Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 04 – Chapter 04

Author: John Nest
Editor: Timaeus

Warning: Proofread will be done really soon

Note:  For easy character reference please refer to: 
Characters
Races and Religions

A Semblance of Strength



It was forty-five minutes past midnight. The moon shone brightly on a clear sky, illuminating the man-made lake of Gitna Dam and giving it an eerie appearance.

With Igniz’s purple flames as the only source of light, Smoke had a difficult time discerning his surroundings. Only the rubble of the torn down earth tower remained from their fight with Aral, the boss of Gitna dam.

Smoke thought that they were going to come out of it unscathed, but he was wrong. At the last minute, Aral used its ultimate attack that would have surely killed him. However, Ledur soared at sonic speed and took the full force of the lightning attack.

Now, that his courageous friend snapped out of the paralysis, but he was still severely wounded. Smoke used his Life Share and restored Ledur’s life bar to (100,000/403,992 HP).

He thought about bringing Ledur with him, but there was physically no way for him to carry the three-meter tall winged Tikbalang.

As time was against him, Smoke hurriedly created a sturdy earth dome to protect Ledur from any unsavory monsters who would want to harm him his weakened friend. The dome was completely sealed except for the tiny holes he intentionally created for breathing.

After securing Ledur’s safety, Smoke turned to his dark ember sprite. “Keep him safe, okay?”

Igniz bobbed his body up and down, and his dark purple flames flickered boldly.

Even though Igniz was only an ember sprite the size of his fist, Smoke felt a sense of assurance that Ledur would be protected.

Smoke leapt up and glided fast towards Guro’s house. He took another look at the countdown timer.

> Horrabelle’s Arrival: 09H:45M:02S

He was uncertain he would be able to evacuate three villages in the span of nine hours. Even if he managed to clear them out of their homes, it would take almost three hours on foot to leave the deep valley.

‘It will be really close, but I think we can still make it in time,’ thought Smoke to himself, as he tried to be an optimist.

Fifteen minutes passed, and he reached Guro’s house. As soon as he landed, he saw her through the window. She was sitting at the kitchen table with a candle in front of her.

Smoke hurriedly knocked at the door. “Come in,” she said loudly.

“I expected you to be here last night,” calmly uttered Guro as Smoke entered her home. “I thought that you either died or dropped my challenge and left.”

Smoke responded by angrily throwing the iron rods across the kitchen table. They rolled towards Guro until she stopped them with her hand. She lifted her eyes and noticed Smoke glowering at her.

“What’s wrong with you, boy?” she scowled at his behavior.

“You and your calm attitude are what’s wrong. The villagers consider you their leader, but you’ve endangered their lives by sending me on a pointless quest to prove my worth, wasting precious time in the process,” he spat out and pointed to the iron rods. “Well, there’s your proof, but now there’s barely enough time left to evacuate everyone.”

Examining the iron rods, a smirk appeared on Guro’s face. “You didn’t inspect them, did you?”

“I didn’t bother. My friend even got hurt just so I could bring it to you, but what good will it do us now? Horrabelle’s army will be here soon,” he shook his head and wished he had gambled on using his Beggary ability the first time he met the Gladiatrix.

Guro put her elbow on the table, resting her head in her hand. Smiling, she stared at Smoke. After a couple of seconds, she used her other hand to roll the iron rods back to him. “Inspect them.”

“I don’t care about the item,” he responded harshly. “What I care about is saving your people. So, get off your high horse and go tell them to evacuate.”

Her expression didn’t change. She calmly motioned for him to do as she said.

“Something is seriously wrong with you,” he said, as he couldn’t understand what was going on inside Guro’s head. He followed her instruction.

Aral’s Lightning Rods

 A legendary weapon made from black metal rods of a powerful olm. It is said to be a mark of a natural leader.
 
Damage: 196-206
  +28 Strength
  +35 Dexterity
  +50 Agility
  +20 Leadership
  +30% Lightning Affinity

  Restrictions:
    – Can only be used by Warrior variations
    – Level 100
    – Strength: 150
    – Dexterity: 350
    – Agility: 500

  Equipment Ability:
    *Lightning Shock (Active)
      > Inflicts Paralysis on an enemy for 3 seconds and damages it for [Attack x 2 x Lightning Affinity]
      > Consumes 5,000 MP/use
      > Once you’ve used this ability, you cannot use it again for another two minutes
      > Each of the rods has a separate cooldown for this ability
    *Lightning Strike (Active)
      > Inflicts Paralysis on an enemy for 8 seconds and damages it for [Attack x 10 x Lightning Affinity]
      > Consumes 50,000 MP/use
      > Once you’ve used this ability, you cannot use it again for another sixty minutes


Guro watched with satisfaction as Smoke’s expression changed while looking at the notification window in front of him. “You might want to reconsider throwing around such a formidable weapon,” she said and grinned.

Smoke was fixated on the Lightning Strike ability of the twin rods. ‘If my Lightning Affinity reaches 100%, it would deal ten times my Attack as damage. That’ll mean I’d be able to deal more than a hundred thousand points of damage with a single activation’ he thought to himself as he daydreamed about using the weapon in combat.

“Anyhow, these rods are an undeniable proof that you’ve slain Aral. With that, you have earned my respect,” continued Guro.

A notification window popped up afterwards.


+ Completed Quest: Slay the Dam Boss

  You have defeated Aral, the Boss of Gitna dam. Guro now recognizes you as a worthy leader.

  Rewards:
  * Intimacy with Guro has increased to 70
  * Intimacy with residents of Tatlong, Lugar and Pinagsama has increased to 60
  * 500,000 experience


He was pleased that his Intimacy with Guro had greatly risen, because it meant that she would be easier to persuade. “With that, I hope I have convinced you that you need to evacuate,” Smoke said in a commanding voice.

Guro stood up from her chair and walked over to the window on her left. With her back turned to him, she took a look at the moonlit landscape that had left her breathless countless times before.

“Actually, after you left, I did some more thinking. I came to the conclusion that it would be wise to be on the safe side. So, I went to all three villages yesterday and told the people to prepare for evacuation.”

Smoke listened to her with a confused look on his face.

Observing his reflection in the window pane, she decided to explain herself. “I figured, even if you were lying, we could just return. But in the event that you weren’t, we would be safe.”

Still muddled by her logic, he only nodded in reply.

“And now, you stand before me. Someone who seems to have risked his life for only a chance at saving a bunch of strangers. I doubt you’re a boy who would cry ‘aardwolf.’ I guess, in the end, we both got what we wanted.”

Smoke looked at the floor, ashamed of his earlier rant. “Listen, I’m really sorry for what I said earlier. I was just worried about—”

“Save it. I understand where you were coming from,” retorted Guro smugly. “The residents of Pinagsama and Tatlong are all in Lugar; they should be departing soon. I was just here to pick up a few things and check if you survived against Aral. Now, give me back the lightning rods.”

Smoke’s eyes grew wide. He thought that she had given him the weapon, but it looked like she just wanted him to inspect it. Reluctantly, he gave the weapon back to her.

Guro then chuckled and slapped him hard on the back. “I’m just teasing you. Aral’s Lightning Rods are yours. Now, let’s head to Lugar and leave this valley.”

She walked back to the kitchen table. “Grab those sacks in the corner and load them onto the rowboat you borrowed from me. We’ll be using it,” she said and blew out the candle.

Smoke gulped. “Yeah, about that…”

* * * * * *  

Three hours passed since Smoke talked to Guro. Igniz and a fully-recovered Ledur joined them in the outskirts of Lugar village. All three villages had started their long march towards safety, towards Verbrannt. The children and elderly rode in carts pulled by domesticated ancient bisons, while the capable adults, who all had the Job of Ranseurs, speedily marched beside them.

While they were evacuating, Smoke was worried about Ledur’s wounds, but it looked like the medicinal herbs Laernea gave him proved to be very effective. With Ledur’s health settled, he focused his attention on the fleeing villagers.

Smoke then led the gathered crowd. He would stop by one of the trees and use his Chiropterra glove to grab a hold on its trunk and point the villagers where to go next.

While doing so, he could hear them whispering about Aral’s Lightning Rods he proudly displayed on his waist and about how he had gained the respect of their revered Gladiatrix.

These simple actions alone raised his Intimacy with them by five points. Satisfied with his progress, he then checked Horrabelle’s expected arrival.

> Horrabelle’s Arrival: 06H:12M:15S


At a steady pace, Smoke and the refugees finally climbed out of the eastern side of the deep valley. On top of Mount Kalayaan, the villagers stopped and stared at their home for one last time. Smoke did the same and enjoyed the vast view of the fertile land below.

Suddenly, Smoke noticed a cloud of dust gather on the opposite side of the valley. He immediately used his Telefax Vision and confirmed his worst fear. Horrabelle had arrived six hours earlier than expected.

She rode on her black Nightmare as it stood on one of the slopes of a mountain. She had her hand stretched out as she directed the Brandals to storm the valley.

‘That Witch! She always moves outside of my projections!’ thought an irked Smoke.

Considering the terrain and the number of her men, he did some rough calculations. ‘At this rate, she’ll catch up to us in less than an hour.’

He thought about informing the refugees, but decided not to. He didn’t want them to panic. Instead, he only informed Ledur and Guro.

“…So, that’s our situation. We’ve got to stop them before they get to the refugees,” he explained.

Guro spoke out hesitantly. “I’ll stay behind. You two lead them to safety. I think I can take out a couple of hundred Brandals.”

“No! That’s out of the question.” Smoke wouldn’t allow it. He had big plans for Guro and didn’t plan on losing her here.

“For now, I want you to lead the refugees from the front and speed up their march, but don’t alarm them,” he said to Guro. “Igniz, Ledur and I will deal with Horrabelle.”

The winged Tikbalang massive black wings unfurled as he was taken aback by Smoke’s sudden statement.

“Don’t worry. We got this, Ledur,” he declared with an uncertain grin.

Since Igniz was hovering behind him, he failed to notice that his symbiote’s flames almost died out for a brief moment.

However, the three of them only allowed fear to overcome them for a second as they knew what they had to do in order to save the villagers.

Smoke held up his long white DarkElf hair back with his hands while racking his brain for a solution. He wasn’t sure if Horrabelle had noticed that they had evacuated the villages, but it looked like the main force of Brandals was heading for Pinagsama village.

He surveyed the land before him and knew that his only option was to stop Horrabelle and her army from crossing the valley.

‘But how am I going to do that?’ he asked himself.

He thought about erecting a massive earth wall, but he didn’t have enough time to cover the entire valley, and Horrabelle could probably break her way through it. He then thought about digging trenches with Digger’s Wand, but concluded that they wouldn’t buy him enough time, as the Brandals and Werewolves would quickly move around them.

Smoke looked over the valley from the left and right until his eyes fell on the colossal Gitna Dam. Seeing the architectural wonder sparked inspiration.

“Igniz, Ledur, follow me,” he ordered and jumped off the mountain, gliding straight towards Gitna Dam.

The three of them reached the dam in less than ten minutes. As soon as they were there, Smoke faced his two companions.

“We’re going to ask the force of nature for assistance,” he stated and grabbed onto the side of the dam with his Claws of Chiropterra. He then pointed Digger’s Wand at it and created a tunnel straight through to the other side of the seven-meter thick dam. A strong torrent of water gushed out of the hole Smoke made.

Ledur and Igniz nodded and followed Smoke’s lead. Igniz went to the left side of the dam and focused his fireballs on one spot until he broke through. Another torrential leak came out of it.

The winged Tikbalang went to the right and used his Earth Manipulation to take out large chunks of the dam, piece by piece.

Smoke kept digging more tunnels until he heard a cracking sound.

CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK

The numerous holes in the dam that all three Vigilantez made started to connect. Smoke, Ledur and Igniz immediately flew upward before the dam broke.

From above the valley, Smoke watched his man-made calamity. Massive amounts of water streamed out from the dam. Six-meter waves were formed and the sparse trees, vast farmlands, water mills and homes were all swept away by the great deluge.

The Brandals, who had almost reached Pinagsama village, desperately retreated back to the western side of the valley. Yet, their black ctenosaurs weren’t fast enough to outrun the cascading water and were all swallowed up inside it.

Smoke then saw fire eels, bull sharks and other monsters emerge out of the water. They went after the Brandals and their mounts. The bandits had a hard time fighting the monsters and most of them were eaten by the horned bull sharks and feasted on by the fire eels.

The faster Brandals and Therianthropes reached the higher grounds on the western side of the valley. They escaped the rushing tide by a hair’s breadth.

He wasn’t sure how many bandits were killed in the flood, but his original intention was to slow the army’s advance.

Suddenly, he saw a bright light forming on the higher slopes of the western side of the valley. “Get down!” he shouted, and all three Vigilantez evaded Horrabelle’s long distance lightning bolt attacks.

‘Not yet, Horrabelle. Not yet…’ he thought menacingly.

Smoke smirked as he, Igniz and Ledur flew back to Guro and the others. He was imagining the Witch’s contorted face while gliding to safety.


* * * * * *  

After Smoke and the residents of all three villages got out of the valley, he had Guro tell them in a calm and factual manner that Horrabelle was on their tail. The speed of the refugees almost doubled, as they realized what would happen if she caught up with them. They even endured much shorter breaks during the long path to Verbrannt.

Flying around and using Earth Manipulation, Smoke and Ledur also made sure to leave several false trails and cover their tracks.

Their caravan of refugees spent the next six days on the run. They successfully escaped Horrabelle and her heinous army.

As soon as Smoke saw Verbrannt’s territory, he addressed the refugees. “From now on, you will be no longer be from Tatlong, Lugar or Pinagsama, but rather all of us will belong to one place: Verbrannt. As such, we will treat each other as family and protect each other with our lives on the line.”

Throughout the entire trip, Smoke increased his Intimacy with the refugees to 80%. He hoped that this would be enough for him to call upon them for help and fight Horrabelle’s forces in the future.

After they passed through the thorny maze and the plains filled with concealed trenches, Smoke saw a group of people waiting for them. Thyrsus and Vijaya greeted them, along with a welcoming committee from Verbrannt.

Among them was an old lady with a hell piglet by her side.

As most of the refugees were still shaken up, the residents of Verbrannt made sure to give them a warm welcome and make them feel at home.

The old lady had the children of Verbrannt make gifts for the arriving refugee children. They gave the girls dolls that were made from rabbit pelts and stuffed with cotton, while the boys received toy swords and shields made from leftover wood.

With his heart filled with delight from seeing such a heartwarming scene,  Smoke walked over to the old lady.

“Thank you for accepting my request, Madam Dawny,” he said before kneeling down and petting the hell piglet sitting next to her. “I know this guy can’t replace Ental, but I’m glad that you’ve taken a liking to him.”

“I was surprised when Billig came knocking at my door and gave it to me,” she responded in a pleasant manner. “But I was even more surprised when I got your letter. I appreciate how you took the time to write a formal letter, asking me to take care of the orphans.”

Smoke remained silent and smiled at her. The real reason why he wrote a letter was because he was afraid to speak with her after her beloved hell boar died while under his supervision. He remembered how he felt when he was told that his parents had died, and couldn’t bring himself to personally deliver news of that sort to her.

“Losing Ental was a tragedy, but these children losing their parents is even more so. That’s why I came right away,” remarked Madam Dawny with great concern.

“I know you’ll be great with them,” declared Smoke with confidence. He knew it was the right decision to ask Madam Dawny to take care of the children rescued from Mount Foudre. She had even managed to make them feel good about themselves while making the gifts. “We’ll talk more later.”

He then searched for the cuddly red werebear, but strangely found no sign of her. Thinking about it, he also had not seen a single Werewolf in Verbrannt since he arrived.

“Where’s Sierra?” he asked Thyrsus.

“She’s out training Vrai and Ardu,” stated Vijaya in Thyrsus’ behalf.

“They’re the new recruits into her Therianthrope army,” said Thyrsus.

“Are they her new Beta Werewolves? Can they compete with Phen and Rear?” Smoke asked Thyrsus passively.

“Oh, they are more than capable of taking on Phen and Rear,” quickly answered Vijaya.

“Vijaya, please. I can answer for myself,” said Thyrsus. “Vrai and Ardu aren’t Werewolves.”

Vijaya let out a loud “Hmpf” and stormed away.

“Trouble in paradise?” Smoke asked as soon as Vijaya was out of earshot.

“Something like that. I forgot how much she loves getting attention, that’s all. But we’re compromising and working things out. It’s been—”

Smoke stopped Thyrsus before he could say any more. “What was that about Sierra’s new members, again?”

“Oh, sorry, I digress….” Thyrsus then explained how Sierra’s blood had turned two Lioumerean children from Mount Foudre into Werebears. He told him that Sierra then conducted a test, to see if her blood could transform anyone into a Therianthrope, by spilling some of it over a Condortlian Warrior that volunteered.

“But the blood had no effect, which led her to believe that only the children are susceptible to it, probably due to the various experiments that have been conducted on them. Out of curiosity, she then spilled her blood over some of the weaker Werewolves of her pack, and they grew in size and strength!”

Smoke wasn’t really surprised after hearing Thyrsus’ explanation. He already knew from the parchment that dropped in Horrabelle’s mansion that Sierra was somehow linked to the process of Therianthrope transformation. He just didn’t know that it was her blood that the Witch was after.

Before he realized it, he was already calling her. As he waited for the connection to be established, he thought about the things he wanted to tell her and questions he wanted to ask her. But Sierra didn’t answer his call.

‘Must be busy,’ he thought to himself and let her be.

As the refugees’ rations were running low, Smoke asked Thyrsus to send food over to the land he asked to be prepared for them in advance.

He then led the newest residents of Verbrannt to a vast plain near the foot of Mount Engrais.
Sierra had walls built around the newly-converted land, and Sharanga’s early-warning devices scattered outside for added protection. With that, Verbrannt officially covered an area of twenty-eight square kilometers.

Guro and the refugees were given four square kilometers to live on. The land in this area was nearly as fertile as the one in their home valley.

While the refugees explored the expansive field and houses that were still under construction, Smoke and Guro decided to rest and enjoy a light snack.

“The villagers look like they’ll be comfortable here,” said Guro while taking a bite out of her jerky.

Smoke grinned back at her. “Told you so.”

“That you did,” she replied solemnly.

Suddenly, Guro moved in front of Smoke. She sighed and said, “I never thought I would do this again. Let alone to someone who is clearly younger than me.”

She then slightly bowed before him. “I, Guro Digmaan, would like to submit myself to your fold.”

Smoke was surprised by the sudden turn of events but grabbed the opportunity presented to him.

“It would be an honor,” he replied and waited for the notification window.

+ Guro Digmaan has joined your Personal Army
 Guro Digmaan is the secret village chief of villages Tatlong, Lugar and Pinagsama.

 Level: 230
 Job: Gladiatrix
 Loyalty: 90
 Favorite Weapon: Trident of Autonomy
 Equipped Weapon: Trident of Autonomy

 Abilities:

 Gladiator Trainer: Ability to promote Commoners into Gladiator variations
 Scarred Rager: Attack is increased by 300% if HP is below 30%
 Rousing Provoke: Taunts an enemy for 8 seconds, drawing its attention & blows
 Phalanx Aura: Raises Defense of party members within 100 meters
 Battle Aura: Raises Attack of party members within 100 meters


Reading her ability list, he felt as if his 999 Luck stat was responsible for bringing Guro to Verbrannt.

“Say, now that we’re safe, I would like to ask you for a favor,” he said in his most charming voice.

“As long as it’s within my ability, I’ll consider it,” replied Guro without hesitation.

Smoke then took Guro to the training grounds of the Armored Farmers. “See those? There are about a thousand Farmers willing to fight in order to protect our lands from invaders.”

Guro nodded and her face showed that she knew what Smoke was going to ask next. “But I’m guessing they’re not that capable at the moment.”

He sheepishly shook his head in response.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll whip these Farmers into Ranseurs in no time at all,” responded Guro with conviction.

As Smoke and Guro were discussing on what she would need in order to turn the Farmers into Ranseurs, Rasant, Stark and Weise arrived in front of them. The three Maneators were there to pay Smoke their respects.

Rasant was the first one to greet him and knelt in front of him. The orange Maneator spoke rapidly. “Welcome back! That’s quite a number of people you’ve brought with you. Who’s the tough-looking lioness? But before anything else, let me tell you that my brothers have trained me in their ways, and my defense has greatly improved, and—”

Stark interjected by kneeling in front of Smoke and addressing him in a much deeper voice than Rasant. “Smoke, stronger than ever. Stark honors you always. Stark grows strong too. Stark show you,” said the red Maneator and was about to pull Smoke away for a demonstration before a gray Maneator’s hand stopped him.

“King Smoke has no time for that now, Stark,” said Weise and bowed down next to his two brothers. “We gladly welcome your return, Smoke, King of Maneators.”

Guro, who was standing next to Smoke, was taken aback at the sight of muscular, horned monsters who were kneeling before him.

“Wait…what?! You’re the Maneator King?” she asked him with a dumbfounded look.

“Yeah. I was the one to inherit the title when the previous King died,” he answered somberly.

Smoke then turned to the three Maneators and helped them up. Then, he almost got squished as the Maneators all gave him a hug.

“Listen, I’ll come see you soon, okay? I still have some things to take care of,” said Smoke and bade farewell to his three Maneators.

“I understand now. No wonder I’ve taken a liking to you,” said Guro out of the blue.

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

“You see, I used to be a Gladiatrix of Zuchthaus,” she said with deep emphasis.

“Zuchthaus???” he asked Guro in disbelief. “But how did you—”

“Leave the Labyrinth?” Guro finished Smoke’s sentence for him. “König Mitleid helped me make my escape out of that wretched place.”

Smoke had wondered how someone as powerful as Guro came to be the savior of the three villages, and he now realized that she got her experience inside the Labyrinth. “If you were a Gladiatrix of Zuchthaus, doesn’t that mean you fought against Maneators?”

“Maneators, wolf spiders, fire salamanders, crested newts…even other Gladiators and Gladiatrices,” she blurted out shamefully. “I was the one who always walked away alive.”

Guro took in a deep breath as she recalled her time in Labyrinth of Zuchthaus. “Then came the day I fought against a Maneator whom the others called ‘King’, König Mitleid.”

Smoke listened on to her story intently.

“I’ve faced stronger and faster Maneators than him, but no matter what I did, he would always counter my attacks,” Guro shook her head as she spoke with admiration.

“In the end, he broke both my arms and legs,” she shivered, crossed her arms and rubbed her hands against her shoulders. “However, he didn’t kill me. He took a chunk out of my shoulder, but then proceeded to only pretend to devour me. He threw me out of the arena afterwards, to a shrouded area, away from the prying eyes of the Tenebris and gambling spectators.”

“And then what happened?” asked Smoke as Guro paused longer than he could wait.

“I feared he was just saving me for later, but that clearly didn’t happen,” she said with a sarcastic laugh. “After that, König Mitleid left me alone. I stayed in the shadows and the Tenebris thought that he had eaten me.”

Guro smirked at herself. “After living in the shadows for too long, I got bored. So, I decided to follow him around. I discovered that he was teaching his brothers new ways of life, but then one day, the Tenebris came and changed him.”

Smoke motioned with his head that he knew what Guro meant, as he remembered König Mitleid’s tale.

“He kept killing anything that was in his way, even his brothers, whenever he turned blood red with rage,” she explained. “With the quick decline of the Maneators, Gladiators and Gladiatrices; the Tenebris sent down criminals to be executed. They used them as playthings for the mad Maneator King.”

Smoke added what he remembered from what König Mitleid told him. “And during one of these executions, all members of the High Council of Tenebris were present. He killed all of them and took the Labyrinth key from the Zuchthaus Gatekeeper.”

“So, you really are his successor,” said Guro haughtily before she continued. “But what he didn’t know was that I was always watching him from the shadows. And when he escaped out of the Labyrinth, I escaped after him.”

Smoke grinned proudly at her. He couldn’t help but be even more impressed with his new private army member.

“But I have to say, the quality of the Maneators and their King has obviously dropped,” she told Smoke flatly. “I could sense a slight vibe from you, but you don’t have even a tenth of König Mitleid’s presence.”

“I’ve got no problem with you telling me that I’m nowhere near König’s level, but I really don’t appreciate you calling my Maneators weak. Ever since they joined my personal army, they’ve proven to be its invaluable members time and time again.”

“Well, I’m sorry if the truth offends you,” said Guro as if it were a fact. “Perhaps something went wrong with their emergence?”

Smoke’s face turned blank. “Emergence? What are you talking about?”

“I only observed it a couple of times, but it seemed that whenever the Tenebris created new Maneators, they would guide them into a special room to perform something they called ‘a ritual of emergence’. After some time, the Maneators would come out with names and a powerful aura around them. The ones that greeted you just now didn’t seem to possess anything like that.”

He shook his head with cynicism. “I’ve completely explored the Labyrinth and found no such room. And there was nothing special about giving names to the Maneators.”

“Ha! You think you’ve explored the entire Labyrinth? You probably didn’t even scratch the surface,” retorted Guro superciliously.

Hearing Guro speak in an insolent manner, Smoke checked his Intimacy with her It was at 80. ‘Guess she just talks this way to everyone,’ he surmised.

“But I suppose you know where this special room is?” he asked and challenged her knowledge of the Labyrinth.

“Of course!” she responded and reached for the bag she carried, pulling a tattered map out of it. She carefully held it up for him to see.

“It’s right here,” said Guro as she pointed to the specific location of the hidden chamber.

Smoke couldn’t believe the size of Guro’s map. It was almost four times larger than the one he and Espion made from the time they explored the Zuchthaus Labyrinth. He immediately compared the one he had in his window and kept updating it as he asked how to enter the places he had not been to.

It took him almost an hour to update his map based on Guro’s, when a notification window popped up.

Updated Map: Labyrinth of Zuchthaus
New Locations: 
 > Labyrinth Arena
 > Maneator Emergence Chamber
 > Surface entrance of the Labyrinth


Smoke grinned widely but realized that they had other matters to discuss. He steered their conversation back to the Ranseur training program until they had finalized everything.

“Thank you for everything,” said Smoke gratefully while shaking Guro’s hand. “I’ll have Thyrsus accommodate all of your requests.”

She paused as she looked at him with great concern. “I could tell you weren’t that focused on our Ranseur program. Are you sure about going back into the Labyrinth?”

Smoke gave her a thumbs-up and grinned. He was filled with excitement. “What kind of a king would I be if I hindered my subjects in reaching their full potential? “


* * * * * *  

He consulted Espion about the developments in Centzo. His Spy told him that the Brandals moved in closer to the city and had it locked down completely. As such, Espion had trouble getting out of the city. However, the mayor’s adviser had informed him that they should be safe for at least three weeks.

Apparently, the mayor of Centzo had his own intelligence network that was able to provide accurate information regarding the Brandals’ movements.

After hearing this, Smoke decided that it was safe to venture back into the Labyrinth. Both him and Sierra thought it best to train some more in the short amount of time they had before they would have to continue with their campaign against Duke Burmistrz and his army of bandits.

Due to the confined space inside the Labyrinth and the plans he had for his party to stay there, Smoke decided to only take Igniz and the three Maneators with him.

The Maneators rode on their war elephants, and Smoke hitched a ride with Weise. As soon as they entered the white mausoleum which was connected to the Labyrinth, they were met with Skeleton warriors, Skeleton archers and Skeleton mages.

Smoke had Igniz increase his luminance and increased the visibility in the otherwise dark crypt. He told his symbiote to just focus on the lighting and not fight at all. Using Aral’s Lightning Rod, Smoke dashed in front of the Maneators and dealt with the skeletons by himself. The monsters’ bones shattered as he smashed the twin black metal rods expertly against them. By far this was his most comfortable weapon as he handled them like his Eskrima sticks in the real world.

The Maneators were amazed as they watched their king slaughter the skeletons alone. Smoke went after their ranged attackers first. He would face the Skeleton archers’ arrows head on and dodge them at the last minute before bashing their skulls in. He got hit a few times by some fireballs thrown by the Skeleton mages, but his high Fire resistance made their attacks ineffective. As soon as he reached the mages, he would deliver swift, powerful strikes and pulverize the skeletal monsters.

Awestruck by Smoke’s rapid and efficient moves, Weise had to slap his brothers on the shoulders. “Hey, snap out of it. We’ve got to do our share too,” said the gray Maneator. All three dashed after their king as they would not allow to be only bystanders in this dungeon sweeping. All three of them rushed to Smoke’s side and fought against the skeletons.

Swiftly, they dealt with the undead monsters easily and cleared the burial chamber in no time. This caused  the boss monster of the mausoleum, the Skeleton knight, to appear.

Despite its intimidating stature of over two meters and a life bar of 300,000 HP, Smoke and his Maneators were left unfazed, as they knew that it had low Defense. Smoke didn’t even find the need to use his lightning rods’ active abilities.

He was about to face the Skeleton knight, but Rasant, Stark and Weise wanted to show off their progress. The red Maneator led the formation and went after the monster’s exposed arms. Weise and Rasant divided the task of finishing it off. Weise went after its legs and sent it crashing to the ground, but not before Rasant’s whips caught its skull and ripped it off its body. The three Maneators dealt with the undead knight in less than a minute.

This time, it was Smoke who was impressed. He remembered that the Maneators had taken the Farmers here to increase their levels and had been dealing with this monster for quite some time now.

With this, he felt confident that the four of them could handle the upgraded guardians of the Labyrinth’s exit by themselves.

“Do you guys want to take a break?” he asked his Maneators after clearing the crypt.

Yet all three Maneators answered in unison, “No!”

“Let’s keep going,” said Weise.

“Stark is just warming up,” added the red Maneator.

“I can’t wait to go inside the Labyrinth and do some damage,” roared Rasant.

Smoke nodded and they proceeded directly towards the secret exit of the Labyrinth.

Journeying through the hidden tunnel, past the depths of the mausoleum, Smoke and his Maneators arrived in a cavernous chamber. It had a floor area of over four-hundred square meters and a height of twice that. In theory, this chamber appeared to be big, but Smoke knew that if he brought in more men, it would get crowded quickly and could only result in more casualties on their end. 

He knew this as he watched four massive slumbering monsters at the center of the room. They stayed inside the mouth of the tunnel. Together, they observed four Krampus giants, hibernating in a fetal position with their legs tucked behind their arms.

Smoke knew that these monsters weren’t something they could easily handle. After all, this was the place where he got the weighted chain and sickle of Dasende.

Recalling his fight against the Labyrinth’s previous guardian, he thought of using the knowledge he gained during that time to his advantage. The chain weapons of these monsters needed plenty of space to be effective, so he figured that four Krampus in a confined area would have a hard time fighting simultaneously.

“Alright, let’s hope we can take them on one at a time, but everyone stay on alert,” said a vigilant Smoke as he signaled for his Maneators to stay inside the tunnel.

He slowly and carefully walked forward. After each step, he paused and waited for a reaction from the sleeping monsters. After ten steps out of the tunnel, he saw movement from all four monsters.

“Igniz!” he shouted, and his dark ember sprite instantly flew over him.

His symbiote let out a triple-layered fire cage and trapped all four Krampus inside it. The monsters were still stuck in their fetal position and could not freely move.

Smoke and Igniz took advantage of the situation and quickly started dishing out their ranged attacks. Smoke used his power chainsaw bow and fired poison arrows, while Igniz let out a barrage of fireballs. Their attacks only dealt between 700-900 points of damage, but they did reveal all four Krampus’ life bars: Geirel (348,200/350,000 HP), Gavel (398,250/400,000 HP), Lanze (398,750/400,000 HP) and Beil (449,300/450,000 HP).

As soon as he finished reading their names, the Krampus broke out of Igniz’s fire cage. With their humanoid bodies, they stood equally at a height of four meters. They had long goatlike horns, blackish fur and cloven hooves for feet.

The Krampus named Geirel had the most slender body, while Gavel and Lanze were both medium built, and Beil had the bulkiest figure. Yet, their body sizes were not the most disconcerting fact to Smoke. What drew his attention were their weapons. All four of them had different weapons that didn’t contain chains.

Igniz attacked them with fireballs, but Beil took out its massive double-edged axe and parried the dark ember sprite’s attack.

Smoke turned to his Maneators and put on a brave facade. “I’ll take this one. Make sure to survive your battles!” he said while charging straight for the biggest Krampus of all.


* * * * * *  

Weise rushed in with his Gora Shield in front of him and his flamdius above it.

TWANG

His shield resonated loudly as Lanze thrust its spear hard against its surface. With a single attack, he was stopped dead in his tracks. Suddenly, he was swept off his feet as the spear butt of Lanze’s weapon knocked him off-balance.

Lanze quickly launched another attack and speared the fallen Weise. Fortunately, he was able to block the attack with his shield and rolled away to safety.

He knelt down and composed himself. His life bar displayed (348,104/350,000 HP). However, he was not given time to formulate a plan, as Lanze launched a storm of spear thrusts at him. All he could do was block with his shield, but it could not cover his entire body.

In only thirty seconds, Weise received 21,000 points of damage from Lanze’s attacks that hit his exposed parts. The Krampus showed no signs of stopping its onslaught.

TWANG

Weise leapt forward and his shield reverberated once more. However, this time it was he who banged it firmly against Lanze’s torso. He stunned the Krampus for three seconds by using his Shield Smack ability. In that time, he focused on hacking off the Krampus’ right arm, with which it held its spear. He delivered three swift strikes, but only dealt 9,000 points of damage and did not accomplish his plan.

The moment Lanze snapped out of its stunned state, it sent the head of its spear towards Weise’s stomach. Weise narrowly escaped by deflecting it with his shield, but the spear head still nicked a portion of his arm and damaged him for 700 points.

He was about to launch another attack with his sword, but Lanze was faster and sent its spear head into his exposed shoulder, knocking him off-balance. Weise fell down and Lanze quickly shoved the Gora Shield away from him.

The shield slid across the floor of the cavernous chamber. It was out of reach, and Weise knew that a storm of spear thrusts was heading his way.

Thankfully, Rasant was close to where his shield landed and kicked it back to him. Weise grabbed the shield and managed to block most of Lanze’s attacks in time.
* * * * * *  

Rasant was facing a Krampus equipped with a sword that was unusually long and thin.

More than eight minutes had passed, but the two of them were in a stalemate. Rasant kept a safe distance away from Geirel and continuously lashed his twin whips at the monster. However, each of Rasant’s attacks was perfectly parried by Geirel and it received no damage during their entire battle.

The past week, Rasant’s brothers helped him improve his defensive stance. While using it, he could evade most attacks, but in exchange, he would often end up dealing no damage as well.

Weise and Stark’s training proved effective, in the sense that his life bar was left pristine. Yet, he felt restrained and not himself. Deep inside, he felt that this fighting style was not suited for him.

Rasant watched the situation inside the cavernous chamber and knew that he had to tip the odds in his favor soon. Cracking his twin whips wildly, he performed a wide attack that created an opening for the monster.

Geirel parried his whips and charged forward into his space. Yet, before it could reach him, Rasant expertly flicked his wrists and his barbed whips encircled around Geirel’s arms and caught the steaming Krampus. The initial attack dealt 3,000 points of damage, but he didn’t stop there.

The orange Maneator used the momentum of the zooming monster against it. He pulled his barbed whips as hard as he could and Geirel was forced down to the floor and slid towards him fast. He then pulled out his barbed whips from around the monster’s arms and ripped out pieces of its flesh.

With Geirel on the ground and its back exposed, Rasant’s rapid whip cracking made eight afterimages of his barbed weapon as it whipped against the Krampus’ back.

The Krampus remained on the ground for four seconds and received a total damage of 24,000 points, but before Rasant could do any more damage, Geirel leapt forward and countered with a double slash squarely on his body. Thankfully, his reflexes allowed him to step back, and Geirel’s attack only  left a shallow cross-shaped wound on his chest.

Despite being hit, Rasant did not cower. He attacked with the sharp ends of his twin whips’ handle and stabbed it into the Krampus’ side.

On account of his strong counterattack, Geirel backed away. However, this did not change the fact that Rasant received 6,000 points of damage from such a light attack.

He did not mind being damaged by their exchange, just as long as he could dish out more. He cracked his whips again and prepared for another similar attack.

He created a wide opening and Geirel went in for the bait head first, but this time, Geirel was much faster than before and it escaped his barbed whips.

The Krampus shook its extraordinarily long sword on the side and revealed its true form. The lengthy blade extended its reach even further by dividing into segments connected by a single metallic line. Geirel’s weapon was actually a whip sword.

It wrapped its unique weapon around Rasant’s left arm and snaked its way around his waist. With one swift motion, Geirel pulled back its whip sword, gashing the orange Maneators flesh.

Rasant received 18,000 points of damage, but he steeled himself and both his barbed whips latched onto Geirel’s neck. He pulled it hard until the monster’s blood started to flow down the metal thorns attached to his whips.

This time, he dealt 10,000 points of damage. Right after he received Bleeding status from the Krampus last attack, he also inflicted the same status on Geirel.

Since the Krampus could not break free, it extended its whip sword and wrapped it around Rasant’s arms. It was a contest of whose body parts would come off first.

However, Rasant was at a clear disadvantage, as Geirel had twice as much health than him.

Suddenly, a red Maneator came flying from across the chamber and knocked Geirel off-balance, forcing both Rasant and the Krampus to the ground.
* * * * * *  

WALLOP

Stark was smashed hard against the wall. He saw that Rasant was having trouble with his opponent and thought to help him, but he was sent flying in their direction instead.

‘This was not what Stark had in mind, but Stark still happy to have helped brother Rasant,’ he thought to himself before charging back towards Gavel.

Ever since he fought against the Gargantuan Goblins, Stark longed to face more sizeable opponents. He enjoyed the rare find of fighting monsters as large as himself.

However, he felt cheated against this enemy. His Rzeka glaive looked like a toothpick compared to Gavel’s war hammer.

Thankfully, while they were training with Rasant to improve his defense, Stark gained some tutelage under Weise and learned how to anticipate an enemy’s attack. Due to this, he was able to move faster than Gavel, until he glanced over Rasant’s fight and got attacked from behind.

Stark got back in front of Gavel for a rematch. His life bar displayed (378,298/410,000 HP) while the monster he was facing had (381,900/400,000 HP). He had a lower life at the moment, but he was getting the hang of Gavel’s swings with its war hammer.

The Krampus created deep impressions in the ground and the walls of the chamber each time it missed an attack, whereas the red Maneator delivered quick and precise stabs with his glaive.

Stark knew that if he kept this reserved fighting style, he would win in the end. Ten more minutes into their battle and he had dealt a crushing 310,000 points of damage on Gavel while staying barely untouched. He still had 81% on his life bar while Gavel had 18% left. The only times Stark was harmed was when the debris that scattered as a result of Gavel’s splash damage would hit him.

‘Thanks to my brothers and my king, Stark is stronger now,’ he thought proudly.

Then, a bright flash of blue light blinded them, and all fighting stopped momentarily. He wondered who made that attack, and took a gander at the situation of his comrades.

Smoke had 65% on his life bar while the Krampus he was facing had 40%. On the other side of the chamber, Weise had 40% on his, while his enemy had 38%. Finally, Stark’s eyes went to Rasant. He was alarmed when he found his brother half dead on the floor with 5% left on his life bar and was profusely bleeding to death. He searched for Rasant’s opponent but smiled when he found the Krampus’ hooves, hide, horns, embryo and weapon next to him.

‘Rasant is always fastest,’ he thought to himself and grinned. ‘Time to finish this.’ As he turned to face his opponent, a war hammer connected with his cheek.

The red Maneator was knocked five meters back but quickly regained his footing. That one critical blow reduced his life bar to (310,750/410,000 HP). It was the strongest strike he had taken thus far, but it also triggered his rage as he blindly charged after Gavel.
* * * * * *  

Smoke had to use his black metal rods’ stronger ability, Lightning Strike. He crossed both metal rods together and aimed at Rasant’s enemy. In a blinding flash, a blue lightning bolt hit Geirel directly in its back and inflicted 51,400 points of damage to it.

With Rasant’s enemy paralyzed, Smoke resumed fighting the Krampus called Beil, and left Rasant to finish off his enemy.

After using his lightning rod’s ultimate ability, he realized that it would be more effective when he had a higher Lightning Affinity, but for now the weapon’s Lightning Shock ability proved to be more useful, as it had a lower cooldown.

Smoke also had the Beast Monarch ability, which he inherited from König Mitleid, that tripled his damage to beast-type monsters. Coupled with the fact that he had trained with Eskrima sticks in the real world, he was literally dancing circles around the massive Beil.

Although he was leading the Krampus around, it was not an assurance that he had this battle in the bag. It took him more than twenty minutes to reduce Beil’s life bar to (171,900/450,000 HP), but it only took three strikes from the Krampus’ double-edged axe and his life bar was reduced to almost half at (118,298/181,997HP).

‘Rasant’s battle is over, but I can’t count on him to back the others up, considering his injuries,’ he thought to himself while backing away strategically from Beil as he assessed the situation of his other Maneators. ‘Stark’s about to finish up his battle, so he should be able to help Weise soon.’

He was extremely thankful that Stark overpowered his opponent, otherwise one of his precious Maneators would have been lost in such a meaningless battle.

After confirming that his Maneators were safe, he focused solely on battling Beil.

He darted into Beil’s zone and dodge multiple swings of its giant axe. He then used his black rods’ Lightning Shock ability which paralyzes the Krampus for three seconds. During this time, Smoke and Igniz dished out as much damage as they could. Owing to its efficiency, Smoke relied on the same attack pattern.

He struck both metal rods hard against Beil’s joints in hopes of putting its limbs out of commission. He would stop attacking before three seconds were up so that he could jump away to safety.

He was repeating the same pattern again. However, this time, he jumped a split second too late, and Beil’s axe came straight towards his face. Due to the lightning rods’ short length, Smoke could not completely parry the attack and got damaged by Beil’s surprise attack.

Still determined to finish off the Krampus by himself, Smoke went in and attacked with another Lightning Shock. It connected, and he bashed his metal rods against Beil’s arms for eight swift strikes.

Smoke backed away as he realized that he should no longer use the same attack pattern. He spent the next two minutes away from his opponent, deciding on his course of action.

‘Looks like I’ll have to use that,’ he sighed, as he didn’t want to use this next attack pattern.

“Igniz, time to attack from within,” he ordered, shaking his head.

Without hesitation, his dark ember sprite made a beeline for Beil’s head and lodged two fireballs inside its nose. Simultaneously, Smoke sprinted towards the distracted Krampus and struck the monster behind its ear. Due to the blow, Beil was forced to kneel down. He then quickly got behind the monster and pummeled its back with his twin weapons.

The whole time Smoke was attacking the monster, Igniz remained in front of Beil and kept distracting it with fireballs to the face. Then, Beil’s axe turned golden again, but this time it didn’t go after Smoke. Instead, it went after Igniz.

This was the reason why Smoke didn’t want to use this strategy, as it would place Igniz in danger.

He instantly stopped attacking the Krampus and leapt in between Beil’s Axe and Igniz. He made a cross guard with his twin lightning rods but was not able to properly defend against the powerful attack. He was blown away and hurtled on the floor until his back made contact with the wall.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaah!” Smoke let out a battle cry in order to drive away the excruciating pain he felt in his spine. He searched for Igniz and found his symbiote alive, beside Beil.

While Smoke was thinking of a plan to finish off Beil, Igniz kept directly attacking Beil’s face, even if it meant that he was putting his life in danger. This was his way of giving Smoke the time he needed to strike. 

Smoke made a mad dash for Beil and cleared the distance of five meters between him and the Krampus in record time.

He bravely stepped in front of the Krampus and began to pummel it with his twin lightning rods at full tilt.

As Smoke expected, Beil’s axe glowed with a golden light. He instinctively jumped back, but the Krampus had swung its battle axe and sliced a part of his stomach.

Instead of dodging the Krampus’ next attack, he braved the powerful axe’s damage by parrying it to the side. Then, he jumped on the axe and leapt towards Beil’s face. He plunged his twin lightning rods into its eyes and simultaneously activated two Lightning Shocks at point blank range.

BZZZT BZZZT BOOSH

He successfully delivered two direct Lightning Shocks and dealt the finishing blow to Beil’s life bar, which finally displayed zero.

+ Your party has dealt a fatal blow to the Krampus: Beil.

+ Your party killed the Krampus: Beil.

+ Your party gained 600,000 experience.

+ Level Up!


Smoke ignored the notification message and rushed to his dark ember sprite.

“Igniz, are you okay?” he asked his symbiote.

His dark ember sprite bobbed to indicate that he was fine. Smoke then proceeded to pick up the loot Beil dropped.

+ Acquired Krampus hide

+ Acquired Krampus horns

+ Acquired Krampus hooves

+ Acquired Krampus embryo

+ Acquired rare axe: Oxen Edge


He would have wanted to inspect Beil’s weapon, but first checked to see the conclusion of Weise’s battle. He glanced over to where the gray Maneator was fighting and found Weise and Stark standing over Lanze’s corpse before its body could fade away.

Stark had finished off Gavel and immediately helped out Weise afterwards. Then; Smoke, Igniz, Weise and Rasant went over to where Rasant was.

Rasant had propped himself into a sitting position against the chamber’s wall and was applying the Lioumereans’ healing herbs by himself.

“Smoke, I know I was being reckless, but I had to. Otherwise, that monster would have joined in on you guys…” Rasant started to explain himself.

“Don’t worry about it. You did great, focus on recovering,” said Smoke proudly as he knelt beside the orange Maneator. He activated his Heart of ReenTe necklace and regenerated as much health as his mana allowed. Then, he started replenishing Rasant’s life bar by using Life Share.

While he was healing Rasant, the other two Maneators walked closer to him and knelt down in front of him.

“Weise, you okay to move?” he asked the gray Maneator.

“Of course my, King,” responded Weise at once. “I don’t have any status ailments, and after a short rest, I should be good to go.”

Smoke smiled at his two Maneators. “What about you, Stark? Any injuries? You were very impressive in this battle.”

“Stark did what was expected. Protecting you and brothers is what Stark lives for,” answered the red Maneator while huffing proudly after being praised by Smoke.

“Alright. I want you two to gather the rest of the loot while I patch up our fearless friend here,” he said jokingly as he teased Rasant’s do-or-die behavior.

At once, the two Maneators left and gathered the other items. They returned in no time and gave them to Smoke.

+ Acquired Krampus hide [3 pieces]

+ Acquired Krampus horns [3 pieces]

+ Acquired Krampus hooves [3 pieces]

+ Acquired Krampus embryo [3 pieces]

+ Acquired rare whip sword: Serpent Fang

+ Acquired rare war hammer: Gorilla Fist

+ Acquired rare spear: Narwhal Horn


His lips formed a grin as he observed the looted Maneator ingredients and rare weapons. With Rasant and Weise still recovering, Smoke decided to rest inside the cavernous chamber. He prepared medicinal ancient bison stew and served it to the Maneators.

Weise made a fuss about being served by Smoke, but he quickly dismissed it. Thirty minutes later, their life bars were fully recovered.

After resting, Smoke spoke to his Maneators. “Rasant, Weise and Stark, it is time to receive your rewards.”

“Rasant, due to your impetuous nature, I give you Geirel’s Serpent Fang. It has an ability called ‘Death’s Embrace’, which coils the segmented parts of the sword around an enemy and inflicts Bleeding status. May this whip sword help you kill your enemies faster, and in turn save your life,” he said with a smile and gave the weapon to the orange Maneator. Rasant smiled and was about to reply with a winded speech, but Smoke stopped him and approached the gray Maneator.

“Weise, for your clever guidance to your brothers, I give you Lanze’s Narwhal Horn. It has the ‘Poison Jab’ ability, which strikes the enemy eight times and inflicts Poisoned status. May it help you guide you and your brothers to a long and honorable life.”

Weise bowed down even lower and thanked his king.

Smoke then turned to the red Maneator.

“Stark, for your outstanding performance, I give you Gavel’s Gorilla Fist. This weapon is more worthy of your talent, as you have clearly outgrown the Rzeka glaive. Its ability is ‘Ground Shatter’, which damages and stuns enemies around you.”

Stark reached out and grasped the war hammer with one hand and lifted it over his head.

“Now that you’ve received your rewards, let’s head out and increase our strength even further,” he declared boldly and led the way out of the cavernous chamber.

Smoke, Igniz and his Maneators all stepped inside into the tight labyrinth tunnel. At two and half meters, Rasant had to slightly bend his neck. Yet Stark and Weise had to stoop down in order to fit through it.

As soon as they entered, Smoke received a notification.

+ Entered Labyrinth of Zuchthaus

      > Monsters inside the labyrinth are beyond logic
      > Suggested level for entering the labyrinth is 400


He grinned as he saw it. He signaled his party to follow him as they headed for the place where Smoke created them, the hidden Tenebris Laboratory beneath the Chamber of Fire.

 

* * * * * *  

On the way to one of the elemental chambers in the Labyrinth, they encountered numerous wolf spiders, crested newts and fire salamanders. Yet no matter how many of these monsters came, they stood no chance against Smoke and his party. They even met a few Krampus along the way, but these monsters ran away as soon as they saw the rare weapons that his Maneators were carrying.

It took them two days to reach the hidden chamber of Fire. He observed the lone pedestal in the center of the room and walked over to it. He then placed a Krampus embryo on top of it. The whole chamber shook as an opening appeared in the floor behind the pedestal. It revealed a staircase towards the Tenebris laboratory.

Together with Igniz and the Maneators, Smoke went downstairs. The hidden laboratory was double the size of the chamber of Fire. Several tables were placed against its walls.

However, its most prominent feature were five blood crystals attached to its ceiling. Directly below them was a gigantic casting circle with five pentagrams on its edges, designed to form a star.

After seeing the laboratory tables filled with papers, flasks, burners, tubes and other tools for the Tenebris’ experiments, he remembered that he had acquired ability tomes here but wasn’t able to use them at the time.

He quickly searched for them inside his backpack. He took a look at the tomes entitled “Wind Manipulation”,”Lightning Manipulation”, “Thunder Storm”, “Ice Wall”, “Mana Shield”, “Volcano”, “Soul Drain”, “Lightning Golem” and “Water Golem”.

Sadly, he still didn’t fulfill the requirements for learning any of them. The ones there was yet hope for were Wind Manipulation, Lightning Manipulation and Volcano.

Wind Manipulation and Lightning Manipulation required 50% Affinity to their respective elements, while Volcano was a melded ability of Fire and Earth, requiring 85% Affinity to both.

Smoke quickly opened his Affinity window.

> Elemental Affinity:

Fire:             90%
Earth:          78%
Poison:        52%
Lightning:  38%
Wind:          25%


‘Just 12% more and I’ll be able to learn Lightning Manipulation,’ thought an excited Smoke. He planned to use Aral’s lightning rods to increase his Lightning Affinity.

Yet it was not the time to do that. It was time to make a new friend.

As it had been a while since he had last done it, he opened his Acquired Knowledged window and searched for ‘Maneator Creation’.

* Maneator Creation

  Consumable Ingredients:
     1 Embryo
     2 Horns
     2 Hooves
     1 Maneator DNA
     1 Maneator Essence
     1 flask of Cervisiarius potion.

  Non-Consumable Ingredients:
     1 Elemental Catalyst
     1 Attribute Disc

  Procedure:
   1. Place DNA, Essence, Elemental catalyst and Attribute disc onto different pentagram patterns.
   2. Place Horns and Hooves onto the remaining pentagram pattern.
   3. Place Embryo in the center of the casting circle.
   4. Draw a giant pentagram by using a Cervisiarius potion to connect the smaller pentagram patterns.
   5. Kneel in front of the casting circle and place both hands on it.
   6. Chant the words ‘comminuet autem, et ponet eam coniungere vivere’ to activate the casting circle.

   Note: Consumes 90,000 Mana.


After remembering the process, he quickly whipped up a big batch of the golden colored potion called Cervisiarius.

The last time they were here, Smoke and Espion gathered two Attribute discs, ten Maneator Essences and twenty Maneator DNA samples. He had already used three of the Essences to create Rasant, Stark and Weise. After taking out the remaining ingredients, he placed all of them on one of the tables.

He then took out the eighth Maneator Essence and a special Maneator DNA sample labeled “hybrid class”. He followed the instructions and placed those, along with other required ingredients, onto the pentagrams. Then, he was in a conundrum as to which Attribute disc to use. He inspected both discs to help him decide.

* Arma Dominus

  Offense-focused Disc

  Gives your creation:
  + Increased Attack
  + Increased Movement Speed
  + Treated as an Assassin regarding weapon restrictions
  + Decreased Life
  + Decreased Defense


* Dominus Custos

  Defense-focused Disc

  Gives your creation:
  + Increased Defense
  + Increased Life
  + Treated as a Knight regarding weapon restrictions
  + Decreased Movement Speed
  + Decreased Attack Speed


Smoke preferred Dominus Custos, which he had used on both Weise and Stark, giving them higher survivability. This preference originated from constantly seeing Rasant in near-death situations during his battles.

‘If it’s going to be anything like Mitleid, I should use Arma Dominus, but if I want the new Mitleid to live longer. I should use Dominus Custos,’ he debated with himself on which disc to use.

In the end, he chose Dominus Custos, as he couldn’t bear the thought of losing Mitleid for the second time. He knelt down in front of the pentagram and placed both his hands on the massive casting circle.

“Comminuet autem, et ponet eam coniungere vivere,” he chanted loudly.

A bright red light enveloped Smoke, and 90,000 of his mana was consumed.

The same red light shone from the blood crystals on the ceiling. It quickly turned the golden liquid inside the casting circle dark red.

The consumable ingredients faded out of existence, and a slender body started to take shape in the center of the casting circle.

After two minutes, a Maneator whose skin had the color of gold stepped out of the casting circle. The Maneator was three meters tall, exactly the same height as König Mitleid. However, there was a major difference between the two: the golden Maneator was a female.

“Hello. My name is Smoke,” he spoke in a calm manner. Secretly, he was excited about the unexpected development, but didn’t let it show. “Do you remember anything?” He wondered if she inherited any of König Mitleid’s memories.

“No…” she spoke softly while shaking her head. Looking around the Tenebris laboratory, her eyes wandered to the three Maneators behind Smoke, and then to Igniz, who hovered above him. Finally, her gaze went back to Smoke. “Are you my father?” she asked with uncertainty.

“Yes, you could say that,” he replied with a sincere smile. “Can I call you Königin Mitleid?”

The golden Maneator paused for a bit, then shook her head strongly. “No….” She tilted her head down, closed her eyes and put her hand on her heart. “I’d like to be called…Adelige Mitleid.”

Smoke nodded in agreement. “Adelige Mitleid it is.”

Then, a notification window popped up.

+ Adelige Mitleid has joined your Personal Army
 Adelige Mitleid is the scion of König Mitleid and the fourth Maneator the DarkElf named Smoke created.

 Level: 106
 Job: Guardian
 Loyalty: 100
 Favorite Weapon: None
 Equipped Weapon: None

 Abilities:

 Exceed Break: Channeling ability that makes the user’s next attack deal five times more damage
 Rage Burst: Temporarily reduces Defense to 0 and adds the subtracted value to Attack
 Prestige: Passively increases Defense by 50% and gives a chance to evade magic damage
 Maneator Heart: Health Regeneration rate is increased by 300%
 Noblesse Oblige: Increases HP of other Maneators within 100 meters by 10%


“Welcome to the family, Adelige,” declared Smoke and called the other three Maneators over to welcome her as well. He introduced each of them to her.

Afterwards, he took an item out of his backpack and presented it to her..

“Adelige, as a welcoming gift, I give you Oxen Edge. This double-edged axe has the ‘Minus Force’ ability, which passively adds the difference between yours and your opponent’s Defense to your Attack.”

The golden Maneator accepted the weapon and bowed down to him.

Enlivened by the results of his latest Maneator creation, he readied himself to have another go at it. He had enough materials to make four more Maneators, but his mana could only suffice to make one more at the time.

Again, Smoke prepared the ingredients and placed them onto their respective pentagrams. He put his hands on the casting circle and chanted the same words as before.

However, the red light that was supposed to envelop him didn’t appear. The ingredients were all still there, as well.

“What happened?” Smoke asked out loud.

His Maneators did not reply, as they were also confused.

Smoke took a look at his mana bar and saw that 90,000 points weren’t consumed.

Then, Weise spoke out. “Look, the crystals on the ceiling.”

He looked up to see that the blood crystals had lost their crimson color and became transparent.

‘Did they run out of power or something?’ he thought to himself.

“Does this mean you can’t create any more of us?” asked Rasant with a concerned look on his face.

After taking a moment to think about it, Smoke responded, “They’re blood crystals, right? So, maybe they just need more blood to power them. Let me give it a try.”

He equipped his climbing gear and started scaling the walls using Claws of Chiropterra. He moved closer to the crystals and secured his harness. Once safely hanging from the ceiling, he unequipped his gloves and cut his palm on the sharp, pointed end of one of the crystals. He then smeared his blood over it in hopes that the crystal would absorb it, but nothing happened.

“It didn’t work,” he said out loud, disappointed.

“Maybe we can find a clue to how to revive the crystals somewhere in the laboratory,” suggested Weise and started going through the stacks of papers on the tables.

“Good idea,” said Smoke.

Together, Smoke and the Maneators searched the entire laboratory, but had no luck at finding anything related to the blood crystals.

“Well, it has been a long time since the Tenebris stopped creating Maneators,” he shared his thought. However, his companions looked gloomy.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure there’s a way to get the crystals working again,” Smoke hurriedly added. “I’ll ask Darius when we get out of the Labyrinth.”

Smoke spent the next couple of minutes lightening the mood but had little effect. He decided it’d be best for them to get out of the laboratory and start moving towards the Maneator Emergence Chamber. But before that, he needed to log out and take his scheduled nap.
* * * * * *  

Checking the map, he discovered that the special chamber Guro talked about was on the opposite side of the labyrinth. Although concerned about the amount of time it would take them to get to it, he welcomed the idea of bonding with his Maneators. It took them three days to reach the chamber.

Smoke was puzzled, as he was standing in front of a plain wall. He double-checked the map, and it indicated that the chamber was right behind the wall. He searched for any clues or writings on the wall, but there were none.

He had the Maneators try to break down the wall, but it was impervious to their attacks. He also tried using Earth Manipulation, even though he already knew that he couldn’t manipulate the earth inside the Labyrinth.

They had spent more than ten minutes searching for a way inside the wall before it hit him: ‘If it’s not on the wall, maybe it’s somewhere else.’ He ordered Igniz and the Maneators to search in the ceiling and the floor.

A few minutes later, Adelige found a keyhole on the far end of the floor. “King Smoke, over here,” she called out. In view of the fact that Weise kept calling him “King”, Adelige picked it up as well.

Smoke ardently took out the Labyrinth key that he got from König Mitleid and slid it into the keyhole. The plain wall opened up, revealing a doorway. He took a step forward and tried to enter it but was stopped by an invisible forcefield.

A hooded apparition wearing a gray robe appeared before them.

“Only the Maneators sanctioned by the Tenebris or the Maneator King may enter,” said the hooded figure.

“I am the Maneator King,” claimed Smoke boldy.

“Indeed, you have the aura of one. You shall now be tested to see if you should be granted access to the chamber,” stated the apparition flatly.

“No problem,” answered Smoke.

“Listen closely,” spoke the apparition. “A group of five explorers enter a cave near the sea. A cave-in occurs and massive rocks block their way out. They are trapped inside the cave.”

Smoke nodded as he intently listened to the apparition.

“The five explorers search for a way out. One of them, Taba, finds a hole barely big enough to fit through. He acts hastily and gets stuck in the hole with his head sticking out.” The apparition’s voice showed no emotion. “Taba calls for help. The other explorers try to free him but fail. Seawater comes rushing in due to high tide. Noticing the watermarks reaching the ceiling, the four explorers realize that the cave will be submerged. They will surely drown, except for Taba, whose head is sticking out of the cave.”

After a slight pause, it continued, “One of the explorers takes out a small explosive from his backpack. It is not enough to remove the rubble blocking the cave entrance. However, it is enough to expand the hole Taba is in and free the other four explorers, but surely kill Taba in the process.”

The apparition stopped talking and faced Smoke. “What would you do? Would you kill Taba and save yourself and three more people? Or would you let Taba live? These are your only options.”

Smoke covered his face with his hand while thinking of an answer.

‘If I was in such a situation, I would not stop until I found another solution. But this apparition says I only have two choices. Is it testing what kind of person I am?’ he wondered to himself.

A few minutes passed and Smoke made his choice.

“I would use the explosive. A single life is important, but the lives of four people outweigh it,” he replied somberly, as he didn’t like the apparition’s question.

“You are a logical and wise King. You and your Maneators may enter,” explained the apparition torpidly before fading away.

Smoke wondered what would have happened if he had chosen the other answer. He quickly dismissed the thought and told Igniz to wait for them outside. He asked the Maneators to follow him into the hidden chamber.

Once inside, they discovered a white marble room with a small pool at its center. Smoke estimated that only two Maneators could fit inside it. Then, he noticed a note was written on the wall.

* Maneator Emergence Chamber

  Bathe in the pool and embrace your beastial existence.


Smoke ordered the Maneators to remain on the side of the pool while he tested the waters out. He didn’t know if there would be any negative side-effects to the emergence ritual. He unequipped his gloves, body armor and boots, leaving only his accessories and pants on.

He lowered himself into the deep pool and went under the cold water. Rising above the water’s surface moments later, he grabbed onto the side of the pool and ran his hand through his long, white hair. A notification window popped up.

+ Learned Ability: Asterian Aura
  (Passive)
  Level: Beginner Level 1
  Experience: (10/1,000,000)

  > Increases your Attack by 10%
  > The effect stacks when in close proximity to other Asterian Aura users
  > Maximum increase is capped at 100%


While getting used to the temperature of the water, Smoke called for his Maneators to form a line. He ordered them to enter the pool one by one.

After his fourth Maneator finished the emergence ritual, Smoke checked his Asterian Aura bonus and was amazed to see a 50% increase in his attack power.

As they gathered outside the chamber, Weise turned to him. “What do we do next, King Smoke?”

Smoke checked his map. They still had two places left to explore: the Labyrinth Arena and the Surface Entrance.

“Time to go hunting. It’s Krampus season,” he answered with a devilish grin.

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