Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 04 – Chapter 01

Author: John Nest
Editor: Timaeus

Note:  For easy character reference please refer to: Characters

The Vigilantez’s First Strike


Gloomy clouds loomed over Verbrannt as a red werebear was pacing back and forth on the balcony of Rauch castle. It had been two days since Sierra received a call from Smoke, telling her that he needed some time alone and that he will be back in Verbrannt shortly.

After taking a deep breath to calm herself down, she leaned on the ledge of the balcony and looked at the landscape in the distance. With Smoke on her mind and a frown on her face, she suddenly said out loud, “You know, sometimes I wonder if I should just forget about you. I’d stop playing Zectas and never come back. But I can’t….” Her voice trailed off as she thought about her situation with Smoke. It frustrated her that he wouldn’t let her help him deal with his negative feelings.

“Stop ‘playing’ Zectas?” asked Sharur as he interrupted her private musings, clearly oblivious to what she meant.

She was taken by surprise by the OrkElf, who was standing in the corner the balcony.

“Er…I mean ‘living in it’.” Sierra answered quickly while thinking on her feet. “You gotta live your life here in Zectas as if it were a game in which you always want to win.” she hurriedly added.

“I see. Never thought of it that way before.” answered Sharur. “But going back to what you said, about never coming back to Zectas…please don’t ever do that.” he pleaded, “You know how Smoke is—he does his own thing, but he always comes back to you. Besides, there’s plenty of other people here who would be brokenhearted if you left.”

“I know, I would never abandon you guys. I’m sorry for worrying you, Sharur.” said Sierra as she patted the OrkElf’s broad shoulder. “It was just a slip of the tongue, I didn’t really mean it. I know how Smoke feels about me, even though he doesn’t say it. He’s just made that way, I guess.” she said with a deep sigh.

Suddenly, she received a call she had been waiting on for quite some time. It was from her mentor, Nenek.

“I know that I’ve asked you about this before, and I know that you’ve already given me an answer. Still, I can’t help myself but ask you the same thing again.” Sierra tried to speak in a calmly manner, but her voice revealed her annoyance. “Why in the world would you send a novice who just got a Job change to Acolyte out to Repormatl village? And have her run into the Witches of Wysteria, no less?”

“Sierra, Sierra, Sierra, as I told you before, I had a premonition that you could one day defeat the Witches of Wysteria. We’ve already had this conversation, just drop that topic already.” said an exasperated Nenek.  “Anyway, let’s move on to why I called. It took far longer than expected, but I have finally completed your request. I may have only managed to train sixty of them, but they all have my seal of approval.”

Sierra felt bad for criticising a person who just did her a favor. “Thank you so much for this, Nenek. I really appreciate it. I’ll send someone to pick them up right away.” she replied sheepishly.

“No problem. I’m always happy to oblige my most promising student. Even though she’s stubborn and irritating at times.” Nenek said with a chuckle, “Alright, I’ll leave you to your little village. Although, I guess it isn’t so little anymore, is it? I think I might come visit one day.”

“Yes, please, do visit. You’re more than welcome to stay here anytime you like.” Sierra said with a big smile on her face.

CLICK

Sierra then quickly called Gandiva and Laernea, who were out on a run and delivering weapons from Nanahuatl to Centza.

“Alright, we’ll stop by Nenek’s and pick them up. Hmm, taking a detour to Centeo means that we’ll probably get back in three days.” replied Gandiva after Sierra gave them information on how to find Nenek in Centeo city.

“No problem. Just get here as fast as you can.” replied Sierra. She would have wanted them to arrive sooner, but she understood why the Lioumereans’ needed that much time. As the gears in her head were turning, working out what to do with the new units she was about to acquire, Sharanga suddenly came bursting through the balcony door.

“Espion just returned. He’s been all over the place ever since he got that new acinonyx cheetah of his. He says he has some vital information on the Brandals.” said the WoodElf enthusiastically, “He’s asked for all of us to gather in the war room.”

The three of them immediately headed there.



* * * * * *  

Adder, Ledur, Thyrsus and Espion were standing at a massive rectangular table as they looked over the map of Centzo that was placed on top of it. Ichaival, Vijaya, Jinggu, Ehrlich, Stark, Weise and Rasant were behind them and listening to their discussion. As soon as Sierra walked into the room, they paused their deliberation.

The core members around the table made room for Sierra, as her cursed form took up quite a bit of space. After Sierra, Sharur and Sharanga took their places at the table, Adder turned to Espion and said, “Alright, you can start now.”

“Right. From what I’ve gathered, it appears that the Sonstwelters in Centzo have united into one massive alliance. They’re led by an Arch Bishop named Incitant.” stated Espion, “Not only that, but he has also managed to convince the Zectians in the area to fight alongside them.”

“That’s impressive!” said Ichaival with a whistle.

Sharanga, who stood beside him, elbowed him immediately in the stomach and made him stop being a nuisance to the meeting.

“It appears that their alliance had been timely formed, because only a week afterwards, Duke Burmistrz ordered a full-on assault on the city.” said Espion and began to describe the atrocities that the Brandals had done in the surrounding area.

“They created a wasteland in the circle of ten kilometers around Centzo. The homes and shops located outside the city walls were completely decimated. I saw dried-up bloodstains in the remnants of the houses; often, there were children’s clothes next to them. Thankfully, their bodies were absorbed back into Zectas, and hopefully they’ll find peace in Mictlan.” Espion lowered his head as he thought about the lives that ended too soon.

Everyone in the room was taken aback by what Espion reported. This time, it was Sharanga’s loud gasped that interrupted Espion. She covered her mouth in disgust and turned away from others. Ichaival hugged her in order to comfort her, and she allowed it.

“Calm yourselves.” said Sierra in a difficult voice, as she herself had trouble taking in the description of Brandals’ atrocities. “This is the reason why we must overcome these scoundrels.” Sierra remembered how she thought she lost Sharur and Jinggu when the Brandals attacked their wooden fortress in the past. “Don’t worry. One day, we’ll avenge everyone whom the Brandals have hurt.” she said with strong conviction.

After everybody settled down, Espion resumed his report. “A lot of the city residents died when the Brandals and Centzo’s alliance clashed. Incitant lost more than thirty thousand men that day, twenty thousand of which were Sonstwelters, while the rest were Zectians.”

Espion paused again, as a low murmur spread across the war room. The core members started talking to each other after they heard about such a high death toll. The Spy had to speak louder to get back everyone’s attention, “However, this turned out to be a big failure on the part of Duke Burmistrz, as Incitant’s forces successfully defended the city. Not only that, but they also killed about forty thousand Brandals in the process.”

“Serves them right!” shouted Vijaya. The war room was filled with similar reactions after they heard the good news.

Sierra clapped her paws loudly and said, “Alright, alright, everybody settle down. Espion isn’t done yet.”

Espion nodded at her and said, “After suffering such a blow to their numbers, the Duke’s legions have been reorganized. He kept the number of legions at ten, and because of that, most of them consist of less bandits than before.” He pointed to the map on the table and said, “Every single one of the eight legions surrounding the city are now seven thousand five hundred strong, while the two legions assigned to transporting supplies remain ten thousand strong.”

Ledur held his chin with his hoof. “That is indeed a favorable development, but we still can’t handle a legion of that size.” he said and pointed to the map, “Even if we did manage to defeat one, the other two legions adjacent to it would easily crush us afterwards.”

“Agreed.” stated Adder. “We would need at least three strike teams, and hit three of their legions here.” he said and pointed to the left side of the city, “If we could do that, the other legions wouldn’t be able to react in time.”

“For that to work, we would need an army of at least twenty five thousand men, right?” Ledur consulted Adder.

“Actually, I was hoping to have more than that.” replied a disheartened Adder, “That’s why I was going to suggest we keep saving village after village, in hopes of increasing our numbers.”

Sierra raised her paw and interjected, “We already have Mamelon and her regiment assigned to that. They’re also out hunting for more mounts we could use for our men. But we can’t wait for us to grow to that size. Who knows how many more innocent lives will be lost by then.”

Anxious, she tapped her foot rapidly. “We have to take some sort of action now, but I just don’t know how.”

“If only Smoke were here…” said Rasant out loud.

Everyone instantly turned to the orange Maneator and stared at him with pitiful eyes. He just then realized that he had entered the realm of taboo as he stared at a motionless Sierra.

“Yes, if only he was here, maybe he could come up with something. But he is preoccupied at the moment, so we will have to make do by ourselves.” said Sierra flatly.

Everybody averted their eyes and focused on the table. They blankly stared at it in silence. 

Suddenly, Thyrsus came up with a question, “Espion, what exactly is the route of the two legions that carry supplies?”

“Well, they mostly stay in Braucht Hilfe village, here.” he said as he pointed to a place on the map north from Centzo, “From there, they take turns at traveling back to Coatl. Upon their return to the village, they split up into four groups and then head to different directions towards the battlefield, delivering supplies to their comrades.” He then pointed to the plains, mountains and forests through which the smaller groups of bandits travelled through.

Thyrsus promptly asked a follow-up question, “Have you ever seen them split up into even smaller groups afterwards?”

“No, not really. They stay in armies of two thousand five hundred men, although I haven’t stayed long enough to see them get back to Braucht Hilfe village after delivering the supplies.” answered Espion.

“Hm. Maybe we could use the mandragora flowers against them?” thought Thyrsus out loud, “Although, we only have a small amount of them left, and the flowers haven’t grown back in the Mandragora forest for a while now.”

“That’s not a completely bad idea, Thyrsus. I like what you’re getting at, but we can’t use the mandragora flowers.” said Sierra flatly. Slowly, a devilish grin formed on her face. “This will be where we make our first move.” she said while pointing to the forest near the village.

Thyrsus nodded and said, “I think three thousand Mercenaries should suffice.” He then turned to their Comptroller, Ehrlich. “How much do you think that would cost us?” he asked the elderly Dwarf, “I think we could get a discount from the Avendre Mercenaries if we ask for that many of their men, right?”

Ehrlich quickly did some fiddling with the abacus in his hand and replied, “According to my calculations, it should cost us fifty-two million zecs. However, I think it will take them more than a month to assemble that many Mercenaries.”

“No, no, no.” said Sierra strongly, “We can’t wait that long. Besides, Verbrannt needs all the money it’s earning.”

She slammed her red furry paws on the table. “We’ll do it by ourselves!” she shouted, “With Ledur’s brothers now numbering ninety-six and my werewolf pack numbering fifty-two, we can do this.”

Adder, Ledur and Thyrsus were about to object, but as the rest of the core members cheered in support of Sierra, their voices were drowned out.

Finally, after the war room calmed down, Thyrsus got a chance to speak. “Sierra, even if a legion is split into four groups, that’s still two thousand five hundred bandits in each of them. This sounds like a difficult mission for us, at the moment.”

Sierra didn’t respond, but it was clear that she was adamant about her decision, which made Thyrsus try to persuade her once more. “Do you remember what happened the last time we faced off against that many Brandals? We lost Mitleid and almost a thousand men that day.”

“Thyrsus has a point.” said Vijaya, “We also had the help of eight hundred Knights from Coatl during that battle.”

Sharur clapped his hands loudly and caught their attention. “Come on, everyone, let’s hear her out. This is Sierra we’re talking about; I’m sure she has something planned.”

Thyrsus raised his hands in surrender and said nothing more.

“Vijaya, Sharanga, Ichaival, Jinggu and Sharur, please assemble a thousand of our finest men. Tell them to make preparations; we’ll be leaving in three days’ time.” said Sierra. She then turned to Adder, Ledur, Thyrsus and Espion. “I’ll need you guys to help me plan this out effectively. I’m sorry if I sounded brash earlier, but rest assured, we’ll have some much-needed reinforcements soon. I think this could be a game changer.”

Sierra, the three strategists and the young Spy remained in the war room and brainstormed ideas for their upcoming operation.
                           

* * * * * *  

Even though Sharanga strongly objected, Ichaival managed to tag along with her to pick out members for Sierra’s mission. As the two of them walked out the castle gates, they spotted Billig arguing with Sympa, the representative of the Banalite volunteers. Ichaival just recently changed the twenty-seven Banalite volunteers’ Jobs to Archers.

“Like I said, no one is an exception.” said Billig with his Merchant face on, “Composite bows are 10,000 zecs each.”

“I understand that, but can’t you give me a discount? I’m gonna buy twenty-seven bows, after all.” said Sympa in a sweet voice as she tried her best to convince Billig.

“If I’m going to give discounts to everyone who asks, then I’d better just give my fortune away and live like a beggar.” scoffed Billig.

Sympa then knelt down in front of Billig and begged him, “Please, all of us are excited to see what we can do with composite bows.”

“I’m sorry, my dear, but these prices are set in stone.” said Billig with finality.

Upon hearing this, Ichaival decided to help out and rushed to where Sympa and Billig were. “Billig, my good man, can’t you bend those prices a bit?”

“I’m sorry, who are you again?” Billig asked Ichaival.

“Come on, Billig. It’s me, Ichaival.” he said with a big grin on his face and did a little bow.

The Gnome Merchant shook his head and said, “Sorry, doesn’t ring a bell.” He then turned to his cart and started to put the bows away.

Ichaival quickly grabbed one of the composite bows and said, “Stop joking around, Billig. I’m one of Smoke’s core members, one of the only four Hunters here.” Billig still shook his head. “I’m a battalion commander, too. Ah, I know! Maybe you don’t recognize me because my falcon isn’t here.” Ichaival shouted his falcon’s name, “Ichai! Ichai! Come here for a bit.”

Billig stopped stowing away the bows and waited for the falcon to come. However, no falcon came flying at all. “Ha!” said Billig and continued on.

“Billig, stop. I really am Smoke’s core member.” said Ichaival.

Sympa patted Ichaival’s shoulder and said, “It’s okay. Maybe we’ll be able to buy them next time, when we save up more zecs.”

“Ah! I could cover the remainder of the price for you. How much more do you need?” he asked Sympa.

“Let me check.” Sympa quickly got out her zecs and said, “We only have 162,000 zecs. So just a little over a hundred thousand, I guess?”

“Oh, I got that much.” said Ichaival, but as he was about to reach into his bag, Sharanga stepped in and stopped his hand.

“Hello, Billig.” she said calmly.

“Oh, Miss Sharanga. A pleasure to see you, as always.”

“I’m sure.” she replied with a smile, “So, how much are these composite bows again?”

“Well, I’m selling them for 10,000 zecs each.” replied Billig with a nervous smile.

“Hm. That’s odd. Three weeks ago, you were dying to get rid of some composite bows, and you sold them to the Bowed Fishermen for only 4,000 zecs each.” said Sharanga pleasantly, “Now, you’re not trying to con these good Archers, are you?”

“Me? Of course not, Miss Sharanga.” said Billig and shook his head furiously. He then displayed the bows in front of her. “You see, these particular composite bows, that the girl there is interested in, have somewhat unique features.” he said smoothly and kept moving the bow about, never allowing Sharanga to inspect it carefully. “But, seeing as they can’t afford these special bows, I think I might have some left over from three weeks ago.” Billig speedily took the composite bows on display and stowed them into his cart. He then appeared to be rummaging through some things inside of it before taking out the same exact bows. “Ah, yes, these ones should be 4,000 zecs each.”

Billig then placed twenty-seven composite bows in front of Sympa and she paid him the exact amount. She then bowed to the Gnome Merchant and said, “Thank you so much for these, Mister Billig.” Right afterwards, she turned to Ichaival and hugged him. “My friends will be so happy with these. Thank you so much, Ichaival.” she said and kissed him on the cheek.

Sympa then bowed to Sharanga and walked away with the bows. Billig also swiftly took his leave and carried his wares elsewhere.

With her arms crossed, Sharanga said to Ichaival, “Nice girl. So that’s the leader of the Archers you organised in Banal, huh?”

“Yeah. They’re still rough around the edges, but they’re hard workers.” answered Ichaival proudly, “By the way, thanks for helping me out there.”

“Sure. I thought I should help, since you looked really concerned with her.” she said in an irritated voice, “Although, I don’t see why she kissed you; I was the one who helped with the price.”

“Why, Sharanga, if I didn’t know any better, I would think you’re jealous.” said Ichaival teasingly.

Sharanga swiftly got out her five-trap system and threatened him with it. Ichaival reflexively covered his head with his arms and prepared for the worst. Seconds passed and nothing happened. He looked up, only to see Sharanga walking away.

* * * * * *  

Sierra and the members chosen for the strike force spent the next three days training inside a forest patch near Verbrannt. The sycamore trees there were well-spaced and resembled the forest near Braucht Hilfe village. The core members of the guild were each designated to lead specific teams, although there were some exceptions: Espion was sent to the forest patch near Braucht Hilfe in advance, while Thyrsus and Vijaya were left in charge of Verbrannt due to their long-range scouting abilities which proved useful in detecting potential attacks.

Their specific teams were as follows:

Adder : Balance
 => 21 Condortlian Warriors & 30 Centaur Rangers

Sharanga : Illusion
 => 220 Bowed Fishermen (Mounted)

Ichaival : Strafe
 => 100 Bowed Fishermen & 27 Banalite Archers

Stark/Rasant/Weise : Bulwark
 => 120 Iron Knights

Jinggu/Sharur : Gate
 => 400 Armored Farmers

Ledur : Mutilate
 => 96 Tikbalangs

Sierra : Slaughter
 => 52 Werewolves


Strafe, Ichaival’s team, was trained to scale the sycamore trees quickly. Their posts were well-spread—only eight to twelve members per tree. They were divided into two groups on opposite sides of the forest, directly across from one another. They practised accurately hitting their targets from above without hitting their allies.

Gate, Sharur and Jinggu’s team, was divided into northern and southern groups, each consisting of two hundred Armored Farmers. They learned how to fight defensively inside a forest, equipped with round shields that were bigger and heavier than usual but covered more of their bodies. Their main task would be to hold the bandits inside the entrapment while staying in an upside down ‘U’ formation. The Armored Farmers would rotate positions and take turns on the front lines.

Illusion, Sharanga’s team made up of mounted Bowed Fishermen, disciplined themselves to shoot while riding and accustomed their aardwolves to running fast between the trees. They practised riding back and forth between the two Gates day in and day out. They needed to be able to create an impression that there’s more of them than there actually was. Since Illusion was assigned to cover the sides of the entrapment, Sharanga found herself running back and forth between the two sides during their drills.

Bulwark, Rasant, Stark and Weise’s team, was divided into three smaller groups. Weise and Stark were in charge of thirty Iron Knights while Rasant was in charge of sixty. Each group was told to maintain a square formation, as if defending something important within. Weise’s group positioned itself inside Jinggu’s northern Gate formation, Stark’s group within Sharur’s southern Gate, and Rasant’s group was placed smack in the middle of the battlefield. They would stay hidden on the sides of the entrapment at first, and then carefully make their way to the center of the battle.

Mutilate, Ledur’s Tikbalangs, were to jump down from the trees and initiate the assault on the guards around a Brandal Captain. They were split into groups of four. After taking out the guards, they would go after the bandits farther away from the Captains and create an opening for the Slaughter team.

Slaughter, Sierra’s werewolves,  would be scattered between the North and South Gates. As the werewolves were swift and agile, they were expected to deal with Captains once a path was made clear for them. Sierra organised her werewolves into pairs, each meant to hunt down a specific target.

Both the special teams of Mutilate and Slaughter then trained to periodically run to Rasant’s Bulwark at the center of the battlefield.

Balance, Adder’s team, were trained to do almost everything except scale trees. They were meant to play both the defensive and offensive role on the ground and provide support all over the battlefield. In case of emergency, they were to help out any of the other teams. However, the Condortlian Warriors didn’t have enough time to acquire the ability to ride mounts; only Adder rode on a dirus wolf. Luckily, the Centaurs, innately fast on their own, offered themselves for the Warriors to ride on. Gone were the days when the proud Centaurs of Pferde would not allow anyone to ride on them. As soon as Adder heard this, he asked Tragar, the bulkiest of the Centaur Rangers, if he would be willing to carry his shield for him. Tragar happily agreed and found no problems with it.

All teams repeated the exact same drills for three days, until the Lioumereans’ arrival. Sierra immediately ordered the strike teams to gather at the plains outside of the forest.

She stood right beside Gandiva and Laernea. “Everyone, I’d like you all to meet our secret weapon: our eight team, called Life.” said Sierra and drew everyone’s attention to the Lioumereans’ carriages. Twenty men and forty women got off both carriages. All of them were dressed in Acolyte robes. The whole strike force cheered when they saw that they now had healers.

Sierra clapped her furry red paws loudly. “Alright, let’s do another day’s worth of drills, but this time we’ll have our Acolyte friends positioned inside Bulwarks.”

After their final day of training, the strike force set off on their mission in high spirits.

                                           


* * * * * *  

Sweat drenched Nash’s sleeveless shirt as he repeatedly struck an old tire hanging from the garage ceiling with two eskrima sticks. Thirty minutes in, he finally stopped and started to do his stretching exercises.

Done with his eskrima practice, Nash was about to head up to his room when he saw a forlorn Donny, with his head on the kitchen table. He was surprised to see his youngest brother looking so sad, so he stopped and asked, “What’s up, little bro?”

“I’m twelve! I’m not that little anymore, Nash.” exclaimed Donny.

“Hey, what’s with the attitude?” Nash asked and sat next to Donny.

“Sorry,” said Donny sincerely, “it’s just that Seth’s been avoiding me lately.”

“Weird, I thought I heard you guys earlier this morning. Weren’t you doing eskrima training?” asked Nash with concern.

“We did, but he left right after we finished the basic exercises. I was hoping to train some more, but he just left, saying that he had to read a book on ‘Data Lakes’.” said Donny sourly, “If he wanted to do research on some lake, he could have done it after we trained some more.” He then crossed his arms and shook his head. “I’m telling you right now, Nash: there’s no way Seth is going to make it past the second round of eliminations of the upcoming AUTOMATA competition.”

“Donny, I think you misunderstood. ‘Data Lakes’ is probably a book related to the elective he’s picked up, not a book about an actual lake.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” asked Donny curiously.

“You see, I think that Seth realised at a young age something that most people don’t realise until they’re much older.” replied Nash.

“Still in the dark here.” said Donny, “You’ll have to do better than that.”

“What I mean is, I feel like Seth already knows what he wants to do for the rest of his life. Maybe that’ll change, maybe not, I’m not sure. But for now, it’s best that we support him.”

Donny nodded and tried his best to understand. He then asked, “So what’s Seth going to be?”

“A Computer scientist, like Dad was.” answered Nash with a smile, “The road to getting there is rough, so do you think you could cut him some slack?”

Donny shrugged. “Fine. Guess I’ll have to get used to training on my own. I still want to become the national champion of AUTOMATA.” he said with conviction.

“And that’s great too. Let’s just be supportive of the things each of us wants to pursue, okay?” said Nash. He stood up and ruffled his youngest brother’s hair. “Okay, I’ll let you plan out your training. I’m going back up to my room.”

Once back in his room, Nash comfortably sat on his computer chair and rolled its wheels over to his desktop computer. He started scrolling through his latest video feed. After spending some time editing, he did a final check on his latest video and finally clicked the ‘publish’ button, uploading his video for the month.

Nash couldn’t decide if he should include Crucibelle in the video or only show the defense of Banal village. In the end, he included the fight with Crucibelle, but erased the parts where he managed to block her attacks with his perlite chain and sickle and the parts that showed that he had high resistance to her flames. He only showed that his life bar was low, and that he was rescued by Mamelon and the Elemental Knights.

He understood the importance of always hiding your aces. After all, that was what Horrabelle demonstrated—she made it seem like she was meeting up with him to negotiate, when in reality she was only there to rob him of his abilities.

‘A fool doesn’t realise that he is being deceived, while a clever man would merely play the fool.’ thought Nash to himself as he remembered how foolish he was to take Horrabelle’s words at face value. However, he was no longer beating himself up over it.

Darius reminded him that it is best to accept your mistakes and grow from them. Taking a self-discovery trip along the Murray river gave Nash the time he needed to get some of his confidence back and think things through. He was now focused on the future, rather than the past.

After he checked his published video on Zectas’ website, Nash turned off his computer and stretched his arms. He drank a glass of water and stepped into his game pod. While getting comfortable, he smiled, as he was looking forward to seeing Sierra’s face again. He was less than an hour away from Verbrannt.



* * * * * *  

Seated comfortably on board the five-by-three-meter rowboat he borrowed from Darius, Smoke was slowly making his way towards Verbrannt’s docks. He waved to some of the Fishermen casting nets over the river as he passed them by. As he reached the docks, the Gondoliers cleared a path for him and helped him with his rowboat, tying the ropes securely. Smoke thanked them and headed straight for Rauch castle.

On his way there, he met a pack of aardwolves being led by two one-meter-tall Halflings who were mounted on aardwolves themselves. Due to their small stature, they made the aardwolves around them look bigger.

‘Sonstwelter Halflings? Now that’s something you don’t see every day.’ he thought, amused.

Smoke stayed out of their way, when he suddenly recognized a beautiful, mounted Aqua Knight with her faceplate lifted up some distance away from him. He remembered that he promised Mamelon he would meet with her as Ilad, his Flame Knight alter ego. He briskly searched for an empty alley and donned the Gora armor set he won back in Coatl.

Smoke, disguised as Ilad, walked towards Mamelon. Yet, before he could reach her, an aardwolf blocked his way and he was stopped by one of the Halflings. “Halt! Just because you’re a Flame Knight doesn’t mean that you can get near our boss.”

“Wait, Louche. Maybe he’s one of Mamelon’s men?” said the other Halfling.

“Don’t be stupid, Earat. I made sure to memorize all the Flame Knights under her, and none of them wore such dilapidated armor.” said the one called Louche, “Besides, how will I be able to make my move on Mamelon if you allow more suitors to her side?”

Just then, Smoke remembered that he had Igniz’s flames coat his armor to disguise its tattered appearance. “Bud, a little fire please.” he said in a whisper. Instantly, Smoke’s armor lit up with dark purple flames.

The two Halflings reflexively pulled back their aardwolves.

“A purple Flame Knight? I’ve never seen one before.” said the one called Earat, “Are you perhaps one of Mamelon’s friends?”

Smoke tried to speak out to clear the misunderstanding. “Yes. I’m not one of Mamelon’s Knights, but I do know her. My name is…”

“Ilad, is that you?” cried out Mamelon excitedly. She rode her mount straight through Earat and Louche’s aardwolves. She hastily got off her bronze jackal and walked up to him. “It’s been so long, and I kept missing you.”

She then blushed and quickly added, “Uhm, by that I mean that we always seemed to be on different assignments, not that I missed you. I mean, I did miss you, but I wasn’t thinking of that. I mean—”

He couldn’t get a word in at all, as Mamelon spoke excitedly fast. He had to tap her shoulder, and she finally fell silent.

“Sorry about that.” he said in a forced deep voice. Smoke thought he should differentiate his alter ego’s voice from his own. “I’ve been detained by various activities.”

Mamelon raised her eyebrow. “Why are you talking like that?”

“Talking like what? Oh, you mean like this? I just thought it would help me seem more charismatic.” he said innocently and let out a fake laugh.

Mamelon shook her head and said with a frown, “No, it doesn’t.”

Smoke quickly tried to change the topic. “Anyway, about my share from the mounted race. I’d like you to have it. Think of it as my welcome gift to you for joining our guild.”

“Are you sure? But it’s so much money. Why would you want to give it to me?” Mamelon’s cheeks blushed a bright red.

“I just want you to know that I deeply value your contribution to the guild.” said Smoke sincerely.

For a few seconds, the two of them stood quietly facing each other. Smoke was waiting for a reply, but Mamelon was silent the whole time. Finally, the blazing Flame Knight broke the awkward silence and spoke out. “Well, it was good seeing you.” He then started walking in the opposite direction.

Mamelon slowly snapped out of her daze and called out to him, “Wait! We just got to see each other again. Why are you leaving already?”

“I have a new mission.” quickly answered Smoke, but paused shortly afterwards while thinking what it was.

“What mission? Maybe I could join you?” asked a hopeful Mamelon.

Smoke looked at the purple flames on his armor and said, “It’s to search for the remaining temples of Vigilantez.”

“I see.” she replied and nodded, “ That sounds dangerous. You could definitely use my help.”

“But, Mamelon, we have to do what Sierra told us.” interjected Louche.

“Oh…right. I have my own mission. Sierra asked for backup on the Braucht Hilfe campaign.”

“Campaign?” he asked worriedly.

“I think it’s our first official strike against the Brandals encroaching Centzo.” answered Mamelon dismissively, “Anyway, you might want to eat first before going on your next mission. I know a great place here; I’ve got high Intimacy with the chef there, so the food would be special.” she said with a hopeful smile.

“That sounds lovely, but I really have to go. Maybe next time?” said Smoke hurriedly and ran towards the castle.

The Aqua Knight wanted to call out to him once again, but stopped herself. She stood still and stared helplessly at Ilad’s back.

Suddenly, Smoke looked back at her and yelled, “I’ll see you around, Mamelon. Take good care of yourself!” He then disappeared into an alley.

Mamelon couldn’t help but make a wide grin and talk to herself in a whisper. “So you do care about me, after all….” she said as she put her hands to her chest.

She then turned around and was about to reprimand Louche and Earat, when she caught a glimpse of Smoke gliding in the air, headed for Rauch castle.

“Hm. Smoke and Ilad must have received an emergency call from Thyrsus.” she thought out loud. She then turned to the Halflings and told them to next time show Ilad the proper respect he deserves.

                                       


* * * * * *  

THUD

Smoke landed in front of the main castle doors. He entered briskly and found a villager cleaning one of the castle windows.

“Excuse me,” said Smoke with a brash voice, “who’s in charge?”

The villager stopped wiping the glass and smiled at him. “Why, that would be you, lord Smoke…and lady Sierra, of course.” he replied and gave him a respectful bow.

Smoke smiled back and spoke in a calmer tone, “No, what I meant was, who did Sierra leave in charge when she left?”

“Oh, that would be Sir Thyrsus. I believe he is currently in the war room.” answered the villager politely.

“Thank you.” said Smoke and gave the villager a small bow before running up to the war room.

The door busted open and a worried Smoke stepped inside. He noticed a large map with several small boxes and figures placed on top of it laid out on the massive rectangular table.

“Thyrsus! Where are you?” shouted Smoke as he searched for his core member left in charge of Verbrannt. He looked around the war room and found Vijaya sitting on Thyrsus’ lap as they were hastily breaking away from what looked like a passionate kiss. He instantly turned around and coughed loudly, “Ahem. Sorry to intrude on you two like this.” said Smoke loudly.

It took a few seconds for Thyrsus and Vijaya to fix themselves up before they answered him. “Ah, Smoke, we didn’t see you there.” said Thyrsus in an awkward voice.

Embarrassed of what he witnessed, Smoke looked down and stared at the map. Then, he remembered why he came rushing in the first place.

“How could you let Sierra leave with such a small strike force?” Smoke asked Thyrsus strongly, “And why wasn’t I notified?”

Thyrsus scratched his head and averted his eyes. Vijaya put her hand on his shoulder and responded for him, “We tried to get in touch with you a hundred times, but you never answered any of our calls.” She paused and took a deep breath. “Also, didn’t you want only to be the figurehead of the Vigilantez, and have Sierra act as the real guild leader?”

Smoke opened his mouth but couldn’t give her a proper response. He knew that she was absolutely right—he did receive numerous calls from them, but he never answered. He needed that time alone to sort out his feelings and heal his self-esteem.

He nodded in agreement. He then turned to Thyrsus and said, “Tell me Sierra’s plan.”

“Of course.” replied Thyrsus quickly. He promptly pointed to the small boxes placed on the map. “Each of these boxes represents a team of the Vigilantez…”

Thyrsus described the plan Sierra proposed and that was then refined by Adder, Ledur and himself. It took almost an hour for him to finish his explanation, as Smoke was coming up with questions about every phase of the plan.

“…In conclusion, we mostly agreed to this because of the Acolytes.” said Thyrsus proudly.

“Hm.” said Smoke as he scratched his chin, “And they left three days ago?”

“Yeah. They should be arriving at their destination anytime now.” answered Vijaya.

“Alright. Thyrsus, give me the coordinates of where they plan to set up this trap.” said Smoke hurriedly.

Thyrsus scrambled to find a piece of paper, and laid it down in front of Smoke. Immediately afterwards, a notification window popped up.

MAP LOCATION: Braucht Hilfe Forest

  Coordinates: Latitude: 34°54’35.95″ N, Longitude: 109°48’24.45″ W
  Note: One thousand eight hundred kilometers away from current location.

“Thank you, Thyrsus.” said Smoke, “It should take me about twelve hours to get there if I glide at my top speed.”

He then hurriedly headed out of the room. As he reached the doorway, he turned around and awkwardly said, “Sorry again for interrupting you guys earlier.”
                                         


* * * * * *  

Hidden among tree branches in the forest near Braucht Hilfe, Ichaival waited silently for the Brandals to arrive. Suddenly, a girl his age with short black hair and tanned skin moved to the branch next to him.

“Sympa, what are you doing here?” asked Ichaival in a hushed voice.

“Sorry, I know you told me to wait over at the next tree, but I got bored.” replied Sympa with a coy smile.

“You need to get back to your tree.” ordered Ichaival and turned his back to her.

Sympa pouted. “Alright, but before I go, I just wanted to thank you again for the composite bows. Our damage has greatly increased. Of course, the one I’m holding right now isn’t as big as yours, but it’s perfect for me at the moment.”

“Don’t worry about it. Now go.” Ichaival said more sternly.

“I hope I didn’t cause any trouble between you and Sharanga.” said Sympa innocently.

“It’s fine, Sharanga is just…. Just go already, please.” said Ichaival as he feared that Brandals would come running into the forest anytime.

“But, uhm…if she were to throw one of her traps at me—for some reason—how would I get out of it?” asked Sympa in a flirtatious manner.

“Why would Sharanga throw her trap at you? And there’s no escape if she uses her five-trap system. Not unless someone else is there who knows how to deactivate it.” Ichaival shuddered as memories of him being getting caught in the traps came to him, “You know…”

Ichaival wasn’t able to finish because he heard Ledur’s voice over the commanders’ channel. “The Brandals are entering the forest! I counted twenty-five Captains and I have some good news.” Ledur paused for a few seconds, which made Ichaival wonder what favorable event did Cuezaltzin create for them. “It appears their losses also included their mounts, as there are only a little more than a thousand black ctenosaurs. I repeat, most of the bandits are riding in tandem. I’m heading into the forest now. Ichaival, it’s your turn.”

After Ichaival heard Ledur’s detailed report he turned his attention to the forest entrance. Thousands of mounted Brandals came into view. They were riding on black ctenosaurs, giant iguana-like mounts with a length of two and a half meters. The intimidating scene of charging bandits was sure to make a commoner freeze with fear. However, the Vigilantez were composed of individuals who were trained to face such daunting forces.

After the last of the bandits entered the forest, Ichaival released a well-camouflaged green flare in the air, which sailed across the treetops and blended in with the leaves. Only the individuals who were straining their necks looking up had any chance of detecting it. This was the signal for Gate and Illusion teams to take action.

Unfortunately, a mounted Sharanga was still out in the open, as the Illusion team was divided on opposite sides and were still getting themselves into position. Even though Laernea and Gandiva were assigned to watch over the western side of the forest, she still felt the need to be there and help direct the Bowed Fishermen. As soon as the last Fisherman was settled in, Sharanga immediately headed to the eastern side, but not before six throwing knives stabbed her in the back and damaged her for a total of 4,200 points. The Brandals had spotted her.

Posthaste, the Brandals in the lead gave chase. The sight of injured Shranga angered Ichaival and made him release his arrows too soon. Shortly afterwards, all members of the Strafe team followed his lead and attacked the Brandals with a torrent of arrows. The bandits tried to block the arrows with their arms, but there were too many of them. Out of desperation, those who shared mounts hid behind the ones in front of them and used their comrades as meat shields. A constant volley of more than a hundred arrows assaulted the bandits.

However, Ichaival’s premature strike made the Brandals in the rear turn back and try to escape out of the forest. This mistake gave away the position of Jinggu’s Gate team.

Tasked with closing off the bandits’ escape route, the Armored Farmers under Jinggu were still scrambling into position when fifty mounted Brandals led by a Captain charged right through them. Taken by surprise, the Armored Farmers weren’t able to hold their formation, and five of them were trampled by the black ctenosaurs. Jinggu hastily retaliated by firing a volley of his poison bolts and dismounted four of the bandits, whereas some of the Farmers who came to their senses clung onto the bandits who rode at the back of their mounts, and pulled them to the ground.

A total of twenty Brandals were instantly stabbed by sharp tridents (enhanced versions of Farmers’ pitchforks, made by Verbrannt’s Blacksmiths) and perished while calling out to their comrades for help. The Brandal Captain and thirty remaining ctenosaur riders escaped out of the forest without even taking a look at them.

A few seconds later, Adder and his Balance team arrived at Jinggu’s location. Adder quickly told five of the Centaurs, “Take the injured to Weise. Be careful to stay out of sight, and return here once they’re healed.”

Each of the five Centaurs hurriedly put an injured Farmer on their backs. They carried them carefully towards the Life team that was behind them.

As Adder scanned through Jinggu’s team, he saw the OrkElf give him a nod. They called out to their teams and prepared themselves for an incoming wave of bandits.

With Jinggu’s northern Gate secured and Weise’s Bulwark and Life teams in position behind them, the Brandals in front of them were desperately trying to break through their makeshift gate. However, multiple Heal Balls were hitting the Armored Farmers, steadily replenishing their lives.

As these bandits were farther away from Ichaival’s Strafe team, they were out of range of their arrow attacks, which made the seven Captains leading them complacent. Without delay, they signaled their men to escape to the sides of the wall of Farmers. However, as black ctenosaurs moved to the sides, water arrows were fired at the Brandals from the direction of their flanks. The Bowed Fishermen of Sharanga’s Illusion team assaulted them with a volley of arrows.

Jinggu and the Centaur Rangers followed suit and used their own ranged attacks from behind the Armored Farmers. The force of Jinggu’s bolts knocked down his targets from their mounts, while the Centaurs’ arrows kept on withering their life bars.

Adder and the Condortlian Warriors squeezed their way through the Gate and charged into the throng of Brandals. With their bastard swords in hand, they fought bravely. Heal Balls came flying straight after Adder and his men, as they were now the ones most targeted by the bandits.

Members of Weise’s defensive Bulwark, tasked with protecting the Acolytes, held their ground and were always on the guard for potential bandits who could break through the Gate. Once in awhile, two to three black ctenosaurs would smash through, but the Armored Farmers on the outer edge of the upside down “U” formation would immediately go after them.

After a few minutes, the gray Maneator confirmed that everything was going according to plan. He left the side of his Bulwark and joined Adder and the Condortlian Warriors on the front lines. As a Maneator, he had the Scourge of the Beast III ability, which allowed him to deal 50% more damage to beast-type monsters. Equipped with a flamdius and Gora shield, he started to slash the legs of the black ctenosaurs, forcefully dismounting the Brandals who were riding on them.                                                                       


* * * * * *  

The main part of the Brandal’s army , made up of 70% of it, had seventeen Brandal Captains in charge. They were continuously assailed by the arrows of Ichaival’s Strafe team, which brought down the life bars of the ordinary bandits to 90%. Although their life bars were still high, some of them either had Poisoned or Bleeding status. The Brandal Captains also observed that their comrades in the rear had difficulty breaking through the wall of Armored Farmers.

Then, one of the Captains yelled, “Charge through the front!” But they were met with Sharur’s southern Gate team, blocking their path and steadily closing in on them.

“Stop! They have the same formation in that direction.” said one of the Captains.

“To the sides!” yelled another, but before they could make their move, Rasant’s Bulwark of sixty Iron Knights and twenty Acolytes emerged out of the trees. Rasant led his team right through the middle of more than one thousand seven hundred Brandals.

“Kill them!” shouted the Brandal Captain in front of Rasant’s Bulwark, and the bandits immediately directed their black ctenosaurs towards the orange Maneator.

WHUPPSSH CRACK WHUPPSSH CRACK WHUPPSSH CRACK WHUPPSSH CRACK

Sounds of Rasant’s barbed whips echoed through the air as the orange Maneator went after the ctenosaurs’ legs. His whips turned into a blur as he stood in front of his team of Iron Knights. The charging ctenosaurs were falling down one after another as the scales on their limbs couldn’t withstand the force of Rasant’s attacks.

The Brandal Captains felt insulted, as whips were their signature weapons. All seventeen of them threw knives at Rasant and inflicted a total of 30,400 points of damage to the Maneator. Some of the knives embedded themselves into his body, which made the orange Maneator momentarily stop. Still with his barbed whips in hand, he removed the knives, and Heal Balls hit him from behind and restored his life bar to full capacity.

The enraged Captains ordered their subordinates to leap over the injured men and go after the Acolytes hiding behind the Iron Knights. Some of them started to move to the sides of the battlefield in order to flank the Bulwark, but were met with arrows coming from that direction.

Amidst the commotion, Ledur was busy organising his Mutilate team. It took him three minutes to assign each of the four-man groups to a specific target. Finally, he gave the signal for his Tikbalang brethren to jump down and mutilate the bandits defending the Brandal Captains.

THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD

The forest echoed with the sound of hooves stomping the ground as all ninety-six Tikbalangs simultaneously leapt down from the trees. The bandits surrounding the Captains were dismounted from their black ctenosaurs, while the mounts themselves were kicked hard in their bottoms and forced to run away. The bandits who tumbled to the ground were pummelled by the Tikbalangs’ hooves.

As Strafe’s onslaught of arrows never stopped, it took a few seconds for the Captains to detect that they were getting surrounded by the Tikbalangs. All of them reflexively took out their whips and swung them at the Tikbalangs who had their backs turned to them, but the Tikbalangs’ mane made out of sharp black spines blocked most of their attacks. As the Captains were focused on lashing and scourging them with whips, they failed to notice the pairs of werewolves that were coming after each of them.

Sierra’s Slaughter team blitzed their way through the crowd of Brandals and squeezed through the gaps the Tikbalangs made for them. One of the werewolves in the pair ran in front of the targeted Captain and captured his attention, while the other one swiftly approached from behind and sunk his claws into the bandit’s back.

The Brandal Captains who were farther in took notice of this in time and stopped attacking the Tikbalangs. Seven of them tried to escape to the sides and brought along four hundred of their bandits with them. Together, they braved the water arrows coming from that direction. Four of the Captains took to the east, while three headed to the western part of the forest.
                                           


* * * * * *  

The three Brandal Captains in the western part of the forest were in charge of a hundred twenty injured bandits and their black ctenosaurs. They resisted the water arrows and pushed onward until they met two Lioumerean Pathfinders, each riding on the back of a stag moose.

“Well, well, well. Looks like some kittens are here to play with us.” teased one of the Brandal Captains while riding towards the Lioumereans.

“Leave the cute one to me.” said another Captain and followed after.

Straight away, Laernea and Gandiva set their sights on the Captain who spoke last. Simultaneously, the two of them fired their poison arrows at the bandit. The moment they did, Gandiva turned to her best friend and said, “What’s wrong with you? He said he was going after me!”

“What are you talking about? He clearly said he was going after the cute one.” replied Laernea. Both of them whistled, and shortly afterwards, four Durcules beetles appeared at their sides. These one-and-a-half-meter-long black armored monsters had horns that were almost the same length as their bodies.

“Aim for the one we just attacked.” said Laernea and the four Durcules beetles flew straight into the Brandal Captain and impaled him with their horns. Afterwards, they flew up and disappeared into the treetops.

Laernea immediately aimed her bow at the dying Brandal Captain and released several arrows, depleting his life bar. The Brandals in front of Laernea’s target raised their swords and charged at her, wanting to avenge their leader, but her stag moose lowered its head and defended her with its antlers. With a strong plowing motion, Bilis impaled the two bandits in front of it.

The impaled bandits tried to break free, but their attempts to pull themselves off of the antlers only resulted in additional damage. They looked to their sides for help, but found that the other stag moose had performed the same attack and impaled three bandits. As the impaled bandits were raised to a higher elevation, they finally saw the source of the water arrows for a brief moment, before the numerous mounted Bowed Fishermen finished them off.

Laernea and Gandiva intentionally aimed for the ordinary bandits. Thanks to their stag moose’s high movement speed and agility, the Lioumereans easily weaved in and out of the trees and suddenly appeared in front of black ctenosaur riders. They attacked them with their longbows at almost point blank range. At this distance, the front riders couldn’t react in time, and the Lioumereans were accurately hitting their eyes.

However, this recklessness made them prone to attacks from the side. As the Brandals kept a close eye on the stag moose, they appeared from their blind side the next time they came around for an attack and slashed them with their swords. The stag moose’s antlers tried to drive off the bandits while Laernea and Gandiva counterattacked with arrows. The Lioumereans would hastily retreat, but would get significantly injured in the process. Outside of the Acolytes’ reach, they used their advanced knowledge in Herbology and applied healing herbs to their wounds.

This impetuous attack slowed down the Brandals’ charge and made them hold their ground. The Lioumereans only appeared to be impulsive; their real plan was to keep the Brandals occupied until the southern Gate arrived, and have water arrows steadily dwindle their life bars. At this point, the surviving bandits in the western side of the forest were left with 60% on their life bars.

Meanwhile, on the eastern side of the forest, Sharanga and a hundred Bowed Fishermen prepared themselves to face four Brandal Captains and two hundred eighty of their underlings.

Sharanga stood some distance away from the mounted Bowed Fishermen. Aiming at the Brandal Captains, she released four poison arrows, wanting to draw their attention to her. The Captains promptly ordered the bandits to storm the lone Huntress.

SHRILL

A cry of a single falcon came from above the battlefield, and Ranga swiftly dropped Sharanga’s five-trap system on one of the Captains.

FA-THUD

Immobilised, the targeted Brandal Captain dropped to the ground together with his black ctenosaur. Sharanga remained unperturbed despite seeing more than two hundred Brandals rushing towards her. She steadily kept attacking one of the Captains with her poison arrows, and lowered his life bar to 40%.

BTOOOM BTOOOM BTOOOM BTOOOM

Several exploding traps were triggered by the Brandals and sent many of them flying through the air, black ctenosaurs and riders alike. The explosives also killed Sharanga’s targeted Captain and inflicted Burning status on all of the Brandals in the eastern side of the forest.

“Halt!” yelled one of the remaining two Brandal Captains, “I bet there are more traps in—” He wasn’t allowed to finish as Sharanga fired several arrows into his throat and made him choke.

Unlike the Lioumereans, she didn’t intend to wait for Sharur’s southern Gate to arrive. She planned to finish off the Brandals by herself. As she still stood in the same spot, Sharanga continued with her arrow attacks, while the mounted Bowed Fishermen behind her kept up with her pace.

SHRILL

FA-THUD

The last surviving Captain and his black ctenosaur fell down, caught in Sharanga’s five-trap system. She didn’t have any fancy attacks, like the other core members; she only had Ranga and her traps to rely on. However, that didn’t make her any less effective in battle than others.

With the last of the Brandal Captains disabled, the bandits were indecisive about what they should do. Not willing to go back and face the werewolves, or stay still and slowly die to arrow attacks, some of them tried their luck against the traps and blindly charged forward.

BTOOOM BTOOOM

The Brandals’ life bars were left with less than 30% after they triggered more explosive traps. Sharanga, together with a hundred mounted Bowed Fishermen, proceeded to finish off the catatonic bandits that were left standing in front of them.

                                             
* * * * * *  

The strike force’s morale was at an all-time high and spurred them to fight the Brandals aggressively. In general, the bandits had less than 50% on their life bars at the moment.

The ten Captains who were in the middle of the entrapment were slaughtered by Sierra’s werewolves, which left the bandits disorganised. They aimed their swords and knives at the gaps between the round shields of Armored Farmers, but even when they managed to inflict significant damage to them, Heal Balls would mend the wounds of the injured Armored Farmers no less than a couple of seconds later. Realising that they could not win against them, the bandits caught in Sierra’s trap fought desperately to escape with their lives.

The black ctenosaur riders in the front suddenly felt sharp claws trample over their shoulders, as their comrades’ mounts were trying to climb over them and use them as stepping stones to get past the wall of Armored Farmers. One of the lizards that managed to leap through was instantly met with a red Maneator’s glaive. Stark’s glaive pierced through the black ctenosaur’s stomach and sliced its body in half. The other Brandals who got past the Gate immediately went after Stark, but they were quickly blasted away by Sharur’s bolts. Supported by Stark’s Bulwark and the Acolytes inside it, Sharur’s southern Gate plowed through the struggling bandits.

They arrived at the western side of the forest just in time to witness the Lioumereans killing off the last surviving Captain in the area. The Armored Farmers shouted as they advanced and took the Brandals by surprise. The Bowed Fishermen used this opportunity to release more of their water arrows, which penetrated the backs of the black ctenosaur riders. The Lioumereans and the mounted Bowed Fishermen moved to the sides closer to the center of the trap.

Sharur took a glance at the eastern side and found that Sharanga had already subdued most of the bandits there. He then heard Stark call out his name, “Sharur, Stark can’t believe how easy this is.” The red Maneator let out steam through his nostrils and huffed, “Stark remember Brandals to be stronger. Stark must have became really stronger instead. Hmmpf!”

“Well, this is Sierra’s plan, after all.” said Sharur with a proud smile on his face.

“Rasant is doing good at the center. Stark can’t believe how he survived on his own.” said the red Maneator.

Sharur then pointed to Adder and his team of Centaurs and Warriors, “They had the support of Balance team the whole time.”

The red Maneator let out a boisterous laugh. “Does Sharur think next battle will be this successful?”

“Definitely! With Sierra leading us, I’m sure the next fight is going to be a breeze. When we get more Acolytes, we’ll be even…” he stopped mid-sentence after he saw Adder and his team charging towards them at full speed. He searched around to see what made the Balance team look so rattled. Then, when he turned around, he finally saw the reason. A pack of werewolves was almost upon the Bulwark team behind him. And these weren’t Sierra’s.

The open area in southern Gate’s formation was filled with bloodthirsty lycanthropes in no time at all. Forty of them engaged the Iron Knights who were protecting the Acolytes, while twenty jumped over them and went straight for the healers. The Armored Farmers on the sides of the formation instantly went to help the Bulwark, but forty more werewolves spread out and slaughtered them. Once a werewolf got its claws on an Armored Farmer, it wouldn’t stop slashing his body until it finished its job.

Enraged, Stark swung his glaive with both hands and severed the arm of one of the werewolves. The lycanthrope screamed in pain, and before it could retaliate, Stark’s glaive came at it once again and relieved the monster of its head.

Even though werewolves are Therianthropes, they are still classified as beast-type monsters. As such, they are susceptible to the Maneators and the Hunters’ Scourge of the Beast ability.

The Strafe team quickly fired their arrows at the werewolves slaughtering the southern Gate, but their attack speed was slower, as it took them longer to aim properly and avoid friendly fire. Members of the Illusion team followed suit and came to the aid of the southern Gate. Sharanga’s falcon steadily released its master’s five-trap systems on the monsters, while Sharanga herself was steadily firing her arrows. Laernea and Gandiva’s stag moose and Durcules beetles put their antlers and horns to good use and impaled some of the werewolves with them. The Lioumereans rode closer to the werewolves and fired their arrows at them at close range, drawing their attention away from the dying southern Gate members.

As soon as the extraordinary fighters killed a couple of lycanthropes, the werewolves started to huddle together and backed away. After these core members of Vagrant Vigilantez secured the Bulwark, they checked the number of casualties and found that ten Acolytes, twenty Iron Knights and a little more than a hundred Armored Farmers were missing from the battlefield.

Adder and his Balance team members finally arrived as the Vigilantez and seventy werewolves were at a momentary standstill.

Sharur hurriedly asked Adder, “What about the Brandals at the center?”

“Don’t worry, Sierra and Ledur’s teams are there to help Rasant. There are only less than two hundred bandits left.” replied Adder, with his eyes fixated on the new enemies.

The number of Vigilantez members in the southern part of the forest was a little over five hundred. Although they had the advantage in numbers, the Armored Farmers and Bowed Fishermen were no match for Werewolves in one-on-one fights.

Slowly, the werewolf pack moved to the sides to make way for a brown and a black werebear to step forward.

ROAAARRR

The black, female werebear let out a loud roar before speaking. “Werewolves! Today, I, Vexant, your Alpha mistress, shall lead you to glory! We shall feast upon Smoke’s army and leave nothing behind but their bones!”

AWWWOOOOOOOOOOO.

The werewolves howled in unison. Vexant then turned to the brown werebear and told him, “Tracas, you deal with the Warrior riding on a dirus wolf.”

The brown werebear nodded and fixated on Adder.

Vexant then yelled “Charge!” and the therianthropes all rushed towards the Vigilantez. She decided on Stark as her target. The three-meter-tall red Maneator swung his glaive in a wide arc but missed the werebear’s head. Vexant counterattacked with a Double Slash and knocked Stark back into the Armored Farmers behind him.

The brown werebear called Tracas blocked numerous arrows with his arms and came face-to-face with Adder. He took a wide swing at Adder with his claws but hit nothing but air, as the Condortlian Warrior had already leapt off of his mount.

Adder brought down the full force of his BlitzSturm on the brown werebear’s left shoulder. Tracas reflexively countered with his right claw, slashing Adder across his chest and knocking him to the ground.

The Centaur Rangers and Condortlian Warriors tried to help their team leader, but forty-five werewolves were keeping them occupied.

Adder hurriedly stood up and faced the brown werebear while his subordinates around him fought frantically for their lives. He charged straight for the werebear, with his massive BlitzSturm over his left shoulder. His double-bladed sword slashed the werebear’s paws and forced him to take two steps backwards. Adder finished his attack by slashing the tip of the werebear’s front leg and sliced off two toes.

Tracas roared in pain. The brown werebear raised his claws over his shoulders and they came crashing down on Adder. BlitzSturm blocked one of the claws, but the second one scratched Adder’s right shoulder. The werebear’s claws got drenched in Adder’s blood and he followed up his successful attack with an uppercut. Adder got blown backwards once more and his life bar now displayed (175,185/217,750 HP).

Adder could clearly see a smirk on the brown werebear’s furry face. He got up and taunted the werebear to come at him.  As the therianthrope rushed forward, Adder met his attack with his double-bladed sword. As soon as he felt the werebear’s claws parry his weapon to the side, Adder followed the direction of that force and turned his body in one fluid motion. BlitzSturm slashed the werebear’s arms twice as it completed a full turn. He felt it make contact with his opponent’s bones, but failed to slice through them.

He instantly backed away as he had learned the timing of the werebear’s counterattack, but was still taken by surprise when the therianthrope managed to reach him despite his injured toe. Adder was blown backwards again and hit one of his Centaur subordinates behind him. Frustrated, he stabbed the werewolf his comrade was fighting and hurried back to face his opponent. He proceeded with caution and observed the therianthrope’s life bar, which displayed (328,901/360,000 HP).

While Adder was thinking about what to do against the brown werebear, multiple Heal Balls hit his back and filled his life bar to 100%.

“Life team, please focus on healing the other guild members.” ordered Adder, as he observed that most of his allies had life bars below 50%. Even with a full life bar, he still had less HP than the brown werebear. Despite thinking that he still needed more training to properly handle his new fighting style, Adder decided to use it now.

“Trager, my shield please.” he shouted to the bulky Centaur. Immediately afterwards, Trager kicked away the werewolf he was fighting and threw Condortl’s Emerald Tower Shield in his direction. Adder easily caught the griffon-embossed shield with his right hand and brought it to the ground with a loud sound.

CRASH

Equipped with his massive BlitzSturm in his regrown left arm and the Condortlian shield in his right, Adder dashed forward with the shield in front of him. The brown werebear tried his Double Slash attack, but Adder held his ground and wasn’t pushed back at all. With the werebear’s claws still on his shield, he lifted it up and swung his double-bladed sword across the therianthrope’s stomach. The brown werebear brought his arms down in defense, but his already-injured arm was then targeted once more. This time, Adder’s BlitzSturm sliced through the bone.

The brown werebear’s mouth widened and instinctively came down on Adder. However, the werebear’s teeth were met with an emerald and obsidian-colored shield.

TWAANG

Adder used Emerald Bash and stunned the werebear for three seconds. With his opponent immobilized, Adder then used his shield’s strongest ability—Emeridian Slash. A green light radiated from the embossed griffon. For a brief moment, Condortl’s legendary creature came to life and slashed the brown werebear with its claws. As the therianthrope’s defense was temporarily reduced to zero, Adder quickly brought down his heavy weapon and made a deep cut across his opponent’s body. He was about to perform another attack when the brown werebear finally came to and raked his claws across Adder’s face, forcing him to back away.

Blood flowed down Adder’s face from where the werebear’s claws left their mark. He checked the therianthrope’s life bar once more and saw that it was quickly brought down to 30%. He steeled his resolve and charged towards the brown werebear.

Suddenly, Tracas spoke to him. “You’re as impressive as ever, Adder.”

This made Adder stop in his tracks. He had to stab his BlitzSturm into the ground to support himself from falling.

“Why do you know my name?” asked Adder cautiously.

The brown werebear snickered. “Lady Horrabelle was right! You guys really took the bait of the divided supply lines. Who would have thought that my pack would be the one lucky enough to find you.”

“This was a trap?” asked a dumbfounded Adder, “Be that as it may, I still want to know why do you know my name?”

“How could I ever forget you? How could I forget one of the men who failed to save me back in Condortl!” said the werebear condemningly.

Adder frowned, puzzled by his opponent’s response. “Condortl? What are you talking about?”

“Ha! Of course you’ve already forgotten about me.” said Tracas and let out a sarcastic laugh, “How convenient for you. Just sweep Tracas under a rug and forget about him.”

Slowly, Adder’s eyes widened as he finally realized who this brown werebear was.

“Yes, Adder. It’s me, the boy you and Smoke failed to save from the mutated Centaurs!” Tracas screamed at Adder.

<<< PrevNext >>>

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s