Author: John Nest
Warning: This chapter hasn’t been edited or proofread…
A Drop–in Meeting
Guro drilled the ways of the Gladiator into one thousand Farmers of Verbrannt. Some of them already had battle experience, while others only recently joined. They were inspired by Smoke and his private army’s action to fight for their home and for the freedom of anyone who were oppressed like they were.
She had the Blacksmiths of Verbrannt manufacture heavy iron castings for their three-pronged spears. Before the sun rose, she had them jog around the village for four straight hours.
After which, they would fight each other in mock combat for three hours. After lunch, she would lecture them on the methods and techniques to efficiently use the spear.
In the afternoon they would toil the farmlands with a heavy plow and pull it by hand. As soon as the sun would set they would all line up and repeat the Ranseurs’ forms for another two hours.
At night they were told to rest as they would repeat the same exact day, but only with a weight of five kilos added to their armors.
Meanwhile, the Bowed Fishermen, who had also increased in numbers, now reached seven-hundred-twenty members. Guro also turned her attention to them. She asked Thyrsus, Vijaya, Sharanga and Ichaival to assemble war chariots for them to ride on. Smoke’s core members delegated the task to the craftsman of Verbrannt, and provided them with three hundred. The chariots were pulled by one aardwolf and it was big enough so that three people could easily fit inside while still having enough space to attack with their bows.
In the morning, she had them undergo training that involved using their bows while riding on the war chariots. Their targets were a column of poles lined up in a straight line. Whenever a Bowed Fishermen missed the target, they were ordered to jump off the war chariot and fire at the same target on foot until they could catch up to the war chariot.
In the afternoon, Guro asked the trained Ranseurs from Tatlong, Lugar and Pinagsama to help train them. The Ranseurs would charge at their war chariots and tried to attack their vehicle. While the trainees had colored-powder arrowheads and were instructed to stop as many as they could while maneuvering around them. The Ranseurs who got powdered would retire from the chase and were considered dead.
The Bowed Fishermen stopped most of their pursuers, but eventually, they would always be caught. Similar to the Armored Farmers’ training, the Bowed Fishermen repeated the same tedious exercises.
This was the life of the Armored Farmers and the Bowed Fishermen for the past few days. Until, the Armored Farmers fought well in formations with their heavy encased tridents and the Bowed Fishermen finally reached a point where they could powder all their chasers without being captured at all.
After their training was completed, Guro turned Verbrannt’s Armored Farmers into Ranseurs and the Bowed Fishermen into Arcus, the mounted archers of the Gladiator variants.
As the population of their village was increasing at a rapid pace and was still growing, Smoke’s core members from Nanahuatl Thyrsus, Vijaya, Ichaival, Sharanga, Jinggu and Sharur led a mission for land expansion. Only Laernea and Gandiva were not present as Sierra had taken them with her. They brought with them the Banalite Archers, Acolytes and Iron Knights out to the largest forest near their village.
This forest was located in the outskirts of their southern wall and was called Anbau. Tasked to provide more land posthaste, Smoke’s ranged core members expeditiously entered the forest.
However, Anbau was home to an army of mandrills. These monsters were old primates that closely resembled that of a baboon, only larger. Their levels ranged from 80 up to 110 and their life bars were well beyond 120,000 HP.
They spent the entire week subjugating the ten square kilometer forest. It was difficult, but their accumulated battle experience allowed them to face the mandrills without suffering any casualties. The only trouble they encountered in this endeavor was when Thyrsus and Vijaya had a lovers’ quarrel on which section to go next, and when Ichaival teased Sharanga and he was caught in one of her five trap systems and a group of mandrills attacked them.
Meanwhile, Adder and fifteen of his Condortlian brethren spent the week sharpening their skills on the slopes of mount Engrais. They practiced sword swings, shield blocks and several strategic formations that would ensure their safety. Adder will not allow any of them to go to Mictlan before their time.
Aside from that, they also needed this training in order for them to get to know their new equipment. Adder had asked the Blacksmiths to forge his brothers better weapons.
A Claymore was forged into their bastard swords and made stronger. As a result, they were now thicker, but their weight did not increase by much. As for their shields, they were fashioned into square edges that would interlocked when joined with the same square-edged shield. With this, they could huddle into one solid cube, and could avoid any ranged attacks.
Finally, Ledur and his Tikbalangs used this period to replicate the architectural wonder that was the Gitna Dam, but the dam he created was only less than half of the original one. He used his Earth Manipulation to construct the dam and raised it to a height of forty meters and a span of one kilometer.
Simultaneously, ninety-six Tikbalangs were digging out canals for the irrigation system that would cover the entire farmlands of where the former residents of Tatlong, Lugar and Pinagsama now lived.
As Ledur and his Tikbalang brethren finished earlier than expected, they dug another irrigation system headed in the direction of Anbau forest. He anticipated that Thyrsus and his companions would finish their task soon, and the expanded land could benefit from a clean flowing water supply.
* * * * * *
High noon on the seventh day, Ledur and the Anbau Subjugation Force met outside the walls of Verbrannt.
Smoke’s ranged core private members walked over to Ledur.
Thyrsus shook Ledur’s hand. “That was very proactive of you to prepare a water source here.”
Ledur gave him a small bow in acknowledgement. “It’s a basic necessity.” He then pointed to Anbau Forest. “It’s rather big. It must have been a challenge?”
“It is big, and it becomes even bigger when you have to clear the pesky mandrills inside it,” joked Ichaival.
“Oh, stop complaining. I didn’t hear you whining when you daringly took on the northern side of the forest with only the Banalite Archers,” stated an irritated Sharanga. She pushed Ichaival out of her way as she walked passed them. She headed straight for the village, without looking back.
Ichaival scratched his head. “What did I do this time? We cleared the forest didn’t we?” he asked around his fellow core members. “I really don’t get that girl.”
The twin OrkElves walked past him and shook their heads while chuckling loudly.
“Maybe that’s why you’ll never get that girl,” said Sharur subtly.
“But even if you do understand her, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll still get her,” added Jinggu and winked at his twin.
Sharur instantly stopped laughing and slapped his brother’s back. “Was that really necessary? My situation is different from—” he stopped talking and stormed ahead.
Vijaya, who stood beside Thyrsus, joined in. “As you can see, Ledur, our subjugation of the forest opened up a lot of… emotions.”
Thyrsus looked like he was about to react to what she said, but then saw three war elephants appear out of the clearing instead. “Smoke’s here!” he shouted as he pointed to the thunderous noise the massive mounts were making. Sharanga and Sharur stopped walking into the village to welcome their respected leader.
Smoke and his Maneators got down from the war elephants. Igniz happily orbited around the core private army members and expressed how he had missed them.
However, the core members couldn’t give the flying dark ember sprite the proper attention, as they stared in awe at the golden Maneator.
“I’m sure all of you would like to know who she is,” said Smoke proudly. “Allow me to introduce, Adelige Mitleid, scion of König Mitleid.”
Adelige made a dainty bow before them. “I am pleased to meet all of you,” she said shyly. “King Smoke and my brothers have told me of your adventures and of your kindness.”
Immediately, all of the present core members went to Adelige and welcomed her with either a hug or a handshake. Rasant, Stark and Weise started bragging on about their sister’s prowess inside the Labyrinth. About how she never got damaged despite of being mobbed inside one of its great halls.
While his core members were exchanging war stories, Smoke spoke with Ledur.
“So, what have you been up to while I was away?” he asked innocently.
Ledur passively pointed to the forty-meter tall dam protruding above Verbrannt’s wall.
“You made your own Gitna Dam?!” exclaimed an astonished Smoke. “That must have taken you ages.”
“No, just seven days,” replied Ledur passively.
“Right,” said Smoke with a smirk. “I would love to take a closer look at it, but I’ll have to do it later. Sierra said that she’s going to arrive soon.”
“Sierra’s also returning today?” asked a surprised Ledur.
“Yeah. I spoke with her in our world, and agreed to return to Verbrannt at this time today,” explained Smoke. “I guess she must be late.”
Before their conversation could go any further, a dust cloud appeared from the opposite clearing.
Smoke used his Telefax Vision and whistled loudly when he saw what caused the dust cloud. “And here I thought I’d impress her with Adelige,” he said out loud and shook his head in disbelief. “She said she would surprise me, but this is ridiculous.”
As she rode in Gandiva’s war carriage, Sierra led an army behind her. There were two Werebears he had never seen before riding in Laernea’s war carriage. A pack of sixty-two Werewolves followed them on the right and a mounted regiment of over sixty Elemental Knights on the left. Mamelon’s aqua armor shone brightly above the rest of the Knights as she rode in front of them.
As impressive as those two divisions already were, they were not the reason why Smoke stood awestruck at Sierra’s arrival.
Rather, it was because of over four-thousand Lioumereans who followed after them. All four sub-races of the Lioumereans were present.
From their appearance, he surmised that they were the wandering tribes that Laernea had told him about before. They also brought their livestock, a creature called mouflon, which were similar to sheep, but had red and brown wool and the horns of a ram.
After a few more minutes, Sierra and her group finally arrived in front of Smoke. At the sight of the cuddly red Werebear, he remembered how he searched for her when he returned with Guro and the other refugees.
Suddenly, a strong urge to hug Sierra overcame him. This feeling was so strong that he failed to notice the smug look on her face as she was walking towards him.
“So, what do you think of the wandering Lioumereans?” she gloated. “It was a bit difficult convincing them to join. We had to travel to a lot of places to get to all of them, but we—”
Smoke didn’t answer. Instead, he ran to her and pulled her in for a tight hug.
“Welcome home,” he said in a whisper as he rested his head against her soft red fur.
Sierra was taken by surprise, but hugged him back with the same intensity. “I missed you too,” she bent her head down and spoke softly in his ear.
They ended their embrace and held each other’s hand. Sierra then looked at him curiously. “Not that I’m complaining, but what was that for?”
A smiling Smoke shrugged. “I don’t know. Just felt like hugging you, I guess.”
Abruptly, Sharur walked over to them and forcibly coughed. “Welcome back, Sierra. I have… I mean we have successfully cleared up Anbau forest and it is now ready for residency.”
As the rest of the core members walked over to them, Thyrsus interjected. “I’m sorry, Sharur, but it’s not yet finished. We still have to put up new walls, clear up the trees, build their houses—”
“Yeah, yeah, we get it. We still have plenty of work to do before it’s usable,” grumbled Sharur and stopped Thyrsus from talking any further.
Smoke stepped in between them and shifted the conversation. “Let’s talk about that later. For now, let’s welcome our new arrivals.”
“Right!” quickly added Sierra and faced the Lioumereans. “I’d like you all to meet our newest residents of Verbrannt. The Lioumereans from the wandering tribes of Lenord, Lesud, Levant and Louest.”
Smoke and the core members clapped loudly as they smiled at the Lioumereans.
“Due to their large numbers, they were often shunned in villages or cities. So, they had to travel all over Wysteria to allow their mouflons to graze.”
Four Lioumereans of each sub-race stepped forward to meet with Smoke.
A panther Lioumerean bowed first. “I am Curieux Rosse. Leader of the Lenord Tribe.”
Next, was a cheetah Lioumerean who bowed down before Smoke. “The people of Lesud call me, Larron Rosse.”
“Badin Rosse’s the name. From the Levant Tribe,” said a tiger Lioumerean who followed afterwards.
Finally, it was the turn of the lion Lioumerean. “And I am Imiter Rosse from the Louest Tribe.”
“Nice to meet you all,” greeted Smoke with a smile and lowered his head before the four leaders of the Lioumerean tribes.
Smoke scratched his head and had to ask the question he had been wondering right after they introduced themselves. “I hope this isn’t offensive, but why do all of you have Rosse in your names?”
Imiter answered on behalf of the other Lioumerean tribe heads. “It is a leader’s duty to add Rosse to their name. This to remind all the Lioumereans that we are of one kind, even if our appearance may slightly differ.”
Smoke smiled after he heard Imiter’s answer. “That’s very nice, but I think all of us belong to one family. Elves, Maneators, Tikbalangs or Lioumereans, all of us are alive and share the same world.”
“Such wise words,” said Imiter with admiration. “I think, Sierra, was right. We will be welcomed here in Verbrannt.”
Then, all four Lioumerean leaders spoke in unison. “We and our tribesmen offer our fealty to you and Verbrannt.”
“Thank you, but I think you should offer it to Sierra,” said Smoke and pulled her beside him.
The Lioumereans did not question him, but told him that they already offered her the same respect and loyalty.
“Now, let’s all go inside the village and feast!” cried out Smoke for everyone to hear.
* * * * * *
Under the heat of the scorching midday sun, loud drums echoed throughout Verbrannt as all of its residents celebrated in the village square to share in a communal lunch.
The wandering Lioumereans immediately showcased their strength as they set up tents over the square which covered more than four hundred tables filled with delectable dishes. These were spread all around the square to accommodate Verbrannt’s current population of over sixteen thousand people.
It was a perfect setup for everyone to raise their Intimacy with each other. The newcomers mingled with those who had stayed longer and swapped stories and opened business opportunities.
In the midst of the celebration, Smoke wanted to go to a more intimate location with Sierra, but his mind dwelled on the fact that his core members from Nanahuatl felt estranged with one another.
So, instead of a romantic boat ride for two, Smoke and Sierra broke bread with his core members. They sat in a table filled with scrumptious food, but it was dulled by surrounding heavy air of awkwardness.
To break the silence, Smoke began to tell them of his return to the labyrinth and how he created Adelige. This sparked an interest in his core members as they asked question after question.
After Smoke shared his latest exploits in Zuchthaus, he asked the Hunters on their subjugation quest of Anbau forest.
As soon as they started sharing what happened in Anbau, squabbles of each other’s actions erupted. Smoke raised his hand and asked each one of them to tell their side of the story.
Ichaival went first. “When I was assigned to take the northern part of the forest, I wasn’t trying to show off when I asked to only have the Banalite Archers. I did that because I knew we would only be facing a few mandrills.”
“How did you figure that?” asked Smoke curiously.
“Well, Sharanga had the western side while Sharur and Jinggu had the eastern. I knew that their forces would expand more to the north and cover most of my area. So, I just had the Archers station on top of the trees and finish off the mandrills who tried to escape by the treetops.”
The rest of the Nanahuatlanos quieted down and looked shamefully at their food. They knew that each of them had their own reasons for acting out on their own, but at the end of the day they knew that they always had each other’s back.
After Ichaival’s explanation, the mood of their table grew lighter and merrier. Now, that they’ve cleared out the air, Smoke asked them to mingle with the other residents.
As Sierra started walking towards the orphans from Mount Foudre, Smoke grabbed her hand and pulled her into an alleyway.
In a deep voice and a forced accent, Smoke told her. “Come with me if you want to live.”
He then took her to the boats stationed on the canals and rowed away with her to the Murray river. He had to take her away from everyone else in order to avoid any further distractions. There was always someone wanting to talk to them.
While rowing out of Verbrannt, Smoke started explaining why he only managed to make one Maneator, Adelige. Also, Darius’ explanation on how to make the blood crystals working.
“…Darius told me that the Tenebris sacrificed a thousand Zectians to make one blood crystal, and the one in the Tenebris Laboratory needs five blood crystals. So, it looks like I won’t be making any new Maneators anytime soon,” said Smoke. He shook his head, disgusted at the idea of killing thousands of people to gain power.
“I think four Maneators is already plenty,” replied Sierra who sat across him. “And I’m sure the ones who were sacrificed to make them will be proud of the great work they are doing and are about to do.”
Smoke fully agreed as he was already very proud of them.
“But there is one other thing that I gained from my time in the labyrinth,” he said proudly. “I finally reached Master Level for my Agility of the Horned Rabbit. I’ll show it to you one time, but there’s something else I’d like to show you first.”
Now, that they were farther out, he placed the oars in the boat and took out a small earth statue from his backpack.
“It’s not much, but I made it specially for you,” he explained nervously.
It was a small statue of HighElf dressed in a Battle Priestess’s armor.
“I was planning on giving you a useful item from the Labyrinth, but there were none useable for Acolyte variations,” said Smoke and gave her the HighElf statue.
Sierra carefully took the statue with both her paws and examined it. She couldn’t believe the intricate detail done on the armor, but what touched her even more was how Smoke captured her face. It was if she was looking into a more beautiful version of herself.
“I…don’t know what to say,” said a teary eyed Sierra. “Thank you. I’ll treasure this forev—”
Suddenly, they reached a portion of the river that had some rapids, and her Werebear claws accidentally dropped the statue into the water.
Smoke dove in and caught the statue before it sunk to the bottom of the river. He quickly climbed back on board the rowboat.
“I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to drop it. It just slipped out of my hands,” explained Sierra somberly as she stared at her claws.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Smoke. He stowed it back in his backpack and held her claws.
However, Sierra instantly pulled them away. “Apart from fighting, it’s awkward to do anything else in this cursed form,” she said as she stared at herself.
She sat farther down the rowboat.
“Do you know how long I’ve wanted to try cooking here in Zectas, use the amazing items that we loot, use abilities other than Double Slash…and do other things as well,” she said with a hurt voice while staring deeply into his eyes.
Smoke knew that her Werebear form was a nuisance, but he didn’t realize just how much it had bothered her. He then forcibly grabbed her claws. “I swear. You won’t stay in your cursed form for much longer.”
He then pulled her in for a hug. The two of them sat silently in the rowboat, allowing the river to take them wherever its current carried them.
After a few minutes of tranquility, Smoke received an emergency call from his Spy.
“I’m really sorry, but I have to take this,” he apologized profusely and answered. “Espion, what’s wrong?”
“The Duke is finally well enough to see people, but he won’t see me without you,” explained Espion.
“But why would he want to personally talk to me?” asked a puzzled Smoke.
“Why won’t he talk to you? Tell him that you’re my direct representative. Talking to you is just like talking to me,” he replied quickly as he wanted to get back to his personal time with Sierra.
Espion’s voice cracked. “His adviser told me that if you won’t come, then their city will surely be destroyed. At the moment, they Brandals have us surrounded and even I have difficulty leaving the city now. Also, he told me that they have a plan, but it needs your participation.”
A concern look appeared on Smoke’s face. “Centzo’s survival depends on it, huh?”
He caught Sierra’s gaze as she smiled at him faintly.
“You have to go. Otherwise, we would have spent the last few months for nothing,” spoke Sierra in a hushed voice.
Smoke grabbed her hand and squeezed it tightly. “Alright, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
* * * * * *
An hour passed before he received Espion’s call. Smoke was now gliding at his top speed towards Centzo. Always vigilant, Smoke considered the possibility that this was a trap which was why he decided to go there by himself.
Before he left, Smoke, Sierra and the rest of the strategists held a brief meeting. They decided that it was best for their main strike force to leave for Mount Vorteil, a mountain five kilometers away from Braucht Hilfe village.
In this manner, they could see everything clearly from on top of the mountain and react in time. They could escape from other directions or commence a full out assault.
With the recent addition of villagers, Verbrannt’s population bolstered to over sixteen thousand people. Proportionally, the Vigilantez strike force had greatly increased.
However, the recently added wandering Lioumerean leaders asked that they would be exempted from this battle. As they had only recently joined and his Intimacy with them was still in their low 50’s, Smoke could not deny their request.
On the other hand, two thousand of the Ranseurs from Pinagsama, Tatlong and Lugar were willing to volunteer to fight for Centzo’s freedom. With this, they now had over four thousand members of their strike force.
Traveling with such a large force would normally delay their arrival. However, Sharanga, Laernea and Gandiva already considered such a scenario, which was why they designed carriage transports to be pulled off by four aardwolves. With the help of Verbrannt’s craftsmen, they assembled a hundred of these transports that could carry thirty people.
Their caravan had two-hundred-forty war chariots, a hundred carriage transports, sixty-one mounted Elemental Knights, three war elephants and two war carriages.
Due to this, Sierra and Smoke’s core members would make the journey in three days time.
Their forces may have increased in numbers, but Horrabelle and the Brandals still greatly outnumbered them. To compensate for this, they relied on the improved quality of their members and their ability to think on their feet.
On the way to Centzo, Smoke stopped to take a short nap in the real world. He logged out of Zectas and returned four hours laters.
The orange rays of the morning sun greeted him as he glided straight from midnight to dawn. Eighteen hours had passed since his call with Espion, and he hoped that he arrived in a favorable time. He flew above the clouds in order to remain hidden from the stationed Brandals encircling the city.
‘I see what Espion was talking about,’ he thought to himself as he watched the bandits with his Telefax Vision. From their formation, he could tell that they were going for an all out attack on the city soon.
Then, as he looked to the horizon, Centzo glowed with golden luster as the sun rays reflected against its walls. The city’s capital sat on top of a mountain. Sadly, the area around it had turned into a lifeless desert, as it had been completely decimated from the Brandals attacks. He imagined how wonderful it must have looked if war had not come to this place.
When he was directly above the city, he closed his cloak and dove at a frightening speed. A notification window popped up as he got closer to the ground.
|+ Entered Centzo City
Capital of the Centzo region. Ruled by Duke Jeune Souverain. It is currently under siege by the Brandals under orders by Ultimo Maire, also known as Duke Burmistrz. Despite their dire situation, the residents’ morale is still high. As long as their defenses still stand, they will not surrender.
He closed the window and concentrated on finding Espion. He opened his cloak only when he was forty meters above the ground.
While he dove, he got a chance to observe the city. Centzo’s solid-rock walls were over forty meters tall and ten meters thick. Their houses were well made and mostly reached up to the third floor.
However, what took his attention were the numerous amphitheaters with live plays being conducted throughout the city. He counted at least seven of them.
‘It’s still this early, but they’re citizens are already out watching plays?’ Smoke thought curiously as he watched from above.
He continued on his slow descent and finally spotted Espion in front of a tall building, waiting for him. He changed directions and landed softly in front of his Spy.
“Welcome to Centzo,” greeted Espion joyfully.
“Hello, how’s Centzo been treating you,” said Smoke with a smile and hugged his friend.
“It’s strangely fun,” replied Espion with a confused look. “Anyway, we’ve got to hurry and meet the Duke in his private theater.”
“Theater? Why meet him there?” he asked and followed after a sprinting Espion who entered the tall building.
Four Royal Knights equipped in gold armor met them before they could climb a tall staircase covered in a fine red carpet.
Espion showed them a parchment with a sealed signature, which allowed the two of them to go up. There, they met eight more Royal Knights of the same caliber as the ones below. They were protecting a door behind them. His Spy showed the same parchment and they were allowed to enter the room.
Smoke and Espion walked in on a private marionette show. There were only two people watching the puppet play. A Sonstwelter Priest in his mid twenty’s, clothed in gold embroidered Priest robes and a young boy dressed in an extravagant royal clothes.
He guessed that the boy must have been ten years old at most. Smoke concluded that he must be the son of someone important.
However, the Sonstwelter’s attire looked like it would be difficult to fight in it. He surmised that it must have been a ceremonial wardrobe, fixed on increasing Charm.
“Who are they?” asked Smoke in a hushed voice.
“Shush! It’s getting to the good part,” ordered the aristocratic boy without looking at Smoke and Espion.
He and Espion sat down quietly and watched the puppet show.
The puppeteer’s voice boomed from behind the large-sized puppet theater.
“…And so it came to be that the two princes of the kingdom went their separate ways,” said the puppeteer and moved two identical looking marionettes away from each other.
“Dosadno, the older prince, decided to stay inside the castle walls to defend it. Whereas, his younger brother, Neizvestan, went outside and faced their invaders head on.”
The next scene depicted the younger prince battling their enemies and being overpowered.
“But instead of retreating, Neizvestan lured their enemies away to the far horizon. Never to be seen again,” said the voice behind the curtains and ended his story.
The young aristocrat applauded loudly. The Sonstwelter Priest beside him, followed suit. Smoke and Espion did the same and clapped as well.
Espion stood up and motioned for Smoke to follow him towards the youth.
“Ahem. Duke Jeune, I’d like to introduce Smoke, esteemed leader of the Vigilantez,” said Espion with a small bow and pointed to the DarkElf.
A surprised Smoke quickly lowered his head and greeted Centzo’s Duke respectfully. “A pleasure to meet you, Duke Jeune.”
Espion then pointed to the Sonstwelter Priest. “And this is Incitant, leader of the Centzo’s Sonstwelter Alliance.”
Smoke extended his hand to Incitant. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” replied Incitant in a friendly manner. “I’ve watched most of your videos. You’re very impressive for someone who started a year after most of us.”
Smoke smiled politely, but remained apprehensive at Incitant’s cordial appearance.
Then, the young duke called their attention. “Now, let me cut to the chase. My sources have told me of your great achievements against the Brandals and Horrabelle.”
“What achievements?” asked Smoke curiously.
“Didn’t your guild fight them off on more than one occasion?” asked Duke Jeune. “I even heard that your guild killed the other two Witches of Wysteria. Not only that you are currently at war with Horrabelle. You recently thwarted her by rescuing a group of children and gobble goblins from her black mansion in Mount Foudre. Although, you did destroy Gitna Dam. You also rescued three villages and killed over two-thousand Brandals in the process.”
Smoke forcibly closed his open mouth. “How do you know all of that?”
He couldn’t believe how the Duke even knew about the number of Brandal casualties from the time he rescued the three villages. He didn’t even know how many he killed.
“I have my sources,” stated the young Duke calmly. “But of course, Incitant, here has also rendered exemplary service. He has protected this city many times over. I doubt our city would still be standing here today, if not for him.”
‘How could such a young kid be so profound?’ he wondered to himself as he listened to him talk.
“So, now that I have the two Sonstwelters needed to free Centzo. I would like us to hold a strategy meeting,” declared Duke Jeune.
“Alright, I’m ready whenever you are, Duke,” replied Incitant, giving the Duke a slight bow.
Smoke, who decided to lay back and observe everyone, only nodded in agreement. “Same here.”
Duke Jeune motioned for them to sit next to him. “Before we begin, let’s wait for my most trusted Adviser.”
“Of course, where is he?” asked Smoke as he looked at the door behind them, expecting the adviser to come out.
“He’s right there,” answered the Duke and pointed to a middle-aged puppeteer, dressed in a long blue robe, who got out from behind the puppet theater.
From the man’s appearance, Smoke guessed that he was in his late fifties. Yet, he exuded an air of dignity around him. He was still, however disturbed by the man’s clothes. It looked like it had seen better days. They looked to be a bit tattered and worn-out.
“Hello. My name is Prosjak Clandestine,” spoke Duke’s adviser and offered his hand to Smoke.
“From your robes, I thought you were a—” Smoke stopped himself from saying something offensive.
“A pleasure to meet you, Prosjak,” he replied quickly and shook his hand.
Duke Jeune, then pointed to his adviser. “Go ahead, Prosjak, you have the floor.” He then motioned for everyone else sit while Prosjak discussed their plan.
“Thank you, your Grace,” said Prosjak and bowed before Duke Jeune. “If you have any questions, please feel free to interrupt me anytime.”
“My gathered intelligence tells me that the Brandals will attack five days from now,” began Prosjak. “While waiting for that day to arrive, Horrabelle is stationed in Braucht Hilfe village. She is having a hard time to strengthening her army.”
Prosjak looked at Smoke with a smile. “Apparently, someone released her gobble goblins and she had her Therianthropes hunt them down. They’re also waiting in that village for more reinforcements to arrive.”
Smoke raised his hand. “Why five days? What happens then?”
Prosjak donned a blank expression. “In five days, Centzo will run out of food.”
“We’ve strictly provisioned our food supply, giving only the minimum amount to survive. Even, Duke Jeune is fasting.”
“But I thought you still had plenty of supply left. I mean, there are a lot of performances happening right now,” said Smoke, but after closely observing the young Duke, he just noticed the Duke’s sunken cheeks.
Prosjak started talking after Smoke fell silent. “When the Brandals attacked, our people huddled inside their homes and lived in fear. Some kept on praying to Cuezaltzin while others fell hysterical,” he explained and took a deep breath before continuing. “Duke Jeune was aware of their plight and to empathize with them, he started to fast. He also searched for a way to soothe their troubled minds. In order to clear his own, he asked me to tell him stories of heroes who have slain monsters and emerged victorious.”
Prosjak smiled and looked at the young Duke proudly. “During my storytelling, our Duke discovered that he was so immersed in the story, that he forgot the Brandals were attacking. He even forgot that he was hungry. From then on, he ordered Bards, Minstrels, Puppeteers and other entertainers alike to lighten the mood of the city.”
Duke Jeune interjected. “That’s enough, Prosjak, tell them about our plan.”
“Of course, your Grace. I am sorry for delaying any further,” Prosjak apologized profusely and turned to Smoke and Incitant. “First, we need to confirm that your respective forces will be able to fight five days from now.”
This time, it was Incitant who raised his hand. “I don’t think our Sonstwelter Alliance could do that.”
Incitant turned to face Duke Jeune. “My fellow Sonstwelters and I have already lost several levels defending the city. Those of us still here, now range from levels 80 to 120. In fact, I’ve been reduced to level 118 myself.”
‘He’s ten levels higher than me,’ Smoke thought to himself, and made a mental note while listening to the Sonstwelter Priest. He still wasn’t sure if he could trust Incitant or not.
Incitant “Anyway, most of them won’t be coming back to Zectas until this whole Brandal fiasco is over. Best case scenario, we’re probably looking at a thousand Sonstwelters. Unless—”
“Unless what?” curiously asked Duke Jeune.
“Unless you could promise them with an even better reward than the one hundred million zecs to be divided among us,” stated Incitant plainly.
Prosjak answered him instantly. “If you’re asking to be Duke, then that’s out of the question.”
“Prosjak, please be quiet. Let’s hear him out,” said Duke Jeune with a raised hand, motioning for his adviser to stop. “And what do you propose, Incitant?”
“Of course, I’m not asking to be the Duke,” stated Incitant. He stood up and straightened his classy Priest robe. “Did you know that my alliance is composed of more than forty guilds?”
Incitant walked over to a framed map of Centzo hanged on the wall of the room.
The Priest spoke with dramatically slow. “One of the reasons why we continue fighting this uphill battle… is our deep love for Centzo.”
“And I appreciate that,” replied the Duke.
“But the Brandals have ravaged several villages, and left them in ruins. But due to your quick response, most of our citizens are still alive within our capital’s walls,” said Incitant as he was clearly praising the Duke. “The other guild leaders and I have talked about this, and we think that even if we win this war there will still be other enemies. We could best stop living in fear by rebuilding the ruined villages into even better than the ones before them.”
Smoke could tell that he was buttering him up for the real reason of this winded speech.
“Thank you, Incitant. That’s very considerate of you,” said the Duke in a neutral tone. “How do you propose to do this exactly?”
“Well, if you make us Lords to forty villages, then I think we could easily make Centzo into an even stronger city.” Incitant finally declared his true intention. “We need to be stronger in order to prevent something like this from happening again.”
Smoke caught Duke Jeune looking at Prosjak. The Duke’s middle-aged adviser cleverly flashed the Duke ten fingers.
“If your intention is to rebuild these villages, then who am I to deny your reasonable request,” replied the young Duke. “However, I will only give you ten villages to rebuild. Furthermore, you will pay the city the same 25% tax as before.”
Incitant did not look pleased, but quickly composed himself.
The Duke noticed this and quickly added. “Don’t worry. If you do well with the ten villages, then I shall give your alliance another ten villages. Does that sound fair?”
Incitant’s smile came back. He bowed down before the Duke. “Of course, your Grace. Thank you very much. I accept all those conditions. I shall inform the other guild leaders as soon as we are done with our meeting.”
“Now, that we have that settled. Let me ask you,” said Duke Jeune as he turned to face Smoke. “What do you want for your services?”
Smoke was taken by surprise. Most quests would have their built in rewards. He quickly pondered on what he should ask the Duke. He thought about asking for a village like Incitant, but quickly dismissed the idea as he already had his hands full with Nanahuatl and Verbrannt.
“I don’t want to ask for a village, your Grace,” he humbly replied. “I’ll only ask two favors.”
Smoke smiled pleasantly at Duke Jeune and Prosjak. “First, allow my Merchants to trade with all the villages in Centzo and give them a 75% discount on any tax they might have to pay.”
Although Verbrannt technically belonged to Coatl’s jurisdiction. Smoke and Sierra did not pay any taxes to Duke Burmistrz. However, he knew that in order for a village to improve, it needed to associate itself with a city.
Smoke keenly noticed Prosjak mumbling with his hand covering his mouth. He guessed that the adviser was thinking what the effects of such a request could make.
“Second, I wish for Centzo to be my ally. I already have places that I want to protect and I hope that I can call on you when I need your help.” Smoke ended his request with a respectful bow before the Duke.
Smoke covertly scrutinized Prosjak and saw him secretly give a sign to Duke Jeune.
“I gladly accept both conditions,” said Duke Jeune and offered his hand to Smoke.
After the two of them shook hands, the Duke of Centzo officially started their battle strategy for the day of reckoning.
* * * * * *
It took almost four hours of brainstorming, but their plan was ironed out to all three factions’ satisfaction.
Incitant bade farewell to Duke Jeune and Prosjak while pulling Smoke towards the door with him.
“Listen, I’m really happy to be in this campaign with you. I’m sure everyone in the alliance will be excited to see you in action,” said Incitant excitedly.
“Same here,” replied Smoke cordially. It still felt awkward for him to talk to other Sonstwelters. Especially one he had just met, but he forced himself to keep a realistic facade.
“Congratulations on the great deal with the Duke back there,” Smoke quickly added.
“It was a sweet deal, right?” gloated Incitant. “And the other guild leaders only wanted to ask for ten villages. Who cares if Tristan can’t handle a city. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to someone like him.”
“Wait, Tristan finally lost Tonaci?” asked a surprised Smoke. He read rumors about it in the forum, but did not believe that it would actually happen.
“Oh, you haven’t heard?” asked Incitant. “Right, I remember that you, Tristan and Amahan had some sort of rivalry going. You were really big when you first started and grabbed a lot of attention.”
Smoke only smiled as he couldn’t think of an appropriate response.
“Anyway, I think it’s time for other people to grab Zectas’ attention now,” spoke Incitant haughtily. “And having you support us will only sweeten our time in the limelight.”
As the Sonstwelter Priest was about to walk away, he turned around to face Smoke. “By the way, nice move. Playing the battle-worn card.”
“What do you mean?” asked a confused Smoke.
“You purposely neglected to fix your armor so you’d give a tattered appearance and appeal to the Duke’s empathy. You’re very sneaky, Smoke. You made it look like you’re really fighting for their side,” said Incitant and gave him a salute. “I had to rely on this expensive Priest robe for its increased Charm, but I’d say ten villages is well worth it.”
Incitant gave Smoke a triumphant smile before he stormed off to inform the other guild leaders in his alliance.
‘When I first started? Does he think I’m already washed up?’ thought a bothered Smoke as he watched Incitant disappear into the hallway. Although, he didn’t feel any animosity from him, he also didn’t have any inclination to be close to him either.
Espion, who was there silently listening to everything, spoke out. “Who does he think he is? Just because he rallied a bunch of Sonstwelters. He doesn’t even have any idea of what you’re really capable of,” Espion said to Smoke.
Smoke smiled at his friend. He remembered how Espion would not even follow his command when he first met him and now he was defending him in his place.
“Don’t worry about it. Let’s just focus on our task at hand,” replied Smoke calmly. He felt pacified after he heard Espion’s rant.
As the two of them were about to walk away, Prosjak stepped out of the room and called out to them. “Smoke, Espion. Wait up. The Duke wants to see you two.”
Once Smoke and Espion was back in the room, they saw a familiar map laid out on a small table in front of the Duke. It was the map of Braucht Hilfe Village.
Duke Jeune spoke in a serious tone. “Smoke, in order to increase our chances for success. I’d like you to take on a life-threatening mission for me. Do you think you’d be up to the task?”
“If it’s within my power, then I’ll gladly do it,” answered Smoke sincerely.
Duke Jeune grabbed Smoke’s hand and pleaded. “Will you kill Horrabelle and save my Dukedom?”
Before he could answer, a notification window popped up.
|+ Quest: Cut the Head of the Snake
Duke Jeune, ruler of the city of Centzo, requested that you assassinate Horrabelle and remove one of the Brandals’ generals before the final battle of Centzo.
Accept the Quest? [YES/NO]
“I have never gladly accepted a quest as much as this one,” replied Smoke with much gusto.
* * * * * *
Since Espion had no ability to fly, Smoke left him in Centzo. He also asked him to investigate Incitant even further and see what else their alliance was up to.
Before gliding back to rendezvous with Sierra and the rest of their strike force, Smoke called her up and informed her of their important assignment.
Immediately, their strategists started to formulate a plan to fulfill this dangerous mission. They were to create several contingency plans in anticipation to Horrabelle’s craftiness. They did all this while traveling towards Mount Vorteil.
On the trip back, Smoke was acquiring the knowledge of the books from his Spy. He had Espion scour Centzo’s library and received numerous books from him. The top two books he was interested to consume were “Becoming a Duke” and “Centzo’s Forgotten Places.”
He only had a few seconds left to complete the book entitled “Becoming a Duke” and had a few minutes left on “Centzo’s Forgotten Places.”
As the progress bar for the book “Becoming a Duke” indicated that it would almost be completed, Smoke decided to land and rest for a while.
Seconds before his feet could touch the ground, an acquired knowledge window popped up.
|+ Becoming a Duke
There are several ways to become a duke and have a dukedom under your control, with a capital city shining like a bright jewel in your region.
Note: Regardless of how you become a Duke, in the end, the Duke is required to give fealty to the King or face the consequences of facing the entire Kingdom and Dukedoms.
Smoke had been wondering how Tristan was able to become a Duke just over a year into playing Zectas. Although, he had lost his city due to his current campaign.
After acquiring the knowledge, Smoke realized how difficult it was to obtain a Dukedom and even more difficult to maintain.
Any of the three methods would require meticulous planning, a powerful private army and an insane amount of luck in order to pull it off successfully.
He ate a jerky with his remaining free hand and waited for the second book to complete its progress bar. He was drawn to the book entitled “Centzo’s Forgotten Places.” He felt mesmerized by its title.
A few seconds later, a notification window popped up.
|+ Centzo’s Forgotten Places
Centzo’s former tourist destinations. People used to flock to these places until they were all moved to the capital city.
* Still Laden [Latitude: 67°23′ S, Longitude: 202°54′ W]
* Alchimie Labor [Latitude: 69°23′ N, Longitude: 302°4′ E]
* Kaputt Burg [Latitude: 15°23′ S, Longitude: 352°1′ E]
He was curious as to what these tourist destinations were exactly, but was surprised to see another notification window pop up.
|+ Your total ‘Acquired Knowledge’ has increased your Intelligence by 1.|
He smiled at the increased stat. His most powerful abilities instantly deplete his mana and an increase in Intelligence not only meant an increase in the maximum mana pool but an increase in the mana regeneration as well.
After confirming the locations on his map, he realized that two of these places were in the opposite direction, but Still Laden was along the way to his private army.
Since Sierra and the attacking force of his private army would still take some time to reach Mount Vorteil, he decided it was okay to do some exploring on his own for a while and headed for Still Laden.
It took Smoke an hour of gliding to reach the location indicated in the book. It was inside a forest with a clearing in its center. A notification window popped up as he descended towards it.
| – Entered Mystique Forest
– Monsters inside this forest are highly aggressive.
As soon as he landed twenty meters away from the clearing, he took out Aral’s Lightning Rods and prepared himself for battle. From past experiences, he often encountered powerful monsters inside forest clearings.
However, this one-hundred meter clearing was completely empty. It only had a well trimmed grass. As he had already checked that this was the right place, he found himself confused.
‘Something has to be here,’ he thought to himself as he stepped towards the center of the clearing.
Suddenly, he felt multiple stab wounds come at him from all directions. He reflexively backed away and found himself bleeding from several wounds. He checked his life bar and it was already at (152,166/197,816 HP).
He activated his Heart of ReenTe and applied some medicinal herbal salve on his wounds. While waiting for his life bar to regenerate, he stared at forest clearing.
He was smiling despite being heavily injured. It simply confirmed that something was there, but he couldn’t see anything at all.
Then, it hit him. He activated his “Cunning of the Dire Fox II – Extra Sensory” ability and it consumed 90,000 MP. His eyes turned golden and became that of a dire fox’s. He could see the flowing energy in the clearing. He found several knives dangling in the air which formed a dome-like covering around it. He roughly calculated the size of the dome and guessed that it had a radius of twenty meters.
He surmised that those were the weapons that homed in on him and stabbed him earlier. However, his Extra Sensory ability was still at Beginner Level 5 and only had a reach of two and half meters.
Due to this, he still couldn’t see what was at the center. He thought about diving directly down towards the center, but realized he would still be damaged by the invisible knives.
‘Maybe I could use that?’ he wondered to himself and checked his ability window.
|+ Ability Advanced: Agility of the Horned Rabbit
Level: Master Level 1
You’ve reached the Master zone of this ability.
Effect: Permanently adds 600 to Agility.
+ Learned: Agility of the Horned Rabbit II – Hyper Jump
He checked his mana bar and found that he still had enough to use the Hyper Jump ability and one more Extra Sensory. He hurriedly scaled one of the trees and glided towards the center of the clearing.
Smoke closed his cloak and dove straight down. The moment he felt the knives hit him, he used his Hyper Jump ability, propelling himself forward and left an afterimage of himself.
The invisible knives targeted the afterimage, while he braced himself for the ten meter drop. He opened his cloak just before he hit the ground and instantly activated his Extra Sensory ability.
When his eyes turned golden, he finally saw a small hidden cottage in the center of the clearing. He speedily searched for its door and entered before the knives could target him again.
The moment he stepped inside, he was suspended in the middle of the room. “Whoa! Hey, put me down!” cried out Smoke while wailing with his hands and feet.
“Who are you? And how did you get here?” asked a beautiful HighElf dressed in a long black robe. She had black hair and fair skin.
“My name is Smoke,” he babbled out. “I’m on a mission under the orders of Duke Jeune.”
While floating in the air, he instantly noticed how young she was. He guessed that he couldn’t have been over twenty.
“You don’t seem to be lying,” replied the young HighElf calmly. “But I am not a subject of Duke Jeune. This place no longer belongs to Centzo.”
“I see. I apologize for intruding so abruptly, but I was just running for my life. Those knives you have outside your cottage are really sharp,” humbly explained Smoke.
“Yes, they are,” she smiled proudly at her creation.
“That reminds me. How did you see beyond my enchantment? You don’t look like a powerful Wizard,” asked the HighElf teenager while looking up at the floating DarkElf.
“I would be more than happy to answer your question if you could let me down first. I think it will also be much easier to talk,” he said with a smile.
Smoke fell down hard on the wooden floors.
“I gave you my name. Isn’t it only proper that you give me yours?” he asked innocently.
“True. It has been so long that I’ve forgotten my manners,” she mumbled to herself before she spoke boldly back to him. “I am honor bound to do so. My name is Magnat Maudit. I am the owner of this… souvenir shop,” said the young HighElf.
He immediately offered his hand to her. “A pleasure to meet you.”
Magnat turned away from him and asked the same question. “So, how did you see through my enchantment?”
Smoke pondered whether he should tell her the truth. Then, he realized that it would be unwise to trifle with someone as powerful as this young HighElf. After all, She could tell that he was speaking the truth without using a casting circle.
“Oh, that. I have an ability that gives me a dire fox’s eyes,” he answered honestly.
“And this ability? Does it allow you to see other realms?” she asked curiously. Then her eyes lit up as if she realized something.
“Are you using it now?” she asked in an alarmed voice. Then, she calmed down as quick as she panicked. “Oh. Of course you’re not, otherwise you wouldn’t be talking this normally.”
Magnat then spoke in a threatening manner. “I forbid you to use that ability inside this cottage. Do you understand me?”
Smoke quickly nodded. “Yes. Of course. I swear not to use that ability here.”
“Very well. Since it seems like it was just an innocent misunderstanding of you coming here. I will let it slide and allow you to leave,” said Magnat and was about to push him out of the door.
“Wait. Can’t I buy something from this souvenir shop?” blurted out Smoke as he wanted to see what was inside this hidden cottage.
He quickly scanned the place and found several powerful looking accessories that looked like only high level people could wear. However, the things that caught his attention were the ability tomes neatly stacked on a bookshelf. He could tell they were ability tomes from their special book bindings. He quickly read through the titles and found one that he would like to have, “Fire Avatar”.
“Please can’t I buy an item here?” pleaded Smoke badly.
“Don’t push your luck, DarkElf, I’ve already allowed you to leave in one piece,” said Magnat angrily. She opened the door with a flick of a finger and lifted him up again.
“I shall kill you. The next time you return,” she declared flatly.
From her tone, Smoke knew that she was serious. Magnat then sent Smoke swiftly flying out of the cottage and through the forest clearing.
He was slammed hard against a tree and received 20,000 points of damage. He looked back at the empty forest clearing and shuddered.
Posthaste, he glided out of Mystique forest and headed back towards his original destination.
Two more hours of gliding and he finally reached Mount Vorteil. Sierra and the rest of his private army were still on their way and were not scheduled to arrive until tomorrow.
While waiting for them, Smoke thought to prepare a place for them to stay in. He used his Earth Manipulation and created a small house big enough for a three meter Maneator or Tikbalang to walk into. However, he destroyed the earth house as soon as he finished it.
‘It is too exposed. I’d have to make a better camouflaged resting place,’ thought Smoke and started digging tunnels. He made them wide enough to allow a war elephant to easily fit through. He also made several smaller tunnels to allow air to freely pass through his tunnel.
As he worked on the expanding his tunnels, he was also acquiring the knowledge of the other books Espion gave him. The next set of books he had his sights on were entitled “A Brief History of Centzo”, “Centzo and its Natural Resources” and “The Return of the Reptile Republic”.
Smoke always made sure to keep himself busy. He trained and improved whatever he could within the given time frame before him.
When he completed the tunnel system, he took out his white metal staff and began his Manatl exercises. With his feet apart, he stood in a relaxed position. He took deep breaths and cleared his mind. He projected a full spherical purple Manatl and held it for as long as he could.
He spent the next four hours training his abilities until he finally decided it was time to call it a day. He logged out of Zectas and promised to be back twelve hours from now, after he took a three hour sleep in the real world.
* * * * * *
It was hard to see inside Smoke’s deep tunnel system, which was why he had Baldaquin, the Vigilantez’s Light Wizard, line it with several light runes and illuminated their temporary dwelling.
It had been an hour since Sierra and the Vigilantez’s strike force arrived. Smoke asked his core members to huddle in a circle for their meeting. Despite having several people in the meeting, Smoke made sure that Sierra sat next to him.
“…So, that’s the plan?” he asked his group of strategists.
“Yes. Basically, our main attack will be these eight teams and have the special teams support them by moving around them,” replied Thyrsus confidently.
Smoke had no problem with Thyrsus’ plan and promptly asked his followup question. “And the special teams are me and the Maneators, Sierra’s Therianthropes, Mamelon’s Elemental Knights, Ledur’s Tikbalangs, Adder’s Warriors and Centaur Rangers and Guro with her selected Ranseurs?”
“That’s correct,” added Adder. “And the eight teams will be led by Thyrsus, Vijaya, Sharanga, Ichaival, Sharur, Jinggu, Laernea and Gandiva.”
A smiling Smoke looked at his core members proudly. This would be the first time in a long time that most of his core members would participate in one battle. Except for Espion who was left to gather more intelligence in Centzo.
Then, Thyrsus continued on with their battle strategy.
“Each of our teams will be composed of five to six Acolytes and three to four Shamans. They will be our support. Since all eight teams will be scattered, any of the special teams could come to them for healing,” he began to explain. “Next, we’ll have thirty-five to thirty-six Iron Knights fully dedicated to defending the support members.”
Thyrus looked around the circle of leaders. “However, our main offensive power will be from the Ranseurs and Arcus’ war chariots. Each group will have one twenty five Ranseurs and ninety Arcus. Of course, with three Arcus to a war chariot we’ll only have thirty of them per team.”
As soon as Thyrsus finished talking, Sharanga interjected.
“Most teams will be comprised like that except for mine. Because I’ll take command of all the Banalite Archers,” she said with finality for everyone to hear.
Everyone looked to Ichaival, but saw no resistance from him.
Thyrsus then gave Ledur a nod. The winged Tikbalang then created a three-dimensional map of Braucht Hilfe village and the landforms around it. A small plain of over five-hundred meters surrounded the village which made surprise attacks nearly impossible. There were three main roads that led to the village. The one from the north was what the Brandals used to carry the supplies from Coatl city, while the ones on the east and south were the ones they used to disperse the supplies.
Before Thyrsus could continue, Smoke intervened. “Wait. Regardless of what the final plan will be, Prosjak told me one vital information that could increase our chances by 70%.”
“And what did the Duke’s adviser say?” asked Sierra curiously.
“He said that no matter what day or how we decide to attack, we should only launch our operation at exactly three in the afternoon. I asked how it could improve our success rate, but he didn’t give me any specific explanations,” said Smoke and shrugged.
Sierra then asked him what everyone else was thinking. “Do you think that Prosjak character is reliable?”
Smoke nodded without hesitation.
Even though everyone agreed with him, Mamelon still voiced out her concern. “Still, we should reinforce the escape plan all the same.”
“Agreed, and I already have that covered,” replied Sierra reassuringly. “I plan to have four of my Werewolves stay with Baldaquin and station them here on our escape route,” she said as she pointed to a forest patch south west of the village. “The forest patch is about one kilometer, and was the best scouted location. Baldaquin and the Werewolves have already left. He should be able to set up his camera runes in that area soon.”
“That’s good. But can I also send Earat and Louche after him?” inquired the Aqua Knight. “Don’t get me wrong. Their useful for reconnaissance missions, but fighting isn’t really their forte.”
“I don’t have a problem with that,” said Sierra energetically as she came upon a realization. “In fact, I think it’s a great idea. They could also help scout the escape path.”
“So, if there’s nothing else?” asked Sierra. “We should get back to Smoke’s proposed time.”
“I’m good with that,” quickly replied Mamelon.
Sierra looked around and saw no one else question the time to attack. “Then, it’s settled. We’ll commence the operation at three,” she said with finality. She then looked to Thyrsus. “Please go on with the rest of the proposed plan.”
“Now, I’ll discuss the specific locations and duties of each teams…” continued Thyrsus pragmatically.
Their meeting lasted for another thirty minutes before they set off on their special mission.
* * * * * *
In less than an hour, Smoke and the Vigilantez strike force got into position. He used his Telefax Vision and Twin Vision abilities simulateneouosly, and shared what he saw by displaying them on two round shields next to him. He found the Brandals camped right inside the village entrance.
As he scrutinized the place, he noticed black and silver metallic rocks similar to the ones in Mount Foudre.
“Everyone, check out those big rocks. Do you think they could be golems?” Smoke asked his core members.
Sierra addressed the Vigilantez’s leaders. “It’s best if we treat them as golems. The special teams will target those metallic rocks right at the start.”
Everyone of the core members were in agreement. With the final discussion finished, they only waited for fifteen more minutes before Prosjak’s designated time to attack.
The moment Smoke’s timer went off, all of the Vigilantez teams charged simultaneously. They made loud battlecries as they ran towards the village’s main entrance.
Immediately, the Brandals stationed in the Braucht Hilfe ran out to meet them. It was apparent from the number of bandits charging that they suffered several losses from Smoke’s dam trap.
Only two thousand of the bandits were riding on black ctenosaurs while they rest ran on foot. The Vigilantez’s forces numbered a little over four thousand people while the bandits slightly held an advantage in numbers as they were six thousand strong.
The Maneators’ three war elephants paved a clear path for the Vigilantez as they trampled their way through the bandits’ formations. The special teams followed behind the war elephants, and avoided any unnecessary confrontations. The over confident Brandals did nothing to stop them as they were focused on the Ranseurs on foot.
The bandits assumed that the Farmers only got upgraded equipment, and only came to realize that this was not the case as soon as they crossed weapons with them.
The Ranseurs’ tridents skillfully parried the thrown knives by the Brandal Captains. They then locked their tridents with the common bandits’ short swords and disarmed them before stabbing their three-pronged tridents into the bandits’ torso. The average Ranseur easily took on two to three common bandits without much injury.
After Mamelon and her Elemental Knights galloped with the special teams, they broke off and went after the Brandals. They specifically targeted the ones mounted on black ctenosaurs. They pierced them with their elemental lances, knocking them off to the ground. They then stabbed the black ctenosaurs legs and drove away the lizard mounts for the rest of the battle.
“Good job, Knights!” shouted Mamelon after they efficiently dismounted thirty bandits. She searched around for their next target and pointed her blue Charnel lance. “Let’s head right!”
All sixty-one Elemental Knights rode as one, and headed for their next victims. They didn’t finish off the injured bandits, but left them to the mercy of their main attack force.
Meanwhile, Guro and her selected Ranseurs made their presence well known. Whenever she arrived near one of the main groups, her Phalanx and Battle auras increased both defense and offense attributes of all Vigilantez’s members. Their battle morale were raised even higher as only the dead bodies of bandits were left in their wake.
Encouraged by the prowess shown by the Ranseurs, the Arcus also demonstrated the results of their training. A constant rain of arrows poured down on the Brandals and greatly reduced their life bars. They expertly fired their bows on top of fast moving war chariots.
Thyrsus, Vijaya, Ichaival, Sharanga, Sharur, Jinggu, Laernea and Gandiva took charge of their main attack teams with the safety and survival of each of their team members in mind.
Thyrsus used his Falcon Vision to get an aerial perspective of the battle. With this information, he constantly shifted the positions of his Acolytes and Shamans who were protected by the Iron Knights. This enabled them to heal all the team members. He also had the Arcus move their war chariots to their maximum effective range and deliver a torrent of arrows. With the bandits damaged from their ranged attacks, he then ordered the Ranseurs on foot to rush forward with their tridents. This allowed his melee members to finish off the heavily injured bandits swiftly. He efficiently controlled his team by personally calling out the first names of key members. This simple gesture demonstrated how he individually cared for all of them.
Vijaya, the WoodElf Huntress, followed a similar strategy but relied on her Falcon Tongue as she listened to the shrills from all of her six falcons. However, she subdivided her team into six more groups. She ordered each sub-group to follow after her falcons lead and focus on the area where her falcons would attack. Her falcons’ feathers turned to steel and dove down on the Brandal Captains, distracting them from using their whips and allowed her sub-teams to rush the bandits. Although, her battle tactics closely relied on her falcons, she still did her part and targeted the bandits that were overwhelming her teammates with her arrows.
Sharanga had her falcon drop her patented three-trap systems on the Brandal Captains she and her team were facing. With the bandits’ leaders immobilized, they simply fell out of order and were picked off by Sharanga’s Ranseurs. The Banalite Archers, under Sympa’s command, proved to be worthy members as they snappily snuffed out the life bars of their targets. Sharanga noticed this, and was pleased with their performance. However, she kept staring back and forth between Sympa and Ichaival as she scrutinized whether the two were keeping tabs on each other. Yet, she saw no such glances between them. Instead, she kept meeting Ichaival’s gaze. Each time she checked on him, she saw him smiling at her.
Ichaival had his falcon fly over his healers. Even though they were protected by Iron Knights, he felt more secure with Ichai watching over them. He did not order his team members to make any unnecessary risks. Instead, he had them slowly advance against the bandits with the Ranseurs in front and the Arcus close behind them. Outside of battle he was well known to be a goofball, but he took the role of a trusted commander seriously. The only thing that surprised him during this battle was Sharanga constantly gawking at him. He wasn’t sure if he did something to offend her but smiled each time their eyes met.
Sharur’s and Jinggu’s teams worked closely together. The joint OrkElves teams picked on sections of the bandits that should have been taken by one team alone. They focused their ballista on Brandal Captains. They blasted them off of their mounts with a volley of their spiral piercing bolts. Their shared ability cleanly passed through the bandit leaders and rendered their leather armors useless. Sharur originally did not want to team up with his twin brother as he planned for his team to move closer to Sierra, but Jinggu insisted on this plan as he thought they could undoubtedly pull it off as they knew each other’s battle instincts very well.
While the Hunters and Range Siegers focused on the center, Laernea and Gandiva went for the sides opposite each other. Even before Jinggu told Sharur of his plan to merge their teams into one, Gandiva had already thought of using the exact same strategy with Laernea. Yet, she did not tell her of the plan as she knew that they could no longer perform well together. Although they were still close friends, she felt a wide gap had appear in between them. Laernea’s constant need for Smoke’s attention did not sit well with her, but she never told her lioness friend about it.
From the other end of the battlefield, Laernea saw how well the OrkElves worked together and envied them. She felt that Gandiva and herself could have given the OrkElves a run for their money with the same strategy. Yet, she wondered why Gandiva never brought up such a battle plan to her. Normally, Gandiva was the one that would talk to her about tactics in the battlefield, but this time she said no such thing. She only claimed her team be assigned the right side of the battle field. Laernea responded by taking the spot right next to her, but Thyrsus suggested that Laernea take the left side. The reason being was because of their stag moose and durcules beetles. Their fast mobility needed a freer space to be efficient, which was only applicable in the sides.
With the positive progress from their main strike force, the Vigilantez quickly overcame the difference in numbers between them and the Brandals.
The reason for their main strike force’s success was not only based on the leadership of the core members or the Job change of their Armored Farmers and Bowed Fishermen, but also because of the efficiency of Mamelon’s and Guro’s special teams weaving in and out of the battlegrounds.
Except for those two teams, the rest of the special teams scattered through the Brandals and vigilantly went after the metallic rocks. They stabbed it and slashed their weapons against the stones. After a few attacks, they found that they were ordinary stones and left them be.
Adder’s and Ledur’s team stayed behind and focused on the surviving Brandal Captains, while Smoke’s and Sierra’s teams charged straight for the gates and made sure that none of the bandits could make a hasty retreat.
On top of Weise’s war elephant, Smoke equipped his power chainsaw bow and released a profusion of poison arrows at the bandits. In retaliation, some of the targeted Brandals sprinted towards him. However, they were only running towards their death as Sierra, Phen and Rear finished them off before they could even reach him.
Smoke got off the war elephant and got closer to Sierra. “I don’t know what Horrabelle is planning, but we better finish off the Brandals before she arrives,” he said out loud to her while he kept firing his arrows. It bugged him why the bandits were out here alone.
‘Was Prosjak’s advice really that effective?‘ he wondered to himself. ‘Or is Horrabelle up to something?’
Sierra looked back at him and nodded. “I know! This feels way too easy that I’m kind of afraid of what she’s gonna do next.”
After Smoke and his Maneators secured the village entrance, Sierra’s Werewolf pack was led by Ardu and Vrai. They ravaged through the bandits as they made their way back into the fray. Only Sierra, Phen and Rear were left behind from her team and guarded the gates with Smoke and his Maneators.
Ardu and Vrai took on the roles of sub-leaders for Sierra’s Werewolves quite well. As the two of them were male and female, the attack bonus from being led by two alpha Werebears applied to the Werewolves. The two of them attacked with their claws and teeth, allowing their feral nature to come out. Yet, despite this, they also kept a close eye on one another as the two of them now shared a special bond.
In less than ten minutes, the Brandals’ forces were left with 30% of their original numbers. However, fortune would not smile on the Vigilantez throughout the entire battle.
Suddenly, a lightning bolt surged from within the gates and blasted Smoke high up in the air. He was damaged for 25% of his total life bar.
A pale Witch, dressed in a slender black robe, rode out of the village on top of her black Nightmare. Horrabelle was accompanied with an army of two thousand Therianthropes and two Gargantuan Goblins.
“You cowards dare attack me, while I was still speaking with my High General!” she shouted angrily and blasted several more lightning bolts towards the Vigilantez.
Ledur quickly blocked all of them with earth pillars and dissipated the electrical charge to the ground.
As soon as the lightning attacks were over, Horrabelle’s monstrous personal army stormed out the village towards them.
The Vigilantez’s special teams were composed of two-thousand Ranseurs, ninety-seven Tikbalangs, sixty-two Werewolves, sixty-one Elemental Knights, thirty Centaur Rangers, fifteen Condortlian Warriors, four Maneators, three Werebears and a single DarkElf.
Although Guro’s trained Ranseurs were well adept in fighting, Horrabelle’s Werewolves proved to be slightly stronger as they were clearly overpowering them. It became even worse when they faced against the bigger Werebears. Their tridents tried to parry their massive claws, but were quickly knocked out of the way. The Werebears then grabbed them by their shoulders and gnawed on their necks. They stood no chance against Horrabelle’s Werebears as they were slaughtered when they faced against them.
Along with Adder and Ledur, Ardu and Vrai faced off against the enemy Therianthropes. The Vigilantez’s Warriors, Rangers, Tikbalangs and Werewolves made sure to protect their comrades from suffering any more losses.
“Ardu, Vrai, don’t let your guard down against the Werebears,” said Adder who passed by their way.
The young Werebears gave him a small bow in affirmation and roared out their fears. Finishing off Horrabelle was the only thing that was in their minds as they fought against her minions.
Adder and Ledur each took on Werebears by themselves while Ardu and Vrai teamed up to face one of them on their own.
The speedy response from Smoke’s most trusted second-in-commands saved the main strike teams from completely being decimated, but the Vigilantez’s Tikbalangs and Werewolves were about to face something even bigger than them.
Two Gargantuan Goblins rampaged through their forces and effortlessly knocked back the Vigilantez’s monster divisions. Tikbalangs and Werewolves alike were seen flying through the air as a pair of three-meter giant goblins advanced through their ranks.
Smoke, who was busy firing his power chainsaw bow, immediately ordered his Maneators to take care of the Gargantuan Goblins.
The Maneators dismounted from their war elephants and had them help the main attack force finish off the bandits, while they went to face the monstrous goblins.
Adelige, Rasant, Stark and Weise met with the goblins head on. The four Maneators made sure to stay close to one another in order to utilize the Asterian Aura, unique only to them.
Adelige paired off with Rasant to face one of the goblins while Stark and Weise joined together to challenge the other monster.
Right at the start, Rasant launched an all out attack. He fully extended his whip sword and it snaked its way around the goblins left arm.
However, the monster’s right fist came flying out. It was about to smash the orange Maneator’s head to the ground, but Adelige’s golden axe parried the Gargantuan Goblin’s attack to the side.
This allowed Rasant to freely dish out an all out attack as he left all the defensive tasks to the golden Maneator. Adelige did her best to portray the role of his shield, and parried all of the goblin’s attacks with her double-headed axe.
Weise and Stark ran towards opposite sides of their goblin and launched their attacks one after the other. Stark’s war hammer went crashing down on the monster.
The goblin managed to dodge it, but still got damaged as the red Maneator’s warhammer made a deep impact on the ground, sending numerous shards of rocks towards the goblin and stunned it.
As soon as it got stunned, Weise launched his own attack. His spear created eight afterimages of itself and inflicted the monster with poison
Yet, this favorable encounter was only seen in the Maneators’ battle against the Gargantuan Goblins. As soon as Horrabelle’s personal army emerged, the power balance tipped towards the Witch’s favor.
This time, the dead bodies of Arcus, Ranseurs and Iron Knights were scattered on the battlefield. War chariots, swords, shields, tridents and bows alike were left behind as they were being slaughtered by the monstrous army.
Despite the horrendous terror that Horrabelle’s Therianthrope army had spread, the Vigilantez persevered and made sure that none of the Acolytes and Shamans were killed. It was an arduous undertaking, but none of them ran off. Everyone stood their ground and battled to the death.
Smoke watched the horrifying warfare with a determined look. He made a promise to himself to make each of their death count. Horrabelle’s head was going to roll today. His attention was diverted when he heard the most irritable laughter.
“Nyak nyak nyak!” Horrabelle let out her horrible cackling as she watched from on top her Nightmare, and reveled in the Vigilantez’s struggling badly against her monstrous army.
“You were fools to follow this stupid Dark—” the Witch stopped talking as a poison bolt flew through the battlefield and struck her squarely on the chest. Her life bar displayed (1,199,150/1,200,000 HP).
Then, one more poison bolt knocked her off her mount and fell on the ground. Six fire arrows shortly followed and made contact with her flesh.
Meanwhile, Smoke fired eight arrows at her Nightmare and drove it away. He didn’t want to give the Witch an opportunity to escape.
Horrabelle searched for the source of the bolts and arrows and found that the leaders of the Vigilantez’s main force was now in front of her and had joined in on the fight against her army. They arrived as soon as they finished off the last of the Brandal bandits.
Igniz flew directly above the Witch and fired numerous fireballs at her, as fast as he could, but his damage did not even reach 200 points.
With most of their war chariots destroyed, the severely injured Arcus tried to attack Horrabelle on foot, but their arrows could not reach her. Only the arrows of Smoke’s core ranged members made contact with the black Witch, but they could only inflict less than a thousand damage points.
Then, eleven falcons dove in from above and started clawing her with their talons. Horrabelle responded by firing her lightning bolts at the flying enemies above her. The falcons safely retreated back to their owners.
However, Igniz remained flying above her and focused on dodging the lightning bolts while countering with a fireball after dodging.
Their accumulated damage was insignificant and barely made any dent on her life bar, but it greatly irritated Horrabelle nonetheless. Only the spiraling bolts from Sharur and Jinggu made her flinch, as it knocked her back a bit. Little by little their bolts were chipping away her high defense.
Two minutes passed and she finally got fed up with their cheap attacks. She took out ten electro stones from the pockets inside her robe and placed them on her palm.
She pointed her silver ring on them and activated its ability. The ten electro stones flew up in the air and scattered around the battlefield. The moment it made contact on the ground, the electro stones started pulling in the black and silver metallic rocks surrounding the area.
Ten metallic golems, the same ones they fought on Mount Foudre with 200,000 HP, were instantly created on the battlefield. Laernea’s and Gandiva’s mounts bucked uncontrollably. Bilis and Tulin remembered the monsters who broke their antlers. The scattered golems went after the ranged core members, but their falcons, Ranseurs and Arcus blocked their path.
However, a straightforward attack was not Horrabelle’s true intention. Her Therianthrope army scrambled away from the metallic golems and faced the Vigilantez that were far from them.
Horrabelle then hastily created a blue casting circle in front of her. Several sparks of lightning menacingly emitted from it.
A partially recovered Smoke then saw a powerful lightning strike, even stronger than the one he saw from Aral, hit one of the metallic golems. The lightning scattered into several directions, damaging the Vigilantez in the area.
Several of the ones caught in the scattered lightning attack were left with 30% on their life bars while a few of the unlucky ones were instantly killed.
Yet, the attack did not stop there. The thickest of the lightning bolts bounced off towards the next golem and repeated the same pattern. The Vigilantez screamed in pain as they were hit by unceasing scattered lightning attacks.
Then, Horrabelle released another lightning strike of the same calibre and bounced it off on the metallic golem in the opposite side of the battle ground.
Before she could fire a third lightning strike, Smoke’s sickle, laced with poison, scratched her back. It tore through her black robe and exposed her lustrous white skin. His sudden back attack successfully addled her with poison.
This time, it was Horrabelle’s turn to scream in agony. Smoke guessed that just like her sister, Crucibelle, she was only used to giving out pain and not receiving them.
Yet, unlike the Witch of Immolation, Horrabelle’s defense against physical attacks was somewhat lacking.
Stealthily, Sierra accompanied by Phen and Rear crept up from behind her. Yet, before their claws could do their damage, Horrabelle sent several lightning bolts their way and knocked them back.
Thankfully, their cursed form gave them high life bars and a resistance to the elements, which allowed them to survive the Witch’s lightning attack.
The Witch created another blue casting circle aimed at the metallic golems while distracting Smoke’s attention with several lightning bolts. It took everything in him to dodge her attacks as they were almost as many as Crucibelle’s Meteor Strikes.
Horrabelle completed the casting circle and was about to aim for one of her metallic golems, but could not find any of them. Ledur had ordered his Tikbalangs to crush all of the metallic golems. They responded quickly as they already knew about their weakness from their encounter before.
The Witch vented out her frustration on the winged Tikbalang and aimed the Lightning Strike at him. Fortunately, Ledur saw the flash of light coming at his direction and created a thick earth pillar before the attack hit him.
As Smoke was lying on the ground, he saw how the Vigilantez were badly struggling against the Werewolves and Werebears.
“Everyone, it’s alright. I’ll keep her occupied. Just make sure no one else gets killed,” said Smoke to his core members as he pushed himself off the ground.
The winged Tikbalang concurred and went to join the rest of his Tikbalang brothers who were fending off the Therianthropes.
Mamelon’s, Adder’s, Ledur’s and Guro’s special teams did their best to protect the main strike force.
With his Symbiote Vision, Smoke saw how Mamelon took command of the battlefield. She only had thirty Elemental Knights left riding behind her as they took the brunt of most of the attacks.
He quickly realized that even her closest friends, Virer and Courant, died after battling with Horrabelle’s Therianthropes.
Although, Smoke knew they would return to Verbrannt after twenty-four hours he still pitied them. Their levels were now at 104, and he personally knows how painstakingly difficult it is to raise one level when you reach that point.
Yet, he could see it from Mamelon and her Knight’s expression how serious they were on putting their lives on the line. These Zectians from Verbrannt had already grown close to them and if losing a level meant they could save their lives, then it was more than worth it.
Due to Mamelon and her Sonstwelter regiment’s sacrifice, Adder’s and Ledur’s teams did not incur any losses. Smoke realized that aside from Sierra, there were other Sonstwelters out there that he could rely on. There may be few of them, but they still existed.
Despite the fact that the Vigilantez suffered many casualties, they were slowly gaining the upper hand against Horrabelle’s army.
The bolts and arrows of his ranged core members gave cover-fire to their dying comrades. The dispersed Acolytes were having a difficult time healing everyone as almost all of the Vigilantez had less than 30% on their life bars. Yet despite this, the Vigilantez survivors braved on and continued to fight even with one foot in the grave.
A frustrated Horrabelle couldn’t believe that her monstrous army was losing. She screamed out loud and focused her numerous lightning bolts on Smoke.
Steadily, Smoke learned the timing of her lightning bolt attacks and was now able to launch a counterstrike with his weighted chain and sickle in between dodging her bolts.
He made sure to keep her attention on him as he saw Sierra, Phen and Rear patiently waiting in the sidelines. They postponed their attack for the perfect opportunity to strike.
The moment Horrabelle was out balanced after she dodged Smoke’s iron ball, Sierra and her Werewolves sprinted towards her. They cleared the distance between them in no time at all. Sharp claws pierced through her flesh. Then, Phen and Rear each took a bite out of both her arms.
BZZZT BZZZT BOOSH
Electrical sparks erupted out from Horrabelle’s entire body. All three Therianthropes were knocked back.
Despite seeing Sierra and her Werewolves blown away, Smoke could sense that Horrabelle’s defeat was drawing close.
Their damage on her was minimal, but their persevering attacks reduced her life bar to 82%. Horrabelle’s Therianthrope army numbered less than a thousand. Whereas, the Vigilantez still had over three thousand members left.
‘Don’t worry, Sierra, you’ll finally be cured,’ thought a concerned Smoke as he gazed upon the red Werebear on the ground.
However, his reverie was interrupted when he heard a disturbing sound.
TOOT TOTOTOOT TOOT TOOT TOOOOT TOTOTOOT
Loud intimidating sounds of Cavalry Knight trumpets came from the northern clearing of the village. Its ominous resonance covered the battlegrounds. The Vigilantez did not need to see them because they could clearly hear the reverberations of the galloping dirus wolves charging straight for them.
Without hesitation, Smoke yelled out from the top of his lungs. “Everyone retreat!”
At once, all of his guild members scrambled towards their planned escape route. They desperately hurtled away from stampeding Cavalry Knights chasing after them.
Smoke used his Telefax Vision and saw Macher leading the charge. He was followed by a thousand Sonstwelters and ten thousand Zectians. He also noticed that out of the Zectian Knights, almost a thousand of them carried the emblem of Macher’s personal army.
Smoke’s core members speedily followed their contingency plan and led their team members towards safety. They still had a long way to go before they could reach the forest patch where Baldaquin was waiting for them.
However, not everyone could escape right away as some of their Arcus and Ranseurs were caught by Therianthropes’ claws. They desperately tried to break free but their captors wouldn’t allow them to escape the incoming cavalry. The Tikbalangs tried to free them, but there were too many of them to rescue by themselves.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll help them out,” said Adder as he ordered his Warriors and Rangers to turn back and engage the enemy Werewolves and Werebears.
Meanwhile, the core members in charge of the main strike force continued on with their orders and made a hasty retreat.
“Nyak nyak nyak nyak! Serves you right! Just who do you think you people are!” exclaimed Horrabelle haughtily and laughed at her fleeing enemies. “Did you really think you stood a chance against me? Nyak nyak nya —”
She stopped laughing when she caught a glimpse of a bright fireball overhead. She looked up and saw a flaming DarkElf diving straight towards her.
Molten rocks flew everywhere. Smoke landed right on top of the Witch, stunning and damaging her with his Comet Crush ability.
Sierra then threw Phen and Rear out of the immediate vicinity and made a mad dash for the immobilized Witch.
Simultaneously, Ledur flew overhead and encased Smoke, Sierra and Horrabelle inside a large, thick earth-dome.