Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 04 – Chapter 02

Author: John Nest
Editor: Timaeus

Note:  For easy character reference please refer to: Characters

The Monstrosity of Foudre


A drop of blood trickled down Adder’s chin and fell onto his body armor. Before him stood an opponent he never imagined he would have to face.

“You have to believe me. Smoke and I did everything we could to try and save you,” said Adder sincerely as he slowly lowered his BlitzSturm. “We fell down a pit and couldn’t get out in time to—”

“Enough!” yelled Tracas. “Do you think I’d believe anything you say? You even managed to get your arm back after abandoning me, and now you have the audacity to slice mine off!” The brown werebear waved his left arm.

“I didn’t know it was you. If I’d have known, I wouldn’t have…” stammered Adder apologetically.

Out of each other’s reach, the two of them stood still. Guilt-ridden, Adder’s strength began to wane as his mind was overtaken with contrition. Slowly, he loosened the grip on his sword and shield. This scent of shame was easily picked up by the brown werebear.

“Oh, what is this? Does this mean you’ll stop fighting me?” Tracas let out a forced laugh. “Do you perhaps intend to save me from this cursed life I now live?!”

Disheartened, Adder didn’t answer. He remained stoic as he stared at Tracas with remorseful eyes.

“Stop acting all innocent!” screamed the brown werebear and made a sudden dash towards the frozen Adder. He gashed Adder’s chest with his claws. More blood spilled out of the Condortlian’s body as multiple claw marks covered his torso. The brown werebear then grabbed a hold of Adder’s shoulder and pushed him down.

Adder couldn’t believe that he was speaking to the same young Condortlian they failed to rescue. Tracas spoke as if the last three months of his life were only filled with baleful experiences.

“You think this act of yours can cleanse my sins?” said the werebear with a quivering voice. “Do you think it can erase the memories of all the atrocities I had to commit?”

Adder shook his head and a tear trickled down his cheek. His weapons were lowered as he allowed himself to be attacked by the brown werebear. “We couldn’t find any more clues as to where you were taken to. All we found in Pferde was Terrabelle transforming the mutated Centaurs into Tikbalangs.”

Tracas sunk his claws deeper into Adder’s flesh. “And now you have them as allies! Do you know what Terrabelle did? She feasted on some of the children. She sipped out their souls and left them as nothing but empty shells. Then, she sent the rest of us to lady Horrabelle, who performed experiments on us.”

Involuntarily, Tracas shuddered as he remembered the torture he endured. “Most were turned into werewolves, while the special ones transformed into werebears. All of us now serve lady Horrabelle.”

“But we could help you! Sierra, one of our leaders, is a werebear and she isn’t under Horrabelle’s control. In fact, she’s brought some of the other werewolves to our fold. I’m sure we can figure out—”

ROOOAAARR

“Shut up!” yelled Tracas. His voice sounded unnatural, as if two persons were speaking in unison. He opened his mouth wide and took a bite out of Adder’s shoulder.

Adder bit his lip as he muffled his pain. Tracas’ bite reduced his life bar to 50% and inflicted him with Bleeding status.

“Werebears are special! As a Sonstwelter, that rogue werebear is even more so,” he said in a confused voice, mostly composed of a child’s, after spitting out a chunk of Adder’s flesh. “She was never meant to be one of Lady Horrabelle’s creations.”

Tracas suddenly released his hold on Adder and turned away from him. Bewildered, he paced in front of him and began talking to himself in a hushed voice. “Snap out of it. Snap out of it.” Tracas slapped himself and said in a child-like voice, “But he could save us. We don’t have to be a monster anymore.”

ROOOAARRRR

Tracas scratched himself across the chest as he spoke to himself in his regular voice. “Be quiet! The Tracas who lives now is the one who lives for lady Horrabelle.”

A confused Adder stared blankly at the brown werebear as he kept scratching and biting himself. Tracas finally stopped and calmed down. With a trembling face, he turned to Adder and said, “I beg of you…kill me. Free me from this body. End my curse!”

“No! We can still save you,” Adder replied hurriedly.

Tracas continued talking in a child’s voice, “There is no cure for a werebear Zect—” Without finishing his sentence, he suddenly roared and charged straight for Adder with his remaining paw arched over his shoulder, about to perform a strong attack.

SLASH

Adder’s BlitzSturm was propelled backwards. If it weren’t for his Death Grip ability, his weapon would have been knocked out of his hand.

Tracas’ claws swiftly came around for one more attack and left another set of claw marks across Adder’s chest. The brown werebear followed up with a kick to the stomach, which knocked Adder three meters back and made him lie flat on the ground. The therianthrope then stepped on Adder’s chest and kept him pressed down.

“Our last massacre wasn’t enough to erase you, huh?” sneered Tracas as he spoke to himself. “We are stronger. I’ll show him the animal we’ve become because of him!”

The Condortlian Warriors around them were oblivious to their conversation; all they saw was Adder getting intentionally hit. One of the Warriors who was fighting a werewolf near them yelled out, “What in Cuezaltzin’s name are you doing? You can’t die here, Adder!”

“Stay out of this, you loudmouth!” Tracas yelled at the Warrior and charged straight for him. The Warrior reflexively tried to block the werebear’s attack, which gave the werewolf he was fighting an opportunity to grab hold of his arms. Tracas’ claws went straight for the Condortilian’s heart and yanked it out. The Warrior’s life bar instantly dropped to zero.

With a bloody heart in his paw, Tracas raised it above his head and yelled to the Condortlians nearby, “This is what I’ll do to all of you!” He opened his mouth wide and wolfed down the heart in a savage manner.

SCHIK

The moment he gulped it down, Adder’s BlitzSturm appeared out of nowhere and went straight through his stomach.

Adder’s body moved on its own. His double-bladed sword sliced sideways and exited out of Tracas’ body.

“Forgive me….” Adder spoke with sorrow as he stared at the blood dripping from his sword, unable to force himself to meet Tracas’ gaze.

The brown therianthrope dropped to his knees, clutching his cut side. “Liar…I told you he was a liar,” he spoke to himself as blood gushed out of his mouth. “Just like when he promised he’d keep Condortl safe.”

The brown werebear’s life bar dropped to 5% and was steadily going down at a fast rate due to Bleeding status. “You’re a hypocrite, Adder. You pretend to be a hero out to save the world, but you can’t even protect your own people.”

Adder fell silent and stood motionless. He couldn’t find it in himself to finish off Tracas. Then, the anger in the brown werebear’s eyes started to fade and his body collapsed to the ground.

“Thank you, lord Adder….Horrabelle still holds some children captive…in the crater on Mount Foudre. Please…save….” Tracas spoke his final words in a soft, child’s voice before his life bar displayed zero.

Slowly, Adder knelt down next to Tracas’ body and let go of his sword. With a heavy heart, he wiped the blood on the sides of Tracas’ mouth.

“You may be right. The promises I made might have been just wishful words born out of confidence or hope,” he said quietly while closing Tracas’ eyelids. “But I ask of you, believe my words one last time. Because I promise you, I will save the ones on Mount Foudre.”

With Tracas’ body starting to disappear, Adder stood up, tightly gripping his sword and shield.

“And that damned Witch who made you suffer will be brought to justice.”


* * * * * *  

The two towering figures of a red Maneator and black Werebear overshadowed the werewolves and members of Vagrant Vigilantez surrounding them.

It had already been several minutes, but none of Stark’s attacks dealt significant damage to Vexant. However, the same thing could’ve been said for her, as she couldn’t get pass Stark’s defenses. Their life bars were almost on par, with Stark at (342,298/389,000 HP) and Vexant at (376,190/392,000 HP).

Looking to gain the upper hand, Stark gambled with a wide strike with his glaive.

SLASH

Stark’s glaive gashed a long wound on Vexant’s shoulder, but his successful attack came at a price. The black werebear swiftly took a step forward and sunk her claws deep into his stomach.

While trying to pry open the red Maneator’s abdomen, she felt a strange, draining sensation. Her Strength was greatly decreased.

Stark used this opportunity to release himself from Vexant’s clutches and attacked her from the side. The black werebear backed away and saw that the werewolves around her noticed the same effect she did.

All members of a pack of Therianthropes receive a significant stat boost if the pack is led by both a male and a female Alpha. Vexant knew that having her power suddenly reduced could only mean one thing: Tracas died.

“Werewolves, slaughter the man who killed your Alpha! Gardes du Corps, you stay behind,” she roared and pointed to where she had last sensed Tracas’ presence. Almost all of the werewolves near her hurriedly left the enemies they were facing and scrambled through the Vigilantez in order to hunt down Adder.

AWWWWWOOOOOOOOOOOO

The irrepressible group of werewolves howled menacingly in unison as they moved towards their prey. A bright purple light in the sky then caught their attention as it passed straight through the treetops and came crashing directly at them.

CRASH

Molten rocks flew everywhere. Smoke had landed smack in the middle of the werewolf pack, stunning and damaging ten of them with his Comet Crush ability. Equipped with Digger’s Wand, he pointed it directly under his feet and created a wide pit.

Smoke and the stunned werewolves lost their balance as they went free falling down a depth of a hundred meters. As they were falling, the stunned werewolves came to and went after the DarkElf. He used his Claws of Chiropterra to hold onto the side of the pit and stop his rapid descent. The werewolves tried to do the same, but Smoke used his Earth Manipulation ability to make sure that their claws don’t get a proper hold.

Once the werewolves hit the bottom of the pit, he created layers of earth bars above them and locked them up. His Cunning of the Dire Fox sensed that there were no more werewolves waiting for him outside of the pit, so he quickly scaled out of it. With Adder leading them, the Vigilantez had made sure to clear the path for their guild leader to safely come out.

Adder was fighting against three werewolves, while Laernea and Gandiva—on the backs of their stag moose—were each faced against one. Sharur was firing his poison bolts at the lycanthropes as he stood beside Sharanga, who had already immobilized two of the beasts with her five-trap system.

Meanwhile, the Armored Farmers split into groups of four, each group trying to contain one werewolf while the Bowed Fishermen dealt damage to it from afar.

ROOOOOAARR

Vexant cried out as soon as she saw Smoke climb out of the pit.

“Gardes!” she yelled and five werewolves started fighting Stark in her place.

Freed from the red Maneator, she hurriedly plowed through the Vigilantez blocking her way. The black werebear was set on killing the flashy DarkElf who ruined her revenge.

However, before she could reach him, a red werebear blindsided her and tackled her to the ground. Sierra unleashed her feral claws at Vexant’s throat, but despite her surprise attack, the black werebear managed to push Sierra off and regain her balance.

“The famous rogue werebear…” Vexant snarled as the two circled around each other. “Lady Horrabelle has a special message for you. But first, I will make you pay for getting in my way.”

With her claws at the ready, Sierra replied strongly, “I don’t care what—”

Not letting her finish her sentence, Vexant lunged through the air and tackled her down. The black werebear’s canines sunk deep into Sierra’s left shoulder. She cried out in pain and forced Vexant off of her with a knee strike. The Lady of Verbrannt instantly turned the tables and mounted her opponent.

SLASH SLASH SLASH SLASH

Blood and fur flew everywhere as Sierra’s claws scratched Vexant’s face. She quickly brought down Vexant’s life bar to 70%. Then, she stopped her claws midway into another attack as her Animal Instinct ability detected two werewolves heading towards her.

Sierra looked up and got clawed across the face by Vexant in response. She was forced to release her hold on the black werebear and backed away. She did a quick scan of her surroundings and estimated that there were about fifty enemy werewolves left, ten of which were trapped inside the pit Smoke created. She was already having a hard time against Vexant alone, and now she would also have to face two of her werewolves that were coming to her aid.

She looked at Smoke and found him fighting against three werewolves at the same time. As he was about to kill one of them, she yelled, “Vigilantez! Don’t kill the werewolves! We just need to kill this black werebear.”

Shortly after Sierra’s order, three poison bolts pierced Vexant’s back, followed by four Durcules beetles’ horns, forcing their target to the ground.

A torrent of arrows and bolts rained down on Vexant, and her life bar was quickly reduced to 45%. From among the crowd, a charging red Maneator leapt forward, with his glaive aimed at the temporarily-immobilized enemy.

However, before his weapon could pierce the back of the black werebear, Adder’s Condortlian Shield blocked it.

“Stop! We can’t kill her yet,” said Adder as he defended Vexant. He needed her alive in order to get more information on Horrabelle’s hidden lair.

As soon as the black werebear saw the murderer of her mate, she swiftly got up into a crouched position and used Double Slash on Adder, knocking him back.

Smoke, who had leapt away from the two werewolves he had been fighting earlier, wondered what Adder was doing. At the sight of the black werebear rampaging once more, he called out their master trapper.

“Sharanga, use your eight-trap system!”

The WoodElf Huntress and her falcon Ranga threw a series of traps onto the black werebear. The individual traps stuck to Vexant’s black fur and instantly interlocked with each other, creating a cumbersome weight of one metric ton.

The alpha werebear tried to break free, but found herself unable to move at all. “Werewolves, run for your lives and report to lady Horra…”

KLONG

Adder bashed his shield into Vexant’s face and stunned her, but she had already given her last command to the forty werewolves remaining in her pack. All of them scattered and successfully escaped out of the forest.

Sierra was about to call out to her werewolves and order them to group up at her location, but they were still engaged with the remnants of Brandal forces caught in the entrapment.

With the swift escape of the enemy werewolves, the conflict in the southern forest had been resolved. Only the members of Vagrant Vigilantez were left, with the exception of a pinned-down black werebear.

Smoke quickly joined Adder, who was standing beside Vexant.

“Where is Mount Foudre?” angrily asked Adder as he pressed the tip of his blade against Vexant’s cheek.

“What makes you think I’ll tell you?” smirked the captured Werebear.

Adder clicked his tongue. “If I hurt you just right, then the little girl trapped in that body should come out.”

Smoke pulled Adder back as he wanted to understand what was going on.

“Wait a minute, who is this? And why do you need to torture her?” he said while holding back Adder’s arm.

The confounded Condortlian wasn’t sure how to respond.

“I killed him…” He paused, as he still couldn’t accept what he was forced to do. “There was another werebear that attacked us. It was Tracas, the boy we couldn’t save from the mutated Centaurs.”

Smoke instantly remembered the nine-year-old boy he met in Condortl when they were building up its defenses. He recalled how they failed to pursue the mutated Centaurs because they fell inside Mount Aeriloc.

He released Adder as the Condortlian’s eyes displayed strong conviction to redeem himself. Although he didn’t get the answer to his question, he let Adder be.

As soon as Smoke released him, Adder’s blade cut into Vexant’s cheek. “Tell me! Where is Mount Foudre?” he yelled into the black werebear’s ear.

Vexant’s life bar started to wither to 39%.

“You are not wrong,” she said. “The girl….I can hear her. She is shouting, daring to oppose me.”

Adder smirked and slowly deepened the cut on Vexant’s cheek.

Yet despite her captured state, the black werebear grinned back at Adder. “However, lady Horrabelle thought of everything.”

She stuck out her tongue and bit it. Multiple lightning sparks erupted from of her body, and her black fur started to glow bright red.

As soon as Smoke saw this, he pulled Adder away from Vexant and shouted to the Vigilantez in the area, “Run!”

BTOOOM

Vexant’s body exploded, discharging electricity all around her. Pieces of rock and chunks of Vexant hit the backs of everyone who was caught in the blast radius, sending them tumbling to the ground.

Most of the knocked-down Vigilantez then groggily sat up and looked around in confusion, while others had been knocked unconscious.

After the cloud of dust created by Vexant’s suicide attack settled, Smoke turned to Adder.

“Tell me everything.”


* * * * * *  

The Vigilantez’s first strike wiped out more than two thousand Brandals. They also obtained their weapons, equipment and the essential supplies they were transporting. The mission was a success, but it cost them the lives of six Condortlian Warriors, ten Acolytes, twenty Iron Knights and one hundred eighteen Armored Farmers.

Smoke and Sierra were joined by the other core members of Vagrant Vigilantez as Adder started explaining the situation.

His remorseful retelling of Tracas’ tragedy conveyed the importance of their next mission.

“…That is why I needed Vexant alive. No matter the risk, I have to find those children,” stated Adder to his gathered friends.

“What happened to Tracas was very unfortunate,” said Smoke and crossed his arms, looking concerned. “Hopefully, we’ll get to the other children in time to ensure that they don’t share the same fate.”

He continued, “Aside from that, based on what happened here, it’s safe to assume that Horrabelle has joined forces with Duke Burmistrz. I don’t know why she chose to do so, but we will have to deal with her soon, otherwise the Brandals will only grow stronger.” Thinking about the Witch made him cross his arms tighter against his chest.

Everyone in the group fell silent as they pondered on the conundrum. While deep in thought, Smoke noticed that a young Spy was nowhere to be seen. He turned to Sierra and asked, “What about Espion? Where is he?”

Sierra didn’t respond, and Sharanga quickly answered for her, “He was sent to Centzo to look for Incitant. Sierra wanted to arrange a meeting with him in hopes of coming up with a joint attack plan against the Brandals.”

Smoke nodded to Sierra in approval, but she still didn’t respond to him. “Rescuing the children comes first, though. We’ll need to find the location of Mount Foudre.”

Everyone agreed and the silent brainstorming session resumed.

After a couple of minutes, their discussion only resulted in rejected suggestions. Since there was still a lot of loot to be gathered, Smoke decided to momentarily pause their meeting.

“Perhaps we’ll think of something while we keep ourselves busy,” he said loudly, for all of his core members to hear.

As they broke off into smaller groups, Smoke calmly walked next to Sierra. Together, the two of them started picking up the items laying on the ground. He had told his private army members they should try to think of a solution for finding Mount Foudre, but the only thoughts that occupied his mind were those of talking to Sierra.

“Great thinking, by the way. Getting Acolytes for the guild, that is,” said Smoke as he tried to make light conversation.

Sierra only answered with a passive grunt.

Smoke was aware that it was selfish of him to run off after the battle at Tromperie plains, but he needed that time alone to restore his confidence. He had always kept to himself whenever bad things happened.

He knew that although Sierra understood that, it wasn’t the right thing to do and she had every right to be angry at him. He was already grateful that she didn’t tear him apart limb from limb, but getting the silent treatment felt even worse. He wanted to convey his feelings to her.

With two quick steps, he moved in front of Sierra and held her by the shoulders. Her werebear form towered over him, and he had to look up to gaze into her eyes.

“Look, I—”

Within a second, Sierra pushed his arms to the side. For a moment, Smoke thought that she was going to use Double Slash on him, as her arms were still in the air, but she didn’t. Instead, she threw herself at him and tightly hugged him.

“So many died,” she said, almost sobbing. “I never thought we’d run into a trap. I should have thought of that. I should’ve been prepared for anything.”

Smoke was taken by surprise. She wasn’t angry; she was sad.

He had a hard time wrapping his arms around her cursed form, but he hugged her back as tightly as he could. “It was a sound plan. Don’t blame yourself. They knew they were risking their lives.”

“But I knew them! I know their families! Some of them even have children!”

Smoke had been so absorbed in trying to put his feelings into words that he forgot that Sierra was a lot like him. Zectas was her sanctuary as well. When her mother passed away, she had to rely on herself, and didn’t have anyone close to her except for her uncle. Everyone whom she had met in Zectas must have been important to her.

“And we will tell them how their parents fought bravely to keep them and everyone else safe,” he said while gently stroking the fur on her back.

She was about to respond, when a loud howl interrupted her.

AWWWOOOOOOOOO

The two of them broke away from each other and looked in the direction the sound was coming from.

“Oh. Right. Those ten werewolves are still trapped in the pit,” said Smoke. He turned to Sierra and touched the back of her waist. “Do you think you can convert them?”

Sierra answered while wiping her teary eyes, “Yeah. With their alpha gone, it shouldn’t be a problem. We should go.” She started walking towards the pit.

Once the other core members met up with them there, Smoke and Ledur started slowly raising the ground beneath the caged werewolves. The lycanthropes snarled and growled as soon as they came into view. They tried to reach out and attack with their claws, but Smoke and the others were standing at a safe distance.

Sierra approached the cage and started assimilating the werewolves into her pack. One by one, they all got down on one knee and yielded their will to her. With this, Sierra’s werewolf pack numbered sixty-two.

While looking at her newest subordinates, an idea came to her mind. “Engage Pack Mental Link!”

Pack Mental Link Established!
  Pack Name: <>
  Pack Members[62]: <>
. . .
Facile
Indice



 

Sierra accessed the Information folder of one of the werewolves in front of her.

“Jackpot!” she exclaimed happily. A map notification popped up and she shared it with the rest of the core members.

MAP LOCATION: Infernal Crater of Mount Foudre

  Coordinates: Latitude: 105°23′ N, Longitude: 202°54′ E
  Note: Five hundred eighty kilometers away from current location.


Smoke grinned widely. “That curse might be a blessing in disguise,” he said and winked at the red Werebear.

Sierra smiled back at him. He then turned to his core members and gave out their next mission.

“Alright. Sierra’s, Adder’s and Ledur’s teams will be continuing on to Mount Foudre. Only Laernea, Gandiva and I will accompany them, while the rest of you will return to Verbrannt with the supplies,” stated Smoke calmly.

Sharur instantly objected, “Wouldn’t it be better to send the entire strike force there? We don’t know how many monsters Horrabelle has in that place.”

Smoke nodded and replied, “True, that would be better, but we need to get there fast, and traveling with the entire army would slow us down.”

“But the Werewolves and Tikbalangs are also on foot,” countered Sharur, as he didn’t sound convinced.

This time, Ledur answered the OrkElf. “Yes, but those two groups can easily keep up with dirus wolves and aardwolves.”

“At least take some of the Acolytes with you,” the OrkElf continued to argue.

Smoke walked over to Sharur and patted him on the shoulder. “There’s more of you and you can’t travel fast. It’s best that you have the healers. We don’t know if there are other enemies nearby that are lying in wait.”

Sharur finally gave in, but still crossed his arms in protest.

After Sharur’s proposal was strongly rejected, Ichaival meekly raised his hand.

“Yes, Ichaival?” asked Sierra.

“Just to be clear, I don’t have a problem with only a few members heading to Mount Foudre. I wanted to ask about Braucht Hilfe. What do we about that place?” asked Ichaival, as one of their objectives was to liberate the villages the Brandals occupied.

“Unfortunately, we can’t save them right now,” said Smoke flatly. “That reminds me, I’ll have to ask Espion to check out that village. With Horrabelle involved, it will most likely be a trap.”

Ichaival quickly nodded, seeing that Smoke had a point.

After Ichaival’s question, the Vigilantez began making preparations to depart. Before going their separate ways, Smoke thought to visit each of the groups and commend them for a job well done. That was his way of maintaining high Intimacy with them.

After they said farewell to everyone else, Smoke and his selected members rushed towards Mount Foudre.

The figurehead of Vagrant Vigilantez pondered on the development of his private army after their latest mission. Their first strike against the Brandals might not have netted Sierra’s ideal result, but along with wiping out two thousand bandits, they also managed to increase the levels of everyone who participated in the battle.

Both Smoke and Sierra reached level 105, with Adder right behind them at level 104. Sharur and Jinggu were level 102, Sharanga and Ichaival level 101, and Laernea and Gandiva had finally hit level 100. Lastly, far above everyone else, the Vigilantez with the highest level was Ledur, being level 181.

Smoke wore a satisfied smile. His private army was steadily growing alongside him.

Sitting comfortably on the Lioumereans’ carriage, he and Sierra simultaneously logged off to get some rest in the real world.




* * * * * *  

Two days passed in a blink of an eye. Smoke and his men finally reached the forest patch at the foot of Mount Foudre. To keep up with the Lioumereans’ fast pace, Werewolves and Tikbalangs  had been running non-stop for periods of several hours, taking fifteen-minute breaks in between.

They avoided most of the monsters they encountered, except for the ones that forcibly attacked them. These monsters only met a quick death as Smoke’s elite members made short work of them.

From where they hid, Smoke took out two flat round shields and placed them next to his legs. He used his Telefax Vision to examine Mount Foudre and Twin Vision to display on the shields what he saw. This way, all of his companions saw what he did.

Smoke looked up at the silver mountain. It wasn’t as tall as Mount Gliseloc; he estimated its apex to be about five hundred meters high. Yet despite its lower stature, he felt more intimidated by this place. Not one tree nor a single blade of grass grew on its slopes. It only had black and silver metallic boulders scattered everywhere.

Above its peak was a gathering of storm clouds, with bright lightning bolts that kept hitting the top of the mountain. He finally saw the place they had been looking for, the Infernal Crater of Mount Foudre.

He looked farther up and discovered three black chimneys protruding out of a black mansion. Horrabelle’s mansion of torture stood dominantly at the peak of the mountain.

Its structure looked like it was made out of the same black metallic boulders that were scattered on the mountain. He couldn’t see any sentries, but he knew that there had to be someone or something guarding her house of horror.

After cancelling both of his abilities, Smoke turned to his core guild members. “There’s a high chance that Horrabelle is up there at this very moment.”

They nodded in response and it was clear to him that they had reached the same conclusion. He drew a sketch of the mountain on the ground.

“We’ll have to take her by surprise, but there’s nothing to cover us while climbing up,” he said as he pointed to the stick figures at the bottom climbing to the top of the mountain.

“You and I could fly up and capture their attention,” suggested Ledur and readied his black wings for the flight.

“No, they might have a long-range weapon that could target us. And those lightning bolts don’t look very friendly to fliers either,” replied Smoke flatly.

He waited for more suggestions, but no one else spoke up for quite some time. So, he decided to share his idea.

“We could make something like a camouflage to help us remain undetected.”

Smoke used his Earth Manipulation ability and fashioned a shield-like item out of the earth. He created a two-by-three-meter rectangle with black and silver metallic rocks sticking out of it.

After creating four of these items, Smoke demonstrated how he planned to use them. “Each of the stealth team members would carry two of these,” he said while lifting one of the shields over his head and another one to his side.

He then asked Adder to copy what he did, only with the opposite hand. Together, the two of them created a section that somewhat looked like the slope of the mountain.

“I see, but that won’t really hide us well,” observed Sierra as she tried to take one of the shields, but her claws could not grasp it. “And…I can’t use this shield.” Her cursed Werebear form prohibited equipping such items.

Smoke gave her a wide grin. “I know that, which is why I was going to ask you to lead your Werewolves and the Tikbalangs in a frontal assault on the mansion. Those who can wield these shields would follow me to the side and rush the gate.”

“So, I’m the bait while you take all the glory?” Sierra smirked as she finished Smoke’s plan for him.

He smiled and winked at her. “Well, this plan would only work because you’d be there to grab the enemy’s’ attention,” he said and pretended to be a Werebear, waving his arms and roaring.

“Fine!” replied a smiling Sierra and shook her head in surrender.

Smoke and Ledur immediately started working on the earth shields, while the rest of the army set up camp and prepared their defenses and meals.

Since they only needed the earth shields as camouflage, they didn’t need them to be strong. Due to this, it only took Smoke two minutes to make one, while Ledur, with higher level of Earth Manipulation than him, created one in less than a minute.

In a little over an hour, the two of them created forty-seven pairs of earth shields. The members of the stealth team were Smoke, Adder, Condortlian Warriors and Centaur Rangers, as they were the only ones capable of equipping the crafted disguise.

After they were done with the shields, Smoke and Ledur joined others for meal. Adder, Laernea and Gandiva had prepared the collected meat from the monsters that blocked their path to Foudre and offered their lives to them.

The Vigilantez were happily eating a hearty ancient bison stew and grilled war echidna.

Smoke took a big chunk of meat and happily asked, “Whose idea was it to hunt the ancient bison, again?”

With his mouth full, Tragar raised his hand and briefly smiled at Smoke. Afterwards, he resumed eating his share of the juicy morsel.

At the sight of Tragar devouring his meal, Smoke remembered a Simiavulg book he read about the Centaurs. It described them as barbaric nomads with no sense of dignity whatsoever. Since the book was written by a Simiavulg, he assumed that it was biased. Despite them being transformed into monsters, Ledur and the Tikbalangs were clearly dignified in how they carried themselves.

However, Tragar and the other thirty Pferde Centaurs were a different story. They were normal Centaurs, but they sometimes acted even rougher than the book’s description of them. Nonetheless, Smoke smiled at them sincerely.

Out of one hundred abled-bodied Centaurs in Verbrannt, only these thirty signed up to fight. He knew that the Centaurs in front of him might look rough, but they are pure-hearted and brave enough to risk their lives on the front lines.

Once they were all well fed and rested, the selected Vigilantez began making preparations for battle. Smoke ordered his dark ember sprite to enchant the Lioumerans’, Condortlians’ and Centaurs’ weapons. This gave them bonus fire damage for the next ten hours.

The Vigilantez left their unnecessary baggage behind and readied themselves to face whatever awaited them on top of the mountain. Smoke and Sierra took charge of their teams and went their separate ways.


* * * * * *  

ROOOOAARRRR

The massive red Werebear roared as she led the charge. Two Lioumereans on stag moose accompanied by Werewolves and Tikbalangs speedily followed after her, while a single winged Tikbalang flew above them.

After five minutes of uneventful running and making as much noise as possible, Sierra decided to slow down. She stopped and turned to the other Vigilantez. “Looks like there’s no enemies this far out.”

At a vigilant pace, they carefully hiked their way up Mount Foudre. As they climbed, they could feel the wind getting colder and the lightning bolts striking the mountain getting closer.

After an hour and thirty minutes, Sierra and her group finally saw the main gate of the black mansion.

ROOOOAARRRR

She roared once more. A few seconds passed and nothing happened. Thinking that the guards were probably inside, she led her group towards the gate.

Suddenly, her Animal Instinct picked up a hundred hostile creatures around them, but she couldn’t see anything there except for the black and silver metallic boulders.

Sierra stopped running and others stopped behind her. “There are enemies nearby.”

As soon as she finished talking, the black and silver boulders started to move and take shape. They turned into two-meter-tall golems.

With sixty-two Werewolves and ninety-six Tikbalangs at her side, Sierra still had the upper hand in numbers. All of them scattered and paired up to fight the metallic golems.

Werewolves and Tikbalangs alike battled hand-in-hand as they faced the mansion’s guardians. One of the Tikbalangs pounded its hooves on a silver golem’s chest, but it only did 2,500 points of damage and left a light imprint of its hooves.

On the other hand, the partnered Werewolf used its claws and aimed for the joints. However, its claws were met with a strong metal covering that repelled its attack. After being pounced on by the two Vigilantez, the golem countered with a telegraphed one-two-punch aimed at them.

The golem’s retaliation was extremely slow, which enabled the Vigilantez members to dodge the counterattack with ease.

Despite their combined efforts, the two of them only damaged the silver golem for 9,000 points and its life bar displayed (191,000/200,000 HP).

The two friendly monsters gave each other a knowing nod and took in a deep breath. They steeled themselves to fight the silver metallic monster in a drawn-out battle of endurance.

While her subordinates were struggling to inflict damage, Sierra had no trouble fighting a black metallic monster. Her strikes were inflicting 3,000 points of damage despite not penetrating through its hard armor.

As the golem’s slow punch came at her, she decided to block it with her shoulder in order to gauge the actual damage of these monsters. It only dealt a small amount and revealed her life bar to be at (471,733/473,733 HP). She smirked as her claws resumed the onslaught on the golem.

At the same time, Laernea and Gandiva released their fire arrows at the golems in front of them. Both of them then discovered that their ranged attacks did little damage to the black and silver monsters.

With four Durcules beetles flying at the sides of their stag moose, they charged at one golem each. Laernea chose a black one, while Gandiva chose a silver one.

Bilis and Tulin, the Lioumereans’ stag moose, used their antlers and stabbed the bodies of the metallic monsters. After they bucked their heads and pulled out their antlers, a bright blue light emanated from the monsters’ bodies.

The Durcules beetles speedily followed their lead and rammed their horns into the arms of the golems, quickly pulling them out and exposing the same blue light.

Sierra, who had just knocked back a golem with her claws, saw the Lioumereans’ skirmish. It made her recall a story Smoke told her one morning at the diner, about how he had to deal with Darius’ “problematic” creation.

“Aim for the power source inside their bodies!” she yelled at them.

At once, Laernea and Gandiva struck the holes in the golems with fire arrows. They smirked as soon as they saw them take damage of 7,000 points on each attack. They kept firing their arrows until the monsters’ life bars were completely depleted.

They were about to hunt down their next pair of golems when four metallic monsters rushed them from the sides. The mansion’s guardians hurriedly went after Bilis’ and Tulin’s antlers.

CRAACK CRAACK CRAACK CRAACK

Two of them ganged up on each antler and used their tremendous strength to break them off. Bilis and Tulin were instantly brought down and made a loud dull sound upon hitting the ground. Laernea and Gandiva had to jump off their beloved mounts, otherwise they would have been crushed by their heavy bodies.

Each of the Durcules beetles flew behind the golems surrounding their masters and pierced the backs of the metallic monsters with their horns. Yet despite their attack, the golems still continued pummeling Bilis and Tulin.

Laernea and Gandiva desperately tried to draw their attention by attacking the eyes of the golems, but their arrows would only bounce off and do almost no damage at all. A bright purple flame then appeared, shining directly above them, and fired four fireballs into the holes in the golems’ backs.

Thanks to Igniz providing them with covering fire, Laernea and Gandiva hurriedly helped their stag moose up and moved them away from the heat of battle.

Sierra, who just saw their situation, roared loudly and ordered her Werewolves to protect their backs and help the Lioumereans escape.

While the Lioumereans fled, Ledur was astute enough to notice the metallic golems’ weakness. He used his Earth Manipulation to create earth spikes from the ground and attacked a golem’s torso, revealing its power core.

With the monster impaled, he then shoved both his hooves into the golem’s body. After feeling up the power core, he smashed it by joining his two hooves together. The golem slumped down, lifeless. Slowly, its body began to fade.

The winged Tikbalang then went on to fight two golems at once and continued using earth spikes to impale them.

Sierra quickly scanned the situation around her. Aside from the injured stag moose, most of the Vigilantez still had more than 70% of their life bars. She then observed odd movement near the gate and realized that Smoke and his team had just discarded their camouflage and entered the mansion. Although there were still eighty golems to deal with, Sierra knew that they could easily handle them and catch up to Smoke soon.
* * * * * *  

Smoke and his men got through the gate without a hitch. He observed Sierra’s battle with the golems while holding the door open for his team to enter the mansion. He assessed that she got it covered even without him sending Igniz over, but he felt more at ease with sending his dark ember sprite over to her for backup. Even though she wasn’t looking, he smiled at her and then joined the rest of his team.

Once inside, they were greeted by a large stairway leading to the second floor and two doorways on opposite sides of the lobby. Smoke’s Cunning of the Dire Fox detected many monsters confined to the rooms of the mansion. The only room without enemies in it was in the direction of the west wing.

“Alright, I think we’re still undetected, since none of the monsters are rushing towards us. Let’s take the stairs and turn left,” said Smoke in a hushed voice.

The four-legged Centaurs scrambled on the stairs, as their legs couldn’t properly move between the small steps. The Condortlian Warriors helped them by holding their horse halves from the sides and stabilized their balance.

Smoke led the way as he dashed towards the door. He opened it and was taken aback by what he saw. Human, Lioumerean and Centaur children were tied up in chains and forced to lie on the floor, inside black casting circles.

Their life bars were below 50% and there were numerous runes carved into their skin. He counted twenty of them in total being tormented inside the vastly expansive room.

The room had several windows, each one with metal bars on it and a lightning rod sticking outside. Smoke saw that these things were connected to several black wires that traveled to the ceiling.

Suddenly, a lightning bolt came crashing down on the mansion. The eyes of everyone in Smoke’s group followed the sparks that the black wires emitted as electricity flowed through them. They looked up only to see that the wires were attached to another casting circle directly above the children, which had been gathering the lightning’s energy.

After a few seconds, the casting circle on the ceiling lit up. It sent several smaller bolts of lightning towards the casting circle below it and created a tube-like barrier. The children cried out heart-shattering screams of agony as they were encased in the lightning bolt’s energy.

Instantly, the children’s bodies began to transform. For the Humans and Lioumereans, their bodies grew three times their sizes and fur covered them completely, while the Centaur children instantly lost their lower horse halves and gained a horse’s head instead.

Then, the children’s screams died out. The lightning bolt’s energy finally dissipated. Smoke and his men saw the children slowly revert back into their original forms as the tube-like barrier faded out of existence.

Without waiting for orders, Adder and the rest of Smoke’s men immediately started freeing the children from their their chains. Smoke took out his weighted chain and sickle and cut the wires that were connected to the iron rods. His men angrily bashed their weapons against the metal that bound the children.

Smoke then went to one of the bound children currently being freed. While they were removing the metal chains, the young Condortlian girl with black hair spoke to him, even though she obviously had a difficult time breathing.

“I knew it. I knew you’d come save us.” she said in between breaths.

Smoke took out a water canteen made of clay from his backpack window and helped the girl get a sip. “You should rest now.”

Despite being told to regain her strength, she still continued talking. “Tracas always said you’d come save us no matter what….” She paused as she seemed to recall the tragedies that befell her after she was captured. “Although he kept saying you abandoned us once he changed, I knew that it was just the monster inside him talking.”

Smoke held the girl’s hand. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner, but I’ll put my life on the stake to keep all of you safe from now on.”

She smiled at him gratefully and involuntarily closed her eyes. Fatigue had overcome her and her body forced her to rest.

Smoke looked at the other children and found that most of them were already sleeping from exhaustion.

In under five minutes, all of the children were freed.

Smoke then turned to Tragar. “Can you take the children out of this hell and down the mountain?”

“Sure. But you’re going with us, right?” asked Tragar as he helped the children get on the backs of his Centaur brothers.

Smoke shook his head and stared at the wall towards the opposite wing. His Cunning of the Dire Fox still sensed Horrabelle’s tormented creations. “Not yet. Adder and the Condortlian Warriors are going to help me deal with the monsters that Witch left behind.”

“Then I’m staying here with you. There are only twenty children and I’m sure you could use all the help you can get,” replied Tragar flatly.

Smoke nodded. “Very well. Let’s get to it.”

The chosen Centaurs rushed out of the mansion with the children, tasked with taking them to safety and giving them immediate medical aid.

Meanwhile, Smoke, Adder, fifteen Condortlian Warriors and ten Centaur Rangers carefully opened the door of the room in the east wing. Their weapons were raised as they prepared for the worst. The room was identical to the one the children had been kept in, but instead of children, light green monsters greeted them.

A hundred monsters were set up in a similar manner to the tortured children. Smoke and Adder looked at each other as they found that they recognized the monsters lying down in front of them. They haven’t encountered their kind since the first time they met Sierra.

They were Varanus Indicus, a larger and more armored version of the Virile lizards that once enslaved the village of Condortl.

Smoke’s first meeting with them was a horrifying experience, as a thousand of them had charged at him when he only had Adder and Igniz with him. However, the monsters that were laid out before him now looked completely different.

They were strapped to the floor, inside a red casting circle. Their dark green scales had turned to a lighter color and their crocodile-like tails were no more. Their life bars displayed less than 20% but their maximum life showed an alarming value of 240,000 HP.

“Do you remember these monsters?” he asked Adder as he pointed to the Varunus Indicus.

“Of course. I’m sure we would have died if it weren’t for Sierra arriving in time,” replied Adder as he tightened his grip on his BlitzSturm.

“I don’t know what they’re mutating into, but I do know that it’s not going to be good,” said Smoke. He walked over to the black wires connected to the lightning rods and cut them.

He then stared intently at the Varanus Indicus chained inside the casting circle. They were helpless and defenseless. It felt wrong to kill them, given the circumstances, but he knew that these monsters would only do more harm if left unchecked.

“Everyone, kill them before they completely transform,” ordered Smoke as he stabbed his sickle into the Varanus Indicus next to him. In a little over ten minutes, all one hundred Varanus Indicus were killed.

Smoke and his men quickly went to another room downstairs and found a similar setup—another set of one hundred Varanus Indicus laid strapped inside a red casting circle. However, this room had a desk placed against one of the walls.

While his team relieved the mutated Varanus Indicus of their lives, Smoke busily searched through the stacks of paper that were scattered on the desk. He hoped to find a book left by Horrabelle, but unfortunately there was none.

He settled for acquiring the knowledge of the papers. In a matter of seconds, the progress would complete itself.

+ Acquired Knowledge: Horrabelle’s Werewolf Transmutation [Page 24 of 200]

  [BLOCKED: Information Window will not be displayed until all pages have been read]

Smoke grinned as he quickly took a piece of a paper in each hand and started acquiring their information.

‘Pfft. Two hundred pages is nothing,’ he grimaced to himself.

Four minutes passed and he still stood excitedly in front of the desk with the scattered papers. He had read almost 90% of all the pages.

Focused solely on gathering information, Smoke failed to notice that he had triggered a short black wire to appear out of the wall beside him. The black wire attached itself to a lightning rod outside of the room.

Since there was a constant lightning storm outside, he paid no mind mind when a lightning bolt struck the rod near him. That is, not until he noticed the sparks coming from the black wire that was connected to the wall.

At once, the wall shook and a secret doorway opened. A pair of Tikbalang hooves held onto the sides of the secret passage.

Smoke’s Cunning of the Dire Fox instantly warned him of the monster that had just awoken. Instinctively, he leapt backwards towards his men, who were still busy killing the tied-up Varanus Indicus.

ROOOOOAAAARR

Horrabelle’s monstrosity stepped out of the secret room and roared loudly at Smoke, stunning him for a full second.

As soon as his consciousness came back, he jumped back and carefully observed the grotesque monster. It had the body and legs of a Gargantuan Goblin, the arms of a Tikbalang and the head of a Werebear. It stood at a height of over three meters.
 
Smoke equipped his weighted chain and sickle and sent it flying towards the stitched-up monster. Its sharp edge nicked the side of the monster’s arm and displayed its name and life bar: Schrecklich (695,200/700,000 HP).

If the monster had not roared, Adder and the rest of the team wouldn’t have noticed it step out of the secret chamber. They were focused on killing the mutated Varanus Indicus, which still numbered thirty.

“Tragar, throw Adder his shield!” shouted Smoke and watched as his comrade easily caught the thrown shield with his right hand.

Smoke then turned to Adder. “Let’s end this quickly.”

Adder nodded and led the charge with his shield in front of him. Ten Condortlian Warriors followed after him, carrying their bastard swords and round shields.

Simultaneously, the Centaurs fired their arrows at Schrecklich while the Condortlians were still rushing towards it. Yet, even with Igniz’s enchantment, their arrows only dealt 599 points of damage each.

Smoke switched to his power chainsaw bow and joined the Centaur Rangers in their ranged attack. Eight poison arrows soared through the air and each dealt 2,400 points of damage.

Schrecklich put up its Tikbalang arms in front of it and blocked the arrows being fired at it.

ROOOOOAAAARR

Seconds before Adder and the Warriors reached Schrecklich, it roared once more and stunned all the Condortlians around it.

It launched its hooves in a straight punch and bashed the skull helms of four Warriors. They were blown away and tumbled to the ground. Fortunately for them, their headgear was the only thing that got smashed.

Adder and the rest of the Condortlians snapped out of being stunned. With his tower shield in the lead, Adder used Emerald Bash and his shield was instantly covered in a green light. He smashed it into Schrecklich’s torso, stunning him for three seconds. With the monstrosity stunned, he then used Emeridian Slash and reduced its defense to zero.

Six bastard swords plunged into the monster’s body from all directions. Their attack did not stop, and was shortly followed by numerous arrows from Smoke and the Centaurs. In the span of three seconds, Schrecklich took a total of 65,000 points of damage.

Despite taking heavy damage, the monstrosity remained unfazed. It roared once more and stunned the Condortlians surrounding it. It quickly became a battle of who could stun first. This time, Schrecklich specifically targeted Adder and drove its hooves into his chin, sending him crashing into the ceiling.

Smoke unequipped his bow and leapt to catch Adder before he dropped to the floor. Together, the two of them moved out of the monster’s range.

The Centaurs continued attacking from a safe distance, but their damage was not enough to stop the monstrosity from pumelling the Condortlians near it. Their life bars quickly went down to 75%.

The Warriors who weren’t targeted stabbed their bastard swords into the monster and dealt more damage than the Centaurs’ arrows. However, as soon as Schrecklich’s stun ability was ready, it used it again and stunned the Warriors.

As Schrecklich was about to attack the immobilized Warriors, Adder’s shield bashed into its side and stunned it. The Condortlian leader could not allow it to continue damaging his brothers. Instead of attacking with his BlitzSturm, Adder backed away out of the range of the monster and readied his shield to stun it again as soon as he was able to.

Schrecklich was attacked by arrows and swords. Even though its life bar still displayed 85%, it knew that the situation was not in its favor. It retreated to a corner of the room where more black wires converged. There, it joined its hooves together and created a ball of electricity. Before the Warriors could reach the monster, it pushed the charged ball towards the black wires. Sparks flew everywhere as the electricity travelled through the wires, headed for the remaining dormant Varanus Indicus.

SPARK SPARK SPARK SPARK SPARK

The straps that held the mutated Lizardites down were incinerated by the electricity. Slowly, thirty light green monsters stood up. Their life bars were at around 120,000 HP, half of their maximum value.

Smoke quickly assessed the situation.

“Everyone, fight the half-dead monsters. Adder and I will deal with that abomination,” commanded Smoke decisively.

The Centaurs focused on the Varanus Indicus nearest to them. Each of their fire arrows damaged the mutated Lizardites for 1,500 points.

Groggy from the sudden awakening, the Varanus Indicus were sluggish and took the arrows to their bodies without defending. The Centaurs killed one of the experimental monsters in a matter of seconds, but they regained their senses after the first Varanus Indicus fell.

The mutated Lizardites charged at the Centaurs with their sharp claws protruding out of their five fingers.

SLASH SLASH SLASH SLASH SLASH

The Condortlian Warriors arrived from the side of the monsters and slashed their green flesh with bastard swords. The Varanus Indicus may have increased their life bars, but their defenses had clearly been lowered.

Ten Varanus Indicus continued their charge at the Centaurs, while nineteen faced the outnumbered Warriors.

The Centaurs kept firing at the charging monsters. When the mutated Lizardites got too close for comfort, they used their front legs and attacked the monsters, knocking them back a few meters. They used their arrows once more and waited for them to get closer for another kick.

Concurrently, the Warriors had a difficult time facing two monsters at the same time. Luckily, their round shields were large enough to give them protection from one monster while they hacked their bastard swords at the other.

Yet despite this, the Warriors’ life bars were steadily being chipped away as the Varanus Indicus’ claws scratched their arms, legs and shoulders.

Adder, who was distracted watching his brothers’ difficult battle, was smashed into the wall when Schrecklich’s electrified hooves rammed against his Condortlian shield. After it produced the electricity to awaken the Varanus Indicus, its hooves retained the electrical charge.

Smoke stepped in and threw his sickle at the bizarre monster, slashing its right arm.

“Focus, Adder!” he yelled out as he stood between the two of them.

ROOOOOAAAARR

Schrecklich roared once more , aiming to stun Smoke, but the DarkElf expertly leapt backwards while throwing his sickle again, attacking the monster and escaping the range of its ability.

Due to the confined space, Smoke couldn’t safely use his Cyclone of Slaughter. He thought about using his Manatl, but he wasn’t confident that it could block Schrecklich’s stun attack.

He briefly checked on the rest of his men and found that they were slowly being overpowered. He knew he had to defeat Schrecklich soon, but he couldn’t think of how to do it. He unequipped his weighted chain and sickle and decided to risk it.

“Stun him!” Smoke ordered Adder while he leapt up and scaled the wall of the black mansion.

Adder charged his shield for a frontal attack, only to be pushed to the side by Schrecklich’s hooves. He dug his Condortlian shield into the floor and stopped himself from moving farther away. Yet, this proved to be a grave mistake, as Adder was still within the range of the monster’s roar.

Schrecklich used its stun ability and immobilized Adder. As it moved in closer and readied its hooves for another attack, Smoke leapt from above the abomination and tightened a noose around its mouth with his perlite chain.

“Adder, now!” shouted Smoke as his legs locked around Schrecklich’s neck, while both his hands tightly gripped the chains. This prevented the monster from shouting and Smoke hoped that this disabled its stun ability.

Adder lunged his massive BlitzSturm into the monster’s stomach and it went cleanly through its body. He then tried to pull it out to the side, but a charged hoof smashed into his chest and sent him flying towards the wall. Due to Adder’s Death Grip ability, Schrecklich’s attack forced the BlitzSturm to come out of its side and accidentally damaged itself.

Inflicted with Bleeding status, Schrecklich’s life bar displayed (525,450/700,000 HP) and was losing 500 HP per second.

With his legs locked around Schrecklich’s Werebear neck, Smoke checked on Adder’s life bar and found that it was already at less than half, as it displayed (89,337/220,750 HP). He knew that Adder couldn’t take much more of the monster’s beating, but he had to stay where he was in order to prevent the monster from using its stunning ability. He was even more troubled when he saw that the rest of his men were still struggling with the Varanus Indicus they were facing.

Deep in thought on what to do, he almost failed to notice the warning that Cunning of the Dire Fox sent him when both of Schrecklich’s charged Tikbalang hooves went over its head and were about to flatten Smoke’s body. Luckily, he was able to dodge one of the hooves and took the other with his shoulder and was knocked off of the monster’s neck.

He tumbled on the ground and immediately switched out to his power chainsaw bow once he recovered his footing. He fired eight poison arrows and finally inflicted the monstrosity with Poisoned status. Coupled with Bleed damage, Schrecklich was now losing 600 HP per second.

With its long Gargantuan Goblin legs, it took large strides and was almost in front of Smoke in no time. The DarkElf was only able to fire another round of arrows before he was within range of the monster’s stun ability.

ROOOOOAAAARR

Smoke was stunned. His firm grip on his bow loosened and stood helplessly in front of Schrecklich. As the monster’s hooves were about to crash down on him, Condortl’s Emerald Tower Shield struck the monster’s back.

KLONG

After Adder stunned the stitched-up three-meter-tall monstrosity with Emerald Bash, he leapt forward and brought the full weight of his BlitzSturm down on Schrecklich’s right shoulder with the intention of severing its arm, but he only reached halfway when the left hoof came straight at him.

Due to its long arms, Schrecklich could reach abnormally far. Its charged hoof was met with a Condortlian Shield, as Adder managed to raise it in time. He was blown away from the monster, but took no damage from that exchange of blows.

As Schrecklich was about to go after Adder, Smoke’s chain and sickle came flying through the room. It looped around the monster’s right shoulder, with the sickle digging deep into the open wound Adder had made.

With all his might, Smoke turned around and pulled as hard as he could. He heard Schrecklich scream out in pain as he felt the tension on his chain disappear. He smirked as he looked back at the monstrosity and found its right arm lying on the ground next to it. He was about to pull back his sickle when the monster stepped on it with its foot.

Schrecklich then used its remaining Tikbalang arm to wrap the perlite chain around it and pulled the DarkElf towards it.

Smoke used Earth Manipulation to create an inclined foothold on the floor to support his weight and prevented himself from being pulled by the monster. However, the chain felt painful, as the monster yanked on it stubbornly and with great strength. He was forced to release his weighted chain and sickle and watched it fall in front of Schrecklich.

Even though both Smoke and Adder were out of range, the monster roared for the sole purpose of taunting the two of them. Before it was done, eight arrows stuck themselves into its chest. It hurriedly broke off the shafts with a single stroke of its arm and then shifted its gaze between Smoke and Adder. After seeing that Adder had less HP, it went straight for him.

Emerald Bash was still on cooldown, but Adder charged forward with his green and black shield in front of him and his BlitzSturm stretched behind his shoulder.

TWANG

Adder’s shield resounded when Schrecklich’s charged hoof made contact with it. He planted his feet firmly and stabbed his BlitzSturm into the floor. He was able to prepare for the impact and was not blown away by the monster’s attack.

The monster then continued pummeling his shield with its hoof. He tried to launch a counterattack, but his sword was still stuck in the floor. Schrecklich would attempt to attack his side, which made him move his shield around. Simultaneously, he yanked his BlitzSturm hard with his left arm, but it still wouldn’t budge. He stared at his regrown limb and concentrated on using all of its strength.

SLASH

Adder moved his shield out of the way as he pulled BlitzSturm out in one fluid motion. He sliced through Schrecklich’s left arm and it dropped down as blood gushed out of its body. He still held his double-bladed sword over his head, as he couldn’t believe the power of the attack he performed. He was smiling, when he suddenly noticed the monster’s head coming straight at him with its mouth wide opened.

Schrecklich sunk its teeth deep into Adder’s neck. With his left arm still pulsating from the newfound strength, Adder brought back his sword and severed the monster’s head. As it rolled across the floor, its life bar displayed zero.

Adder dropped to one knee, and a notification window popped up.

+ Your party has dealt a fatal blow to Horrabelle’s Monstrosity: Schrecklich.
+ Your party killed Horrabelle’s Monstrosity: Schrecklich.
+ Your party gained 1,800,000 experience points.

Smoke dismissed the window and ran to where Adder was. Along the way, he swiftly picked up the items dropped by Schrecklich.

+ Acquired Elemental Stone: Electro Stone [3 Pieces]


+ Acquired parchment: Horrabelle’s Notice on the Red Scamp
+ Acquired parchment: Ultimo’s Request – Three Troublesome Villages

Smoke didn’t pay much more attention to the items, as he was more concerned about Adder. His friend was Bleeding and only had 5% of his life bar left. Despite Adder’s increased health regeneration granted by his Self-Heal ability, he was still losing HP.

He always reminds his private army members of the importance of their lives, but Adder has a tendency to fight to the brink of death. “I told you not to overdo it,” said Smoke while supporting Adder’s back and helping him lie down. “I’m not letting you die on me, Abaven.”

With his open palm pointed at Adder, Smoke used Life Share. A small ball of white light formed in front of his hand and launched itself towards the injured Condortlian, hitting him in the chest and healing him for 3,640 HP. At the same time, Smoke’s life bar went down and displayed (149,765/181,997 HP).

Thirty seconds and fifteen balls of light later, Adder was out of critical condition. However, he was still Bleeding. “Hold still, this will hurt,” said Smoke. He took out a fire arrow out of his backpack window and pressed the arrowhead against the wound on Adder’s neck. His friend cried out in pain as the arrowhead inflicted a small amount of Fire damage upon contact with his flesh, but understood that it served to cauterize the wound and remove the Bleeding status.

Seeing Adder’s life bar slowly starting to fill up on its own, Smoke heaved a sigh of relief. Turning his attention to the other side of the room, he saw that the Centaur Rangers had 25% of their life bars remaining, while the Condortlian Warriors who hid behind them had less than 10% left. They were cornered by thirteen green monsters that still had 39% of their life bars..

Fortunately, none of his men had died yet, but he needed to act fast to ensure it stayed that way. He equipped his white metallic staff and dashed towards his team.

With the aid of his Lunar boots, he leapt over the green monsters and stood between them and his men. He then created a flat vertical Manatl as wide as he could manage, leaving only his head and feet exposed. He ducked immediately afterwards, as the Varanus Indicus wasted no time in reaching for his head.

Due to the numerous Life Shares he gave Adder, Smoke was left with (95,165/181,997 HP) on his life bar. With most of the mutated Lizardites now going after his feet, he had to constantly jump around to avoid their attacks.

“Centaurs, use your arrows!” ordered Smoke while desperately dodging.

The Centaurs immediately followed his command and fired their arrows, while the Warriors took out pieces of grilled ancient bison meat to recover some of their HP.

Only two minutes passed, but Smoke felt exhausted from evading most of the Varanus Indicus’ attacks. His life bar had already whittled down to 33%, but most of the green monsters still had 25%. Meanwhile, most of the Warriors had recovered 10% of theirs.

Smoke waited for the right opportunity to order them to attack. He knew that the Centaurs’ arrows alone could not kill them all, as well as that his Manatl wouldn’t be able to hold out much longer.

Suddenly, Adder’s BlitzSturm came crashing down on one of the Varanus Indicus and sliced its torso in half.

“Warriors, now!” shouted Smoke.

Simultaneously, ten Condortlian Warriors climbed onto their Centaur comrades’ backs and jumped over Smoke’s Manatl. All of them delivered swift strikes across the backs of the Varanus Indicus behind them.

At the same time, Smoke canceled his Manatl and drove his charged white metallic staff into the chest of the nearest Varanus Indicus, instantly depleting the monster’s remaining HP.

Smoke was about to attack the next closest mutated Lizardite, but Adder’s BlitzSturm beat him to it and sliced through its body. Meeting Adder’s gaze, he acknowledged his desire to keep fighting despite his weakened state, but still stayed close to him to ensure his safety. As the battle continued, Smoke’s team overpowered their enemies.

After almost an hour since they entered, Smoke and his men finally cleared the third room of the black mansion. They all dropped to the floor from exhaustion and took out their emergency rations to replenish their HP and MP.

While eating a piece of jerky, Smoke stood up and gathered the remaining pieces of paper on the desk. He then turned to his men and said half teasingly, “Alright, we have one more room. Remember to stay alive.”

Adder and the rest of his team groaned loudly, but knew he was being serious. After all, they all swore to wipe this black mansion clean of Horrabelle’s wickedness.

CREEEEEEEAK

Slowly, the door of the room they were in opened.

Smoke’s men tightly gripped their weapons and prepared themselves for the worst. Most of their life bars were still below 50%.

A sigh of relief escaped from them as Sierra and her team entered through the door. Smoke walked over to Sierra and Ledur in order to greet them.

“Glad you finally made it inside,” he said.

“It was all thanks to Ledur. He was all over the place, impaling golems left and right with his earth spikes. The rest of us were mostly just cleaning up after him,” chuckled Sierra.

Ledur then went over to Adder. “Thank you, brother. I saw the Centaur children that were rescued earlier.”

“We should have gotten here sooner,” replied Adder somberly. “I can’t even imagine what they must have been through.”

Smoke placed his hand on Adder’s shoulder. “They are safe now. In time, the new memories they make in Verbrannt will help them lead normal lives again.”

Quickly, he scanned all the Vagrant Vigilantez present and found that all of them had over 50% on their life bars. He then looked at his gathered friends and said, “There’s still one room left.”

Sierra, Adder and Ledur nodded in agreement.

They soon arrived in front of the door of the last room in the black mansion. Smoke could sense at least two hundred monsters on the other side of it. He told Ledur to get ready to seal the door, in case the monsters look too tough for them to handle.

CREEEEEEEAK

He opened the door slightly and took a peek inside. The room was as spacious as the other three, but instead of casting circles with monsters or children strapped inside them, there was a massive cage with one-meter tall green monsters inside it. The cage was filled with Gobble Goblins.

The goblins instantly looked at the DarkElf. Most of them backed away from the cage door as he slowly walked over to them. Only a handful of elderly goblins were prepared to confront him.

“Greet you me. I Smoke. I friend you,” said Smoke in crude Gobberish.

One of the goblins answered him, “You must be one of Crucibelle’s underlings. She also used our lovely tongue and deceived us with her words.”

Smoke energetically shook his head and waved his hands. “No, no, no. I kill Crucibelle. I friend you.”

He then showed them the Berserker’s Ring of Flames.

The elderly goblins looked at each other and nodded curiously. Then, one of them spoke in Lacerta, the most common language in Zectas. “Please stop talking in Gobberish. My ears bleed from your poor attempt to speak in our intricate language.”

Smoke was taken aback, as he didn’t know that Gobble Goblins could speak normally. “I’m sorry if my poor Gobberish has offended you, but what I’m saying is true: I am not your enemy. I’d even be willing to release you from this cage if it would help convince you of that.”

“Release us? Or will you just put us in a different cage?” asked the same elderly goblin skeptically.

“No, you’d be free to go. However, it’d be dangerous for you to leave on your own, with Horrabelle still out there and all,” Smoke answered sincerely. “If you would come with us to our village, we’ll be able to protect you.”

He then remembered the other Gobble Goblins left in Verbrannt, the ones that still didn’t trust him. “You could also help me convince the goblins we freed from Crucibelle’s clutches that we mean no harm.”

The elderly goblin spoke in Gobberish to the other goblins before he turned to face Smoke again. “There are others of our kind in your village?”

“Yes, and it would be a great help if you could make them understand that I’m just trying to protect them,” said Smoke in an imploring voice.

“That remains to be seen, but I suppose leaving this horrible place would be better than staying,” replied the elderly goblin. He then spoke with the other goblins once more. After a few minutes, he faced Smoke and nodded in agreement.

After giving a nod in return, Smoke told the Tikbalangs to free the goblins. While they were waiting to be released, the goblins were spreading the word to the rest of them who were hiding in the back portion of the cage.

While waiting for the goblins to be liberated, Sierra spotted a desk filled with papers. “Smoke, over here.”

Smoke walked over to her and found that the stack of papers was similar to the one in Schrecklich’s chamber.

“Thanks, this could be helpful,” said Smoke and gave her a smile.

He grabbed one of the sheets of paper and found an expected notification window.

+ Acquired Knowledge: Horrabelle’s Gargantuan Goblin Transmutation [Page 12 of 20]

  [BLOCKED: Information Window will not display until all pages have been read.]


In less than a minute, Smoke read all twenty pages and the Information window finally popped up.

+ Horrabelle’s Gargantuan Goblin Transmutation

  Step-by-Step Ritual:

  1. Gather 250 Gobble Goblins in a confined space.
  2. Inflict Berserk status on them (Terror Spell works fine, too).
  3. Watch the magic happen.

Smoke sighed. He thought it would be something he didn’t know already. He was familiar with the ritual because he had observed Crucibelle perform it near Banal village a while ago.

Sierra noticed his disappointed expression and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing. I just thought I’d get some new information,” he replied passively.

Unwilling to give up on getting what he wanted, Smoke took out the parchments Schrecklich dropped earlier. He immediately started acquiring the knowledge of the parchment entitled “Ultimo’s Request – Three Troublesome Villages.”

After a few seconds, an Information window popped up.

+ Ultimo’s Request – Three Troublesome Villages.

  Salutations,

  My Brandals have tried occupying the villages of Tatlong, Lugar and Pinagsama.
  These three places are close to and support each other, making the task difficult for us.
  Each time one of my battalions attacks one village, the other two send reinforcements to it.
  Perhaps you could assist me in conquering them?
  I hear that there are a little over a thousand people residing in each village, a fair part of them being children.

  Here are their Map Locations:

  Tatlong: Latitude: 95°23′ N, Longitude: 234°54′ E

  Lugar: Latitude: 93°23′ N, Longitude: 232°54′ E

  Pinagsama: Latitude: 95°23′ N, Longitude: 232°54′ E

  I believe cooperation would be mutually beneficial to our endeavors.

  May the bloodline of Vinceretus rule forever!

  Respectfully,

  Ultimo Maire

The date on the parchment was from four days ago. After processing the information he read, a worried Smoke turned to Sierra. “They’re targeting three villages this time,” he said and quickly shared the contents of the parchment with her.

“This was sent four days ago. We know that Horrabelle’s Therianthropes were still patrolling the area around Braucht Hilfe two days ago, because you encountered a group of them,” explained Smoke while holding his chin. “Since the werewolves that escaped must have notified her of their failure, it’s possible that she has reassembled her army since then and is on her way to the three villages as we speak.”

He continued, “We need to hurry and stop her from capturing any more children. We might be able to get to the villages before she does.” Sierra nodded in agreement.

“Do we need to send for the others? Because we better call them now if we do,” she asked.

“No, there’s no time. It would take too long for everyone to organise and travel to the villages.” Smoke paused, deep in thought. “Ledur and I are the fastest. The two of us will fly there and try to convince the village residents to evacuate. The rest of you return to Verbrannt with the children.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Sierra gave him a worried look, clearly not fond of his plan.

“It’s the best chance we have,” he replied, trying to sound as reassuring as possible. “Can you please tell Adder and Ledur about this? I still have one more thing to read.”

“Sure,” answered Sierra and went to them. Smoke then took out the parchment entitled “Horrabelle’s Notice on the Red Scamp.”

In a matter of seconds, he acquired the information and a window popped up.

+ Horrabelle’s Notice on the Red Scamp

  Subordinates,

  As you may know, a red Werebear, the last one my sisters and I created together, has gone rogue.
  Her body contains information that is vital to improving the effectiveness of my Werebear Transmutation.
  If you find her, bring her to me.
  In the event that you are unable to capture her alive, bring back a piece of her flesh.
  A small enough piece shouldn’t disappear with the rest of her body.

  Your Creator, Horrabelle

A grim look appeared on Smoke’s face as his eyes dilated and his eyebrows met. He angrily crumpled up the parchment and stored it in his backpack window.

He stared at the cursed form of the red-haired girl he held dear. He feared for her safety.


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