smoke and Igniz relentlessly attacked the Gobble Goblin until it dropped down to the ground as its life bar became empty.

“Aaaahhhhhh!” Ledur shouted as the goblin he was up against grabbed a hold of one of his wings and started chewing on it.

The winged Tikbalang smashed the monster’s head in with his hooves until it released his wing from its jaw. The goblin knelt down after receiving damage straight to the face.

Smoke and Igniz attacked the goblin’s back and turned the monster’s backside into a flaming inferno. The goblin turned around to see its new attacker only to feel black hooves come down on its spinal column.

Ledur killed the monster while pummelling it into the ground. Smoke, Igniz and Ledur then spread out as they helped finish off the remaining three transformed goblins.

“AYYIIII AYIII AYYIIII YIIII YIII YII YIII!”

Smoke heard strange noises coming from the other side of Igniz’s firewall. He leapt high into the air and glided with his hooded cloak.

He saw that with only a fifth of their original numbers remaining, the thin green goblins panicked. Some of them had already escaped by positioning in a ladder-like formation and climbing on top of several other goblins in order to reach the top of the wall.

“Igniz, disperse your current firewall and create a new one over that wall.” Smoke pointed at the earth wall which the thin green monsters were trying to climb.

The DarkElf called out to Ledur and the rest of his Tikbalangs, “Everyone, don’t let them escape!” Smoke quickly descended towards the escapees.

He landed on one of these goblin towers and stunned ten monsters around him. His Cunning of the Dire Fox indicated that only sixty of these weak monsters were left.

In several fell swoops of his weighted chain and sickle, Smoke decapitated the stunned goblins near him. Ledur and the six remaining Tikbalangs followed Smoke’s lead and went after the goblins’ critical points.

As Smoke and his men fought, they made sure none of the goblins get an opportunity to transform. As soon as one of the goblins was killed, the goblin next to it would begin eating the slaughtered monster.

Smoke, Igniz and the Tikbalangs focused their attacks on those feeding goblins. The thin green monsters with life bars of only (50,000 HP) stood no chance against them.

The remaining goblins were finished off without any complications. Smoke leapt up and Igniz immediately flew after him. As he glided, he watched the escaped goblins run into the forest.

“Should we go after them?” asked Ledur as he joined Smoke in the sky.

“No, let’s tend to the wounded first. We don’t know if there are any other dangerous monsters nearby.” answered Smoke as they descended towards the recovering Tikbalangs.

* * * * * * 

Smoke applied orange marigold paste on Tikbalangs’ wounds. Ledur wanted to help heal his brethren, but his hooves were better suited for crushing the medicinal leaves.

Igniz flew in front of Smoke in a circular pattern. His dark ember sprite signaled him that the medicinal stew made from lemurcats’ kidneys was ready.

Smoke, Ledur and the Tikbalangs who were not seriously injured fed the critically wounded. It looked like it would take another hour before everyone fully recovered.

Fighting alongside a large group made him miss his original private army members. Smoke was very proud of all the accomplishments they had made, but he especially remembered a cursed werebear.

With guilt and a myriad of other feelings swirling inside of him, he decided to call Sierra.

There was no answer. ‘Phew! Sierra must be busy.’ Smoke sighed with relief.

“Yes?” Sierra abruptly answered.

“Oh, hi.” were the only words that came out of Smoke’s mouth as his mind went blank.

“So? Is there something important to tell me? Did you already kill the witches?” Sierra asked in a monotonous tone.

“No, not yet. I was just calling to check up on you.”

“Huh? But don’t you usually call Adder or Thyrsus for that? Or do you call Laernea now?” Sierra asked in the same uninterested voice.

“Right. Actually, I just wanted to congratulate you on the great job you’re doing. I hear the guild’s doing great and Verbrannt has really developed.” Smoke smiled as he spoke, hoping that his pleasant tone would be reciprocated.

“Well, I can’t take credit for that. Most of the work was done by your private army members and the refugees you sent from Condortl and Pferde.” Sierra’s voice slightly changed, but quickly returned to its former monotony.

“Good, good. You and your werewolves are still strengthening the defenses, right?”

“Yes, and training the militia. I thought Adder already told you about it?”

“Oh, he did.” answered Smoke.

Sierra spoke before Smoke could drag the awkward conversation on longer. “Listen, I understand why you decided not to talk to me and I completely agree with you.”

“You do?” replied a surprised Smoke.

“Thanks to that, we both accomplished a lot of things in the short amount of time we have before facing the Duke. I’m more confident that we can save Centzo city now as well.” Sierra’s voice changed. Smoke could feel her sincerity.

“I’m glad you understand. So, I’ll let you get back to what you were doing. Good—”

CLICK!

“—bye, Sierra.” Smoke spoke too late as the line had already been cut off.

‘That went well enough.’ Smoke thought. He regretted not explaining the real reason for not calling her earlier. He knew that if he did, he would lose focus on the game.

He forcefully pushed back thoughts about Sierra as Ledur walked over towards him. “There are no more severely-injured Tikbalangs. All of my brethren should fully recover ten minutes earlier than expected.”

“Alright.” Smoke answered in a plain voice.

Ledur stared at the DarkElf, whose eyes seemed distant. “Uhm…Smoke? You said you had something to ask me about earlier.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Ledur. I’ve been a little absent-minded lately. Yes, I’d like you to take a look at this. I found this parchment on one of the goblins, but I can’t read it. I thought they were some kind of runes at first, but it seems to be written in a different language.”

“Yes, this is written in Gobberish, an ancient Goblin language.” said Ledur while looking at him with a worried expression.

“I see. Have the other Tikbalangs found anything else in the Gobble Goblin’s encampment?”

“Nothing, just that same parchment. You know, if you have the Translate ability, we could easily read what it says.”

Smoke grinned as soon as he heard the word ability. “Where do you suppose I could get that ability?”

“Only those with the Job of Linguist have it. In the old days, all villages used to have at least one Linguist.” explained Ledur while staring blankly at the parchment.

“But when the Reptilians took over the world thousands of years ago, they forced their language upon all of their conquered subjects. I suppose it was one of the few good things those bastards did during their reign.”

“What? So, the language that all books are written in now is Reptilian?”

“Yeah, you didn’t know that? I mean, you’re reading and speaking it just fine, but now I’m guessing you don’t even know the name of the language you’re using?”

Smoke shook his head. Ledur proceeded to educate Smoke.

“It’s called Lacerta. Everyone in the explored region of Zectas uses it. At first, everyone hated losing their native tongues, but when Lioumereans did business with Humans, they were surprised that they easily understood each other when they both spoke Lacerta.”

Smoke nodded as he could imagine how convenient it must have been for different races to interact with each other.

“Since then, all of us have been using Lacerta. Due to this, the Linguist Job has become almost extinct.” Ledur tried to stroke his chin, but stopped as a black hoof appeared instead of his hand.

He appeared to be agitated by his cursed form once more. Smoke didn’t have a clue where he could find a Linguist, so he put away the parchment and quickly changed the subject.

“The Gobble Goblins are really strange monsters. When you’re fighting them, they seem to be really barbaric and wild, but they’re different towards each other.”

“Huh? What do you mean? They eat corpses of their dead. How is that not barbaric?” asked Ledur as he crossed his arms.

“Yes, they did do that, but they were organized when they tried to escape. None of them harmed the other goblins in order to save their own skin.”

“Sorry, I don’t follow.” said Ledur while raising an eyebrow.

“Normally, if someone was running for their life, they would disregard everything else. Animals, and even Humans, trample one another in such situations.” explained Smoke.

“Another strange thing is that, if they get stronger by eating their kin, why don’t they cannibalize each other from the get-go?” Smoke wondered out loud.

“If what you say about how they escaped is true, then maybe they don’t ever want to harm each other?” proposed Ledur.

“Yet they rushed over to eat their dead kin with no hesitation whatsoever.” Smoke countered.

Ledur shrugged his shoulders. Smoke’s curiosity over Gobble Goblins grew more. Yet, he had more pressing issues at hand. The entrance to the cave on the side of a steep mountain was now clear of monsters. Smoke wanted to go explore it right away.

As most of the Tikbalangs had recovered up to 80% of their life bars, Smoke decided to venture into the cave by himself. The winged Tikbalang tried to stop him.

“Smoke, it is not wise to go into that cave alone.” said Ledur while blocking Smoke’s path to the cave.

“Don’t worry, Igniz is coming with me. Besides, I want you to create a defensive wall around the cave in case the Gobble Goblins come back.” said Smoke as he thought on his feet.

“Very well, but don’t hesitate to call us if you need help.”

“Of course.” Smoke patted Ledur’s shoulders and went inside the cave.

Igniz illuminated the dark cave. Smoke could see rough rocks sticking out of the walls of the cave. The cave’s natural jagged passageway that was ten meters high and four meters wide felt spacious to him.

A hundred meters in, Smoke noticed the walls of the cave becoming smoother. Fifty meters more and red marble had replaced the smooth cave walls.

However, he reached a dead end. Smoke checked his map and saw that he was still a few meters away from the temple’s exact location. He touched the red marble’s surface and felt deep gashes in the wall.

‘What is this?’ Smoke wondered to himself.

He went back a few meters and gathered as much dirt as he could. Shortly afterwards, he returned to the wall and applied the dirt into the gashes.

Smoke thought he could barely make out what the gashes on the red marble wall represented. They looked like letters for a moment, but the dirt didn’t stick and only slided down the wall.

He thought that he could try using water to make the dirt muddy enough for it to stick. Sadly, there was no water source nearby and the little water he had for drinking wasn’t enough to test his theory.

He stood close to the red marble wall, in a conundrum as to what to do next. Igniz acted as usual and orbited around him. By chance, the dark ember sprite’s flaming body grazed the wall and a small flame remained in one of the gashes in the smooth red marble.

Smoke made a wide grin as he looked at his symbiote. “Igniz, attack the wall with your fireballs.”

Without delay, Igniz showered the red marble wall with fireballs. Smoke raised his right hand after a couple of seconds and made a fist. The dark purple symbiote immediately stopped.

Flaming words appeared on the wall and Smoke immediately read the message.


TRIAL OF VIGILANTEZ

  Speak the truth and you shall be answered.

As soon as Smoke finished reading the flaming text on the wall, the gashes shifted towards the center of the wall and the fire within them merged into one big orange flame.

The orange flame on the wall spoke. “BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Someone has finally dared to take the trial of Vigilantez. No one has been here for years.”

Smoke pushed his dark ember sprite backwards and took two steps back himself. He wasn’t sure whether the orange flame would suddenly attack.

“Hmm. And who might you be, DarkElf?”

Still on alert, Smoke answered, “My name is Smoke and this is my symbiote Igniz.”

“A DarkElf with a symbiote, huh? I thought DarkElves hated to share their Mana.” the orange flame flickered as it spoke. “I suppose you want to get in now?” it asked.

“If it isn’t too much trouble, I’d love to go in.” said Smoke in a pleasant tone.

“No, no trouble at all. Although, there’s this one rule we have to follow before I let you in.” The orange flame reciprocated Smoke’s pleasantries.

“A rule? Sure, what is it?” Smoke asked with a smile.

The flickering orange flame replied, “I have to ask you a certain question and you just have to answer it.” The flame’s intensity increased and it proceeded to speak in a more serious tone.

“What is your heart’s greatest desire? Is it perhaps wealth? Overwhelming power?”

“Hmm. Before I answer, is it alright if I ask you some questions?” Smoke inquired.

“Sure, ask as many questions as you like, but know that I’ll only allow you to answer once. If you don’t get it right, then it’s over.” The flame sounded playful once again.

“Just once, huh? First off, I’d like to know your name, please.” Smoke tried to raise his Intimacy with the flickering orange flame.

“My name is Verite, but over the years, people have shortened it to V.” answered the flame.

Smoke scratched his head as he thought about other questions he could ask that would help him answer the question. “So, I just tell you what my heart really wants, right? My answer doesn’t have to be a choice between saying ‘wealth’ or ‘power’?”

“Hahahaha. You’re a tricky one, aren’t you? You’re already trying to check whether your answer is correct. But that’s right, I just want to hear what your heart truly desires.”

‘V must be using the same principle as the casting circle of truth.’ theorized Smoke.

“V, what happens if I don’t get the answer right?”

“I will simply revert to being a plain wall and you will never get to activate me again. Basically, you kiss your chance at one of the pieces of Vigilantez goodbye.”

“I see. Then I think I’m ready to answer.” Smoke said with conviction.

“Fire away, DarkElf.”

“I want a good life for my entire family…” Smoke said solemnly.

V changed colors from white, green, blue and then back to orange. “Hmm. There is some truth to that answer, but not enough to allow you to enter the temple.”

The gashes on the wall started to separate, along with the flames that formed V.

Smoke couldn’t understand why V would not allow him to enter. That was what his heart had always wanted—a good life for his family.

‘What else is there?’ he thought to himself as he racked his brain for answers.

As he did, an image of a smiling cook with curly red hair came rushing to his mind. ‘Ahh.’

Only a small portion of the orange flame remained in the center of the red marble wall.

“Wait, V! I wasn’t finished.”

The scattered orange flames merged once more.

“But you are. You gave me an answer and it wasn’t truthful enough to grant you access to the temple.”

“I was giving you my answer, but you didn’t let me finish.” Smoke said with desperation.

“Fine. I’ll indulge you. Go on then, finish your sentence.” said V.

Smoke steeled himself and answered once more. “I want a good life for my entire family and to have Sierra be a part of it.”

V’s flame changed color several times and then intensified before it spoke. “Seems like that was truthful enough to open the door. Well done, DarkElf.” Immediately afterwards, the red marble wall started to shake.

V’s flame scattered to the corners of the walls and the marble began to part right in the middle. Smoke moved backwards as dust and small rocks started to fall due to the wall’s movement.

Smoke stepped inside the parted wall and saw a five-meter-tall statue of an imposing figure with two bent horns and four wings. He then noticed flames appear on the ground and spreading towards the statue.

The statue caught fire. Orange flames appeared on the statue’s head and became its wavy flaming hair. The flames then shifted towards the four wings and gave the statue a dreadful appearance.

With Vigilantez’s wings illuminating the room, Smoke could clearly see the sharp claws, similar to a lion’s, on the djinn’s hands and feet. He thought that Vigilantez truly looked like a lord of hell.

After Vigilantez’s statue was engulfed in flames, an amber crystal appeared at the base of the statue. V’s voice was heard from the flaming statue. “DarkElf, take this Essence piece. You have earned the right to carry it.”

Smoke instantly ran to it. He grabbed the amber crystal with much enthusiasm and happily read the notification window that popped up afterwards.


Djinn of the West: Ifrit Vigilantez

  Beware of this hellish Djinn, for he was once a wandering avenger of Wysteria!

  +Obtained a piece of Vigilantez’s essence (1/4)

Smoke excitedly raised his first Vigilantez piece in the air and suddenly realized that he followed exactly what Amahan did when he got his first Comataz piece.

Ashamed that he followed Amahan’s posture, he lowered his head and blinked. As soon as he did, he was brought in front of the red marble wall. However, there were no gashes in the smooth surface of the wall this time.

He happily walked out of the cave, smiling from ear to ear. He was about to tell Ledur the good news when he noticed a troubled expression on the winged Tikbalang’s face.

“What’s wrong?”

“You need to call Espion, right now.” said a worried Ledur.

Smoke didn’t want to press Ledur into telling him more about the situation, so he immediately called the young Spy.

“Espion, what’s up?”

“Finally! I’ve been trying to reach you for a few minutes now.” Espion answered with a hard time breathing. “Crucibelle has gathered an army of Gobble Goblins and it looks like she plans to destroy another village with this newly-formed army.”

Smoke knew that Crucibelle’s last location was on mount Vor Eindrigen, which was very close to Mount Yunggo. “No! Don’t tell me she’s going after Saruras village?” he asked his Spy.

“Saruras? No, I don’t think she’s headed there. Based on the general direction she’s going in right now, I think she’s headed for the place where I’m at—Banal village.” replied Espion.

“Banal village? Where’s that? And just how big is this army?” asked Smoke.

“Crucibelle’s gathered about a thousand Gobble Goblins. I’ll send you the coordinates of Banal village. I think she’ll arrive here in about three days, maybe even two.” Espion reported.

A few seconds later, a notification window popped up on Smoke’s left side.


MAP LOCATION: Banal village

  Coordinates: Latitude: 16°16′ S, Longitude: 86°48′ E
  Note: Forty kilometers away from current location.

SNAP!

Smoke snapped his fingers when he saw Banal village’s location. ‘This is good.’

He looked at his Tikbalang corps and pondered how they could stand a chance against that many Gobble Goblins. “Have you tried speaking with the village chief?”

“I have. He said that they’re willing to leave the village but are just too scared of being unprotected. They’re afraid that they would be sitting ducks for other hostile monsters as soon as they leave.”

Smoke started to pace as he filled his head with different battle scenarios. Espion then spoke again.

“I think the village chief is right. These guys don’t know how to fight. They really need our help, Smoke.”

“Two days, huh? I can do something with two days.” Smoke thought out loud. “Just sit tight for now, Espion. Remember that your safety is always your top priority. I’ll be there soon, I just have to make a quick call.”

* * * * * * 

Smoke asked Igniz to return to his hidden compartment and glided as fast as he could towards Banal village. He reached a top speed of 140 kph and got to the village in less than twenty minutes.

He asked Ledur to accompany the other Tikbalangs, as they traveled on foot. Due to the impending threat, Smoke had many things to do, which was why he needed to get there as soon as possible.

Moments before Smoke reached Banal village, he received a call from Espion saying that he was waiting outside the village. He could see that Banal village was extremely small.

It was easily the smallest village in Zectas that he had seen, even smaller than Verbrannt, which they had re-constructed only recently.

With the aid of his Telefax Vision ability, Smoke saw a young man with black hair leaning on the village’s iron gate. He circled around the village as he started to make his descent from an altitude of a hundred meters.

He appreciated Espion waiting for him. With his gliding cloak closed, Smoke dove in at an alarming speed. The young Spy followed him with his eyes and waited for him to land.

WOOSHH!

Expertly, Smoke opened up his cape just before he hit the ground and landed without making a loud noise.

Espion walked over to him and offered his hand. “Welcome to Banal village. The village isn’t much, but I think we can fortify it in the next two days.”

“Thanks, Espion. We’ll talk about that later. For now, I’d like to meet the village chief.”

Smoke released Igniz from his personal compartment. The dark ember sprite orbited around Espion as a greeting.

“Nice to see you too, Igniz.” Espion smiled as he led the way to the village.

“Great job on tracking down Crucibelle. I’d also like to commend you for how you handled the situation in this village. At least they’re open to the idea of leaving their home.”

He saw Espion smile proudly.

“I’m sure Caid will be very pleased to hear this.” said Smoke as they walked into the village. As they did, he observed that Banal village already looked like a ghost town.

The cobblestone streets were empty and the stone houses had boarded-up windows.

“Espion, where is everybody?”

“They’re all hiding over at the center of the village. Apparently, they have an emergency shelter they go to in case of monster attacks or natural calamities.” explained Espion.

Espion led the way and they only needed to walk for ten more minutes before they got to the shelter. The stone building was a large cube three stories high.

Smoke couldn’t see any visible ladders. There were just a couple of windows on the third floor. As they reached the emergency shelter, the young Spy knocked on the large double iron door.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!

A sliding peephole opened and a voice came out of it. “All ravens are black.”

To which Espion replied, “If it’s not black, it’s not a raven.”

The large door opened and Smoke, Igniz and Espion went inside. Espion looked at Smoke and said, “Aside from being prepared for disasters, most of the villagers are also a bit paranoid.”

Smoke nodded as he listened to Espion’s observation on the Banalites. Inside the shelter, he saw about a dozen bunk beds placed against the walls.

“How many villagers are there?” asked Smoke.

“There are only eighty-three residents in Banal: sixty adults, ten elderly and thirteen children.” Espion replied promptly. “You see that bald man with a yellow jacket?”

Espion pointed at a stout, middle-aged man with a completely bald head, who was talking to a group of villagers.

“Yes.”

“That’s the village chief. His name’s Sot Regle.” Espion waved at Banal’s village chief and Sot waved back.

Both Smoke and Espion walked over to Sot.

“Excuse me gentlemen,” Espion addressed the gathered Banalites, “I’d like you all to meet my esteemed leader Smoke and his dark ember sprite Igniz.”

The gathered Banalites greeted Smoke and Igniz with smiles on their faces. “He’ll know exactly what to do in order for your village to survive Crucibelle’s attack.” Espion went on to explain.

Smoke smiled sincerely and shook the gathered Banalites’ hands. “A pleasure to meet you all. Sorry for being abrupt, but I was wondering if we could talk with Sot in private?”

The stout bald man nodded. “Sure, no problem.” Sot led the way to the upper floors of the shelter. They went into one of the rooms on the third floor.

“Here should be fine.” said Sot as he motioned for Smoke and Espion to sit on chairs opposite to him, while Igniz remained flying around Smoke. “I’m sorry we don’t have strategy rooms. We only have simple rooms with simple beds. Pretty interesting ember sprite you have there. I’ve only heard about them being red.”

“Yeah, Igniz is special. Don’t worry about the rooms, this is perfectly fine. I just wanted to know when would your people be ready to migrate to Verbrannt?” asked Smoke.

“Migrate to Verbrannt?” Sot shook his head strongly, “Espion just said to leave the village temporarily. He told us that you could protect us from hostile monsters in the wild while Crucibelle passes through our village.”

Smoke frowned when he heard this and shot Espion a stern look. Espion just shrugged his shoulders and pretended that he didn’t know what Sot was saying.

The DarkElf tried to be calm as possible as he described what was going to happen to Banal village. “Well, you see, when Crucibelle goes through a village, she doesn’t leave anything standing. Go ahead, Espion. Tell him what you saw in Opferntl Village.”

Espion proceeded to retell the story of how Opferntl village was burnt to the ground with its residents still in it. “…Only ashes remained of the flourishing village.” Espion ended.

Sot looked down to the floor. Banal’s chief looked broken. Smoke thought that if one were to look up the word forlorn in a dictionary, there would probably be a picture of Sot’s current expression next to it.

Smoke patted Sot’s shoulders and said, “A wise man once told me that a village isn’t the place where you put up walls, houses and other buildings. It is where the people of one mind and one goal reside.”

“Huh?” Sot turned to Smoke with a bewildered look, “You think the villagers will just gladly leave their homes and merrily sing while moving away from the place they all grew up in?”

Smoke’s eyes grew wide. He didn’t expect for Sot to be this negative about the idea of migrating. He was sure that he would be able to easily convince him and the villagers to migrate to Verbrannt.

“So, what are you planning on doing now, Sot?” Smoke asked as he tried to come up with a way to persuade the villagers to leave.

“I’m going to inform all of the Banalites what’s really going to happen and ask if any of them want to migrate.”

Sot stood up. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to tell them the real situation.” Sot looked at Espion with disgust.

Smoke lightly struck Espion’s chest with the back of his fist. “Hey! What was that for?” asked Espion.

“Why did you lie to them? Why did you tell them that their homes were gonna be okay?”

“I figured that once they see there’s nothing left here, they’ll be okay with moving to Verbrannt. Besides, isn’t that what you did when you pretended to be Ilad, the Flame Knight?”

“This and that are two completely different scenarios.” Smoke sighed as he was exasperated with explaining it to Espion. “Anyway, I doubt the Banal villagers will be willing to leave now.”

Smoke, Igniz and Espion went back downstairs. The three of them stood in the back of the room while Sot climbed onto a small table and turned to face the crowd of gathered Banalites.

“Fellow Banalites, it appears that we have been mislead. Crucibelle doesn’t intend to just pass through our village. Instead, she intends to burn it down to the ground.”

The Banalites broke into an uproar as soon as they heard Sot’s bad news.

“Now, now. Please try to calm down. It appears that Smoke and Espion here are offering to take us to a different village.” Sot pointed to the back where Smoke was.

The crowd turned around and stared at the DarkElf. All Smoke could do was smile and give the crowd a small wave.

“I haven’t heard how wonderful this other village is supposed to be. I’m sure that it is, but I don’t want to leave Banal without a fight. I don’t want to leave the place our forefathers built with their bare hands.”

Sot formed a fist and pointed to the crowd.

“So, I’m asking all of you now: who amongst you here wants to leave with Smoke?”

None of the Banalites showed signs of siding with Smoke.

“We’re staying with you, Sot. If you chose to stay here and fight, then we’ll fight alongside you!” shouted one of the Banalites. The crowd joined in and agreed not to run away.

Smoke shook his head at what was happening. The crowd’s voices grew louder as they made plans for defending their homes against Crucibelle and her Gobble Goblin army.

Sot walked over to Smoke and spoke to him, “So, it appears that migration is out of the picture. Would you be willing to defend Banal village instead?”

A quest window immediately popped up.


+ Quest: Defense of Banal
    Protection Quest
    Level: A

    Banal’s village chief Sot asked you to defend the village from Crucibelle’s imminent attack.

    Accept the Quest? [YES/NO]

Smoke offered his hand to Sot and accepted the quest.

   

* * * * * * 

“So, what is your village’s specialty?” Smoke asked Sot as both of them were outside and Sot was showing Smoke around Banal village.

“To be honest, we don’t have anything special at all. We’re what some might call a ‘mediocre’ village. We mostly have Tailors, Farmers and a single Merchant.”

Sot answered nervously as he watched the Tikbalangs patrolling the streets of Banal. “Are you sure it’s safe to have those monsters around?” asked Sot.

“Please don’t refer to them as monsters. They’re noble Centaurs, they were just cursed by one of the Witches.” Smoke said strongly.

“I apologize if I’ve offended you, I was just taken aback by their appearance. Seeing twenty-one of these, uhm, cursed Centaurs is a bit overwhelming.” Sot rambled as he tried to apologize.

Smoke listened to him as he looked around the village. He scrutinized Banal village’s potential weak points and also observed that the entire village only covered an area of barely five square kilometers.

“And what about that Merchant? Does he or she have anything interesting for sale?” asked Smoke.

Sot shook his head fervently. “No, nothing interesting at all. He has rather useless items: some fishing rods, iron ingots and a couple of books. But there is no river or lake nearby, there’s no Blacksmiths in Banal and no one here is interested in reading books.”

The mention of books instantly piqued the DarkElf’s interest. “Books, huh? I’d like to meet this Merchant, please.” Smoke asked with a smile.

“Sure, no problem.” said Sot. As they continued walking in the same direction, he was met with Smoke’s questioning gaze. “Oh, you mean now? Alright then, this way.” Sot led Smoke to the next block and stopped when they got to the corner.

A man plumper than Sot sat idly in front of a small stall. He had gray hairs and a wrinkled face. Sot called the Merchant’s attention.

“Smoke, I’d like you to meet Perdant Marchand.” The gray-haired Merchant shook Smoke’s hand energetically.

“A pleasure to meet you, Master Smoke. Please, call me Perdant and feel free to look at my wares. I’m sure you’ll find something to your liking.”

Smoke and Perdant shook hands with vested interest. “Nice to meet you too, Perdant.”

“Alright. Now that you’ve met, I think I’ll check the village gate while I’m here.” Sot rushed towards the gate on the left.

Smoke and Perdant waved goodbye to the village chief. Immediately afterwards, the Beggar and the Merchant discussed their business at hand.

“I’m gonna be straight with you, Perdant: I’m here only for your books.” Smoke explained directly.

“Very good choice, Master Smoke.” said Perdant with a smile as he prepared three books in front of Smoke.

“Tsk.” Smoke couldn’t help but click his tongue, as he expected to buy more than three books. In front of him were books entitled “You and Your Symbiote Volume II”, “Twin Vision” and “The Saviors Tested by Fate: Part One”.

Smoke’s attention first went to the Symbiote book because he had already acquired the knowledge of the first volume and gained the Telefax Vision ability from it, but his focus quickly shifted to the thick book with a special cover. The book entitled “Twin Vision” was actually an ability tome.

“How much for all three books?” Smoke eagerly asked.

Perdant raised his hand and showed five fingers. “Fifty thousand zecs for all three books would be good.”

Smoke quickly took out a bag containing one hundred thousand zecs from his backpack and gave it to the Merchant.

As he grabbed the book entitled “Twin Vision”, a confirmation window popped up. This meant that he fulfilled the ability tome’s requirements.


+Ability Tome: ‘Twin Vision’

    A poor man’s version of the Shared Vision ability. It can display on a flat surface what the other person sees, provided that the surface is within two feet of the caster.

    Requirements:
    Job: Light Wizard
    Level: 100
    Intelligence: 200
    Mana: 50,000

Before Smoke could consume the ability tome, Perdant grabbed his hand and stopped him. “Wait! This isn’t a fair deal. No offense, but you don’t seem like the person who has a hundred thousand zecs to spare.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” asked a puzzled Smoke. He saw Perdant give him a head to foot glance. ‘He must be bothered by my ragged appearance.’

Perdant explained, “I only asked for fifty thousand zecs, but you gave me a hundred thousand zecs instead. Besides, that ability sounds useless, I couldn’t find it in my conscience to accept this offer.”

“Ah, I intentionally did that. While some people might consider it a junk ability, others might deem it very valuable, which is why I wanted to pay the correct price for this item.”

Perdant still looked unconvinced. Smoke smiled and was touched by such a rarity that was an honest Merchant. “Alright, how about I buy all of your ingots too?” Smoke asked.

“Alright, I think that will be fair trade. Thank you for your patronage, Master Smoke.” Perdant smiled and Smoke watched his Intimacy with the Merchant rise to sixty.

After that issue was resolved, Smoke brought his attention back to the ability tome and consumed it without any further delays.


+ Consumed ‘Twin Vision’ tome.

+ Learned Ability: Twin Vision
    Active
    Level: Beginner Level 1
    Experience: (0/1,000)

    Lets you display what you see onto a very limited area.

    Restriction: Can only be used on a flat surface no farther than two feet away from the caster at all times.
    Effect: Lets other see what the caster sees.
    MP Consumption: 200 MP

A smiling DarkElf held the other two books in his hands. The one entitled “You and Your Symbiote Volume II” showed two hours on the progress bar.

Propitiously, the one entitled “The Saviors Tested by Fate: Part One” only needed fifty-nine more seconds for it to finish. He patiently stood in place and waited for the Acquired Knowledge window to pop up.


The Saviors Tested by Fate

  It was a time when the great gods had just left the mortal plains of Zectas. The four Reptilian sub-races—Lizardites, Chameleonese, Crocodilians and Draconians—had only just begun their bold campaign towards world domination.

  The different kingdoms and races held onto their pride and chose not to ally with one another, except for a small group of HighElf princesses.

  This group of princesses not only possessed courage, but beauty as well. Their charm was said to rival that of the goddess of beauty, Xochique.

The princesses banded together and proceeded to form most fearsome armies, powerful enough to stand  against the dreaded Reptilian race.

In a joint effort, they stopped the progress of Lizardites and Chameleonese. However, this was only for a short time.

  The armies of the allied princesses could not stand against the might of all four Reptilian sub-races. Desperate, they asked for help from the god of death, Chalchizin.

  Little did the princesses now that instead of finding salvation, they had sealed their fate…

Many questions popped into Smoke’s mind after he read the book, and of course, he wondered how the story ends. He was about to continue acquiring the knowledge of the other book when Sot came running from the direction of the village gate.

“Crucibelle’s here! Crucibelle’s here!” Sot shouted in a trembling voice.

“Huh? What are you talking about?” Smoke asked quickly while hiding the book in his backpack and sprinted to Sot.

“I thought you said we still had two days left?” Sot asked in despair as Smoke joined him at the village’s iron gate.

Two dust clouds were rapidly approaching Banal village.

“That’s not Crucibelle.” said Smoke with a grin, “Those are our reinforcements.”

In less than five minutes, two stag-moose pulling heavily-armored carriages slowed down in front of Banal’s iron gate. A tigress Lioumerean and a lioness Lioumerean were sitting in the driver’s seats. Smoke, Igniz, Espion, Sot, Ledur and twenty Tikbalangs were all there to greet them.

Smoke and Espion waved to the two Lioumerean drivers. As soon as the armored carriages came to a full stop, the lioness Lioumerean leapt from her seat and dove straight for the DarkElf.

He tried to sidestep Laernea’s hug, but Espion held Smoke in place. Laernea hugged Smoke tightly with her arms around his neck and her legs wrapped around his waist.

“Okay, Laernea. You can let go now.” said Smoke as he gave Espion an agitated look. The young Spy only raised his hands and acted all innocent.

“Sorry about that. It’s just that I’ve missed you so much, Smoke.” Laernea explained as she was pried off by Gandiva.

“I’ve missed you as well, Smoke.” said Gandiva as she gave him a gentle hug. “Same here, Gandiva.”

One by one, Smoke’s other private army members jumped down from the two armored carriages. Adder stepped forward first and stood in front of Smoke. He clenched his fist, brought it in front of his heart and bowed down before Smoke. “Finally, I’ll be directly in your service once more.”

“It has been a long time, my friend.” said Smoke as he pulled Adder in for a hug. Adder hugged back, but accidentally squeezed Smoke too hard with his regrown left arm.

“Ouch!” Smoke yelped in pain.

Adder apologized, “Sorry about that. I guess I still don’t know my own strength. I’ve been practising every day, but I guess it isn’t enough.”

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it.” Smoke turned to face other private army members when he saw three massive Maneators charging towards him.

An orange Maneator arrived first. Rasant was the fastest and shortest Maneator at a height of two and half meters, but he easily stood on par with any of the Tikbalangs.

Rasant spoke faster than a radio announcer. “Finally. I’ve been asking everyone how you were. Adder and Thyrsus told me stories about your adventures in the Simiavulg village and what about that new ability, huh? I’d like to see it one day, you know, if you’re not too busy. Adder and Thyrsus have been doing a great job running everything in Verbrannt, but it’s mostly Thyrsus because Adder is really focused on training his Condortlian Warriors. Anyway, I’ve also learned new attacks with the whip you gave me. Wanna see?” the orange Maneator said rapidly, in a single breath.

“Good to see you too, Rasant.” Smoke hugged him awkwardly as his hands could not reach all around the Maneator’s back.

Next, a red Maneator knelt down in front of Smoke.

“Stark give.. owner to you… new King of Maneators!” said Stark with beaming confidence as his nostrils flared with hot air.

A gray Maneator quickly corrected his brother, “Stark, it’s honor, not owner.” explained Weise.

Smoke smiled and patted Stark on the shoulders. “The owner’s mine, Stark.” The red Maneator showed the widest grin Smoke had seen and gave way for Weise to greet their master.

“Mitleid’s legacy is well placed in your hands, King Smoke.” said Weise as he bowed down before Smoke.

“Weise, I told you to drop that ‘King’ stuff already.” Weise smiled, bowed down again and stepped aside.

The next one to greet Smoke was the beautiful brunette WoodElf, Vijaya. Six falcons perched on a special staff that her twin sister made for her.

She greeted Smoke with a sullen face, “Hello, Smoke. This is a good thing we’re doing here—defending a helpless village. You’ve reconfirmed that it wasn’t wrong of Thyrsus and I to choose you as our master.”

“Thank you, Vijaya. I hope to always keep that in mind then.” said Smoke awkwardly as he didn’t understand what was going on with her.

As soon as Vijaya stepped aside, Ichaival walked over to him. “Sorry about that, Smoke. It appears that the lovey-dovey season started. She’s just sulking because Thyrsus couldn’t come. They’ve been going at it for almost a month now.”

“What? Thyrsus and Vijaya are a couple now? When did this happen?” asked Smoke.

“Nah, you wouldn’t want to hear the details. So, how have you been, boss?” asked Ichaival.

“I’m feeling more confident now that you guys are here.” said Smoke after he gave Ichaival a hug. “So, if Thyrsus and Vijaya are going out, does that mean that you and Sharanga are an item now too?”

“Ha ha. Add salt to my wounds, why don’t you?” Ichaival shook his head after laughing sarcastically. “The love bug didn’t bite her. I don’t know how Thyrsus did it, but I’m still happy for him.”

Ichaival gave way for the last member of Smoke’s private army who arrived on Laernea and Gandiva’s carriages to greet him.

Jinggu, the forest-green OrkElf, bowed down before Smoke. “Get up, Jinggu. You know you don’t have to do that.” Smoke pulled him in for a hug, which Jinggu reciprocated for only a second.

“I heard you did a great job fortifying Verbrannt alongside the Maneators. Thank you for that.” said Smoke with a smile.

Jinggu only gave a small nod and smiled back.

“Still not much for words, huh?” said Smoke and patted Jinggu’s back.

After the OrkElf, Adder walked closer to Smoke and said, “Now that you’ve greeted all the primary members, I’d like to present to you the improved Condortlian Warriors.”

Thirty Condortlian Warriors stepped down from the two armored carriages. Each of the Warriors was equipped with a shiny bastard sword, an ornate round shield and a skull helm.

Like the well-trained Warriors they were, they fell into formation and formed a single platoon. Smoke wished he could have brought more men from Verbrannt, but Laernea and Gandiva were the only ones capable of covering great distances within a day, and their carriages could only carry this many.

Despite their low numbers, Smoke felt confident that these thirty Condortlian Warriors would be very useful against Crucibelle and her Gobble Goblins.

“Wheeew!” Smoke whistled loudly, “All of them have defeated the boss in the mausoleum?”

“Well, we basically lived inside the mausoleum for almost two weeks.” calmly replied Adder. “The one with the lowest level among them right now is at 96.” he said as he pointed at a young Condortlian Warrior.

“And where did you get these swords and shields? They look expensive.” asked Smoke.

“I forged them myself. I used the saved-up allowance you gave me and the zecs Gandiva and Laernea won for placing high in the Mounted Race to buy the required materials.” said Adder as he gave a small nod to the Lioumereans.

“This is really impressive. Great job, Adder. And good work on increasing their levels.” Smoke clapped and the rest of the private army members clapped with him.

“Alright, let’s all grab a meal. Espion, Ledur and I have prepared a feast for you guys. But we still have a lot to do and little time to do it.” said a determined Smoke as he led the way to the emergency shelter.

On the way there, Laernea forcefully walked close to him. Smoke called the tigress Lioumerean, “Gandiva, come here. I have to tell you something.”

Gandiva walked closer as well. “Listen, I have a very difficult mission for you two. Do you think you’re up to it?” asked Smoke.

“Sure, we’re ready for anything.” enthusiastically replied Laernea.

“Bring it on, Smoke. You know we can do it.” bravely answered Gandiva.

“Good. Alright, I want you to eat really fast and then head back to Verbrannt. Do you think you could do that?”

“What?! This might be our hardest mission yet.” Gandiva groaned as she ran towards the shelter.

As Smoke and his private army members walked towards the shelter, he remembered the book he read recently.

“Hey, guys, have any of you heard of the story called ‘The Saviors Tested by Fate’?” asked Smoke.

Vijaya heard this and quickly replied, “That’s my favorite story! I remember wanting to be one of those princesses in the Magietrois.”

“Magietrois? What’s that?” asked Smoke.

“Its what that group of princesses was called.” answered Vijaya.

“Oh, alright. Anyway, I was wondering how the story ends?”

“I don’t know the exact story that’s written in the books. I just heard it from a passing Bard who sang it to us when we were kids. According to him, the Magietrois obtained immortality and will appear once more to assemble their fearsome armies and protect the world against the Reptilian race.” answered Vijaya.

“Hmm. Maybe we could meet those princesses and have them become our allies?” Smoke said out loud.

Ichaival walked closer to others and added, “With those legendary princesses as allies… I wonder if one of them would fall for my charms.”

Gandiva, Laernea and Vijaya all smacked Ichaival on the head. “Quit dreaming, Ichaival. Besides, I thought you only had eyes for my sister?” Vijaya said sternly.

Deep in thought, Smoke continued to walk in silence. ‘Where could I find this Magietrois group? I should search for the book containing the next part of the story.’

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