Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 04 – Chapter 08

Author: John Nest

Warning: This chapter hasn’t been edited or proofread

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

The Salubrious Centzo City


Smoke was once again gliding above Centzo’s capital. He expected to see a decimated wall on the southern gate and wrecked buildings. Yet, he was pleasantly surprised to see that there was not a single scratch on Centzo’s main entrance.

‘How in the world did they managed that?’ he asked himself in astonishment.

He zoomed in, and saw several people casually standing on top of the wall. He saw Espion talking to a middle-aged man, wearing worn-out royal clothes.

Closing his cape, he dove down towards them and swiftly opened it only moments before hitting the ground. Smoke landed softly in front of them.

“Welcome, Smoke, we have been expecting you,” greeted Prosjak and extended his hand.

Smoke shook the royal adviser’s hand with a bewildered expression. “You were? But you sent us to defend the northern gate.”

Remembering his query earlier, he looked in front to see how they stopped the Brandals’ siege weapons and was amazed by what he saw.

In front of him was a massive iron-curtain that was draped before the city walls.

Suddenly, four massive boulders, three times the size of the ones loaded on catapults came at them. Smoke instinctively blocked his arms in front of him.

CLINK CLINK CLINK CLINK

Four boulders simply rolled down from the curtain and rolled back down the mountainside, straight towards Macher and his invading army.

“What in the world is that?” asked Smoke in disbelief.

Espion patted Smoke’s back and gave him a knowing smile. “That’s exactly what I said when I first saw it too.”

Prosjak shouted and ordered their Bards, Minstrels and Dancers to enchant the iron-curtain with more defensive and protective aura around it.

“This was a joint project by our Blacksmiths, Tailors and Seamstress. They’ve been building this iron-curtain for the past month,” explained Prosjak proudly. “Sadly, they only managed to make one big enough to support a single gate.”

Then, five bandit groups started climbing up the mountainside. They were widely spread out. When they reached about a fourth of the climb, Prosjak suddenly shouted. “Archers, fire!”

“Damn it! They changed their strategy when you arrived,” said Prosjak while looking at Smoke.

Three of the Bandit Groups were stopped by the arrows, while two of them reached the walls. They placed numerous exploding gems, magical stones imbued with compact explosion spells, on the city walls.

“Damn it! I’m getting too old for this,” said Prosjak and threw two massive chests down the wall.

THUD THUD

From the loud impact they made when the hit the ground, Smoke could tell that something heavy was inside the chests. They were also large enough to fit an entire body, but the middle-aged man lifted them like they were empty boxes. He landed gracefully on the ground, as if he were temporarily suspended in mid-air before touching the earth.

Smoke couldn’t see clearly what Prosjak was doing. Also he saw was that the royal adviser flicked his fingers at the numerous exploding gems, and all of the gems were removed from the wall. He then threw them back to the bandits.

BTOOM BTOOM BTOOM BTOOM BTOOM

Several bandits flew up in the air as they were blown away by their own exploding gems.

After the explosions ended, the Brandals circled around the lone middle-aged man.

“Why isn’t anyone else jumping in after him?” Smoke asked Espion.

“Apparently, he likes to fight alone,” replied Espion quickly. “It’s best just to watch from afar.”

Prosjak then bowed down before the Brandals. “Gentlemen, allow me to tell you the story of Prince Dosadno and Prince Neizvestan. Brother princes who protected their city in different manners.”

After Prosjak ended his sentence, the lid on the two chests opened simultaneously. Two human-sized puppets with the heads of jack-o-lanterns came out simultaneously. One of them had on a silver royal armor with two silver zweihänders. Whereas, the other puppet wore a golden royal armor and had a golden shield with a matching golden claymore.

Neizvestan, Prosjak’s puppet in silver armor, blindly charged at the bandits as the puppeteer moved him with his right hand.

Meanwhile, Dosadno, his golden puppet, remained by his side. Rightfully so, as numerous bandits got out of the silver puppet’s way and went after Prosjak directly.

Dosadno blocked most of their attacks and got stabbed by the bandits’ knives which the puppet could not stop. Yet, the puppet remained unfazed as it did not have a life bar and continued on fighting the Brandals.

The silver puppet moved farther away from Prosjak as it slaughtered more and more bandits. One of them managed to hit the silver puppet’s jack-o-lantern head, but the pumpkin head fixed itself right after the bandit’s knife was taken out.

‘So, his puppets don’t get damage at all. With that golden puppet sticking to him like an overprotective parent, there’s no way Prosjak is going to get hit by the bandits,’ thought Smoke with admiration and envy. He had just received new subordinates himself, but they were not immune like Prosjak’s puppets.

Despite Prosjak’s fighting prowess, Smoke felt that it was still better to aid the middle-aged man than just to watch idly by.

“Archers, aim for the bandits out of the puppets’ reach!” yelled Smoke. Unsure whether they would listen to him or not.

Luckily, the Archers followed his command and began firing their arrows. Smoke also equipped his power chainsaw bow and began attacking from on top of the castle wall.

In the midst of the constant rain of boulders, Prosjak held the ground battle by himself, against more than a thousand bandits.

Smoke and the Centzo Archers greatly reduced the life bars of the bandits on the ground, but Dosadno and Neizvestan fought like machines of death.

Twenty minutes after the battle, the bandits near the southern wall were finally wiped out. Smoke used his enhanced-eyesight ability to see how many were left on the foot of the mountain. He found several pitched tents with only five-thousand bandits left guarding the catapults and trebuchets. He quickly jumped down the wall and landed right next to Prosjak.

“Where are Macher and his Knights?” Smoke asked worriedly.

“He should be down there inside his tent,” replied Prosjak confidently. “I haven’t seen any major movements coming out of there since the start of the battle.”

“I don’t think he’s there,” blurted out Smoke and leapt off the mountainside, gliding straight for Macher’s tent.

“Igniz, light me up,” he ordered his symbiote, and the dark ember sprite instantly obeyed.

CRASH

Torn pieces of the burnt tent floated in the air as Smoke landed squarely on it. He was left uninjured as the bandits near the siege weapons were taken by surprise of his sudden aerial attack.

Smoke hurriedly took to the air once more before the Brandals could get to him. As he reached a higher altitude, he saw more smoke coming out from Incitant’s side of the city.

He hurriedly called Sierra.

“Pick up, pick up,” he said out loud to himself as she wasn’t answering his call.

With more buildings being destroyed on the western side of the city, he decided to head to Incitant’s forces as quickly possible.

* * * * * *  

Incitant’s inner blockade was destroyed. Thousands of bandits along with hundreds of Cavalry Knights had already swarmed the western part of the city.

Smoke saw a group of people hiding in one of the tall buildings throwing down pots at six bandits who were trying to break through their locked doors.

Swiftly, he switched to his power chainsaw bow. Together with Igniz, the two of them targeted the Brandals. It took them less than two minutes to finish them off. He then created earth pillars to reinforce the defenses on the lower floors of the building.

After saving that building, Smoke looked around and found dozens of buildings in a similar state. Brandals were on their doorsteps, forcibly removing the planks of woods on their doorways.

‘What in the world is Incitant doing?’ he wondered to himself as he thought how to save all of them.

“Igniz, cover the doorways with your firewall, but make sure that they don’t hit their wooden planks,” he ordered his symbiote. “We just need to make the bandits back off until I can get to them.”

After Smoke’s command, Igniz immediately blazed down to the nearest building and started implementing his orders.

Whereas, Smoke landed to the building next to it. Equipped with his black lightning rods, he bashed the skulls of the marauding bandits.

He faced Brandals numbering from four to seven of them, who were harassing the tall buildings with Centzo’s citizens in them.

After he finished off five groups, he saw it. A water elemental, a four-meter-tall humanoid water-entity, was viciously attacking Incitant.

BLOCK BLOCK BLOCK

The Archbishop’s shield was blessed with divine protection, and a small cross appeared over it each time the water elemental struck it with its fists.

Incitant’s life bar was still at 60%, but it only displayed (144,000/240,000 HP). Smoke guessed that he must have placed his stats on Intelligence, as he was not a battle oriented healer like Sierra.

Smoke crossed the black lightning rods together and aimed at the water elemental. A blue, blinding flash erupted out of his twin weapons. His Lightning Strike hit the water summon directly on its back, and inflicted 102,900 damage points to it.

The water elemental instantly disappeared.

“Thanks, Smoke. It was immune to my physical attacks, and I get separated from my magician members,” explained Incitant defensively.

“Don’t worry about it,” replied Smoke cordially. “Exactly where are—” he stopped talking as another water elemental sprouted right in front of them.

Smoke tried to block the water summon’s fist with his twin rods but was knocked back to the building behind him. He quickly looked around and searched for the summoner, and found a female Elementalist being protected by a male Archbishop.

“Macher, over here. We found Smoke!” shouted the Elementalist.

“Avidite, he can’t hear us. Macher is on the other side, remember?” explained the Archbishop.

‘So, they’re with Macher,’ realized Smoke, and searched for the dastardly Cavalry Knight.

“Incitant, head over to where your group is. I’ll hold them off,” said Smoke.

“No, I’ll support you while you fight them. You’re a High Wizard, right? I work well with magicians,” replied Incitant flatly.

“Crescere Vita!” Incitant started shouting out blessings on Smoke. “Vitam Reficio! Medeis Reficio!”

+ You’re Blessed with Crescere Vita for the next ten minutes: Your Maximum Life has increased by 25%.

+ You’re Blessed with Vitam Reficio for the next five minutes: Your HP Recovery has increased by 50%.

+ You’re Blessed with Medeis Reficio for the next five minutes: Your MP Recovery has been increased by 50%.


“Oh, do you have one more of those one-hit K.O. attacks like that lightning one earlier?” asked Incitant curiously.

“Hm. The cooldown for that one is pretty long, but I guess I have one more attack that could do as much damage,” explained Smoke.

“Good,” said Incitant and blessed him with one more spell. “Duis Zamia!”

+ You’re Blessed with Duis Zamia. The damage on your next attack is doubled.


Smoke was amazed to see so many blessings at once, since this was his first time to fight together with an Archbishop.

‘No wonder Amahan and Tristan have such powerful attacks,’ he thought to himself and hoped to have an Archbishop in his own private army soon.

Suddenly, Smoke was forcibly brought back to reality when the gigantic water elemental started attacking the two of them.

He swiftly switched out his black lightning rods for his white metallic staff, and created a concave Manatl large enough to protect himself and Incitant.

SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD

The sounds of the purple barrier being pummeled by the water elemental rang above him.

“What kind of barrier is this?” asked Incitant curiously as he hid behind Smoke. ” I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“It’s a special kind,” said Smoke enigmatically. “Anyway, that last blessing you gave me. It doesn’t have a duration does it?”

“Technically, it doesn’t but it disappears when you log out of Zectas,” explained Incitant.

“Alright,” said Smoke with a grin. “You better stand back for a while. We need to take a few more hits.”

After five minutes of the water elemental’s incessant attacks, Smoke’s purple Manatl still showed no signs of degradation.

‘My training with Ledur really paid off,’ he thought to himself proudly, but he knew that it was time to finish this. He estimated that he had gathered enough energy for his purpose.

“Run behind the building and stay there for a while,” said Smoke abruptly.

Incitant nodded and hid far away from him. With the Archbishop in a safe distance, Smoke canceled his Manatl and expertly dodged the water elemental. He used his Hyper Jump ability to glide to the top of the building.

The female Elementalist, who controlled the water summon, searched for Smoke on the roof tops. Then, she sensed something was behind her, she turned around and was taken by surprise when she saw a white flash of light appear in front of her.

Enhanced by Incitant’s Duis Zamia blessing, Smoke struck his energized white metallic staff on the Elementalist’s head and killed her with one hit. Her life bar instantly displayed (0/280,000 HP).

The water elemental near Incitant lost its ability to hold its form, and turned into a puddle of water.

Smoke quickly switched to his black twin rods and began attacking the Archbishop with the Elementalist. The Archbishop tried to block his attacks, but Smoke was simply faster.

The Archbishop could not heal himself as Smoke wouldn’t give him the opportunity. Finally, after three minutes, he drained his opponent’s life bar to 3%.

Smoke’s opponent fell down on his knees.

“Poltron, no!” cried out Macher from across the destroyed city block.

Smoke watched Macher blindly charging towards him on top of his dirus wolf. He remembered how Macher betrayed him on the mounted race and trapped him inside the labyrinth. He glared at the Cavalry Knight and swiftly delivered the finishing blow on the Archbishop.

“Smoke, you bastard!” shouted Macher and kicked his mount in order for it to run faster.

Suddenly, a massive war hammer smashed into Macher’s side as Stark blindsided him.

Sierra and the rest of his private army shortly arrived afterwards.

Smoke and Incitant rushed towards them.

“Why are you here? I thought I told you to go to the southern gate?” asked a smiling Smoke.

“Thyrsus’ falcon saw you heading here. So, I knew something was up,” explained Sierra.

“Where are the two misfits? They’re the ones carrying my magnetic rocks, right?” inquired Smoke as he was excited to see his metallic golems in action.

“Laernea and Gandiva are still nowhere near us. So, you can’t use your new toys. But Sharur and Jinggu should have their catapults set up soon.”

Smoke then looked over to the blown away Macher. His life bar was fully restored as one of his Priests went over to him. They still had more than nine-thousand Cavalry Knights at their disposal. The mounted Knights either had glaives or long-spears on hand.

“What did I ever do to you!” shouted Macher from far away.

Smoke was about to scream how he tricked him during the mounted race, but quickly remembered that it was his other persona, Ilad “the Flame Knight,” who Macher tricked.

“I detest how you and your men have dealt with the Zectians of Centzo!” shouted Smoke back.

“Where’s Ilad? I don’t see any purple Flame Knight,” said Macher as he observed the surviving Elemental Knights of the Vigilantez.

“He’s out on an important mission,” answered Smoke. He lied to stall for more time.

“Tell him that if he ever wants to step foot in Centzo again, then he better join my side,” stated Macher boldly. “After all, I’m going to be the Mayor of this city.”

“Duke Macher! Doesn’t it sound nice?” taunted the Cavalry Knight.

Sierra then whispered to Smoke. “Sharur and Jinggu are ready.”

“Macher! Let me show you what I think of you being Duke,” said Smoke menacingly.

Twenty-six flaming boulders flew out from behind Smoke as the twin OrkElves used their captured catapults. The Cavalry Knights in the destroyed city block were targeted. Clouds of dust covered them as the rocks crumbled upon impact.

Most of the bandits and the lower level Knights were flattened under the debris of rocks, but Macher and his private army of Knights survived.

Smoke didn’t see what ability they used to attack the boulders as his vision was blocked by the dust.

“You didn’t think that this measly attack will do us in, did you?” said Macher sarcastically and pointed his glaive at Smoke.

The Priests under Macher worked fast on healing their injured party members. They created several white casting circles, and everyone inside it received healing as small white balls went up from below the ground.

Macher kicked his dirus wolf’s belly and rode angrily towards Smoke. However, a red Maneator stepped in front of his path. The Cavalry Knight used his glaive ability, Illusionary Strike, and nine afterimages of his weapon appeared.

Stark tried to block Macher’s attack, but was blown away instead. The Maneator’s life bar displayed at 65% after receiving the Cavalry Knight’s glaive.

Unopposed by any other Vigilantez, Macher galloped forward to the DarkElf.

Smoke created a concave Manatl and prepared for impact.

TWANG

Sierra suddenly leapt out from the side of the buildings and struck her Armored Armadillo Shield squarely on Macher’s face and fell down his dirus wolf.

The two of them tumbled on the ground. Before Macher could recover from being stunned, Sierra used her Energy Mace on him. She bludgeoned Macher’s metal helmet and made small dent on it.

However, Sierra flew backwards as she was attacked by afterimages of Macher’s glaive.

Then, more Cavalry Knights behind Macher charged in after him. Yet, they were hurriedly met by Guro and her troops of Ranseurs and Iron Knights. They were also aided by the Arcus’ arrows as the Vigilantez ranged corps attacked them from behind the safety of their melee forces.

Despite the sudden emergence of the Vigilantez, they were still losing. The levels of the Cavalry Knights were well beyond that of an ordinary bandit or even that of a Brandal Captain.

Fortunately, several white casting circles appeared where the Vigilantez stood. Incitant and other Priests variations of their Sonstwelter Alliance supported them from behind, while their low level mages fired out airballs, fireballs and waterballs at the Cavalry Knights.

Then, a silver puppet and a golden puppet appeared from the side. Prosjak arrived, and his two human-sized puppets wiped the floor against four Cavalry Knights at the same time.

Steadily, Prosjak fought his way towards Macher.

“Your army in the southern gate is lost!” said the middle-aged adviser. “Surrender, and maybe Duke Jeune will show you mercy.”

“Are you insane?” replied Macher. “I still have you outnumbered and outclassed!”

“Raaaaah!” came shouts from behind Macher’s forces. He turned around and was surprised to see more Vigilantez appear.

Adder, Thyrsus, Vijaya, Sharanga, Ichaival, Jeter and the rest of the Avendre Mercenaries from Smoke’s army finally arrived, blocking the entrance of the broken down wall. They had circled around the destroyed city block in order to lock Macher and his men in.

Smoke hurriedly walk over to Sierra and helped her up. “Are you alright?” he asked worriedly.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I was barely scratched. Go finish Macher,” she replied with a grin. However, her life bar still displayed 75% despite her tremendous defense.

He squeezed her shoulders and carried her to one of the white casting circles made by Incitant’s forces. There, she left her to recover.

More Cavalry Knights charged at Smoke, but they were all met with Ranseurs led by his four Maneators.

Macher easily handled Prosjak’s silver jack-o-lantern puppet. The afterimages of his glaive broke through the puppet’s two zweihänders. Fortunately, the silver puppet did not have a life bar. Otherwise, it would have been killed.

Prosjak had to use both his puppets, Dosadno and Neizvestan, against Macher in order for them to fight evenly.

However, after a few more exchanges, Neizvestan’s twin swords damaged Macher while Dosadno’s defense left Prosjak’s life bar untarnished.

Smoke faced two Sonstwelter Cavalry Knights from the side of their battle, and waited for the perfect opportunity to join in.

Since the Sonstwelters he was facing were much slower when compared to Macher, he was able to dance around them. He could even ride on the back of their dirus wolf and hit them from behind before they could attack him with their long-spears.

Slowly, the Cavalry Knights began to die out as Smoke’s, Incitant’s and Prosjak’s forces gathered around them.

Macher’s concentration was disturbed as he heard the screams of his personally trained Knights being killed off by the Vigilantez and the Avendre Mercenaries. His life bar was reduced to 65%.

He watched the well-known core members and observed whether he could attack them, but saw that they were well protected by Iron Knights, Ranseurs, Arcus, Shamans and Acolytes. He also noticed that most of their Priests had died out, which led to more of their Knights dying as no one was there to heal them.

“Garcon, ride on my back, I’ll make sure you stay alive,” said Macher to one of their surviving Zectian Priests near him.

The Zectian gratefully accepted the offer. “Thank you so much, Sir Macher. I’ll be sure to heal you until my dying breath.”

“Just make sure to stay with me,” replied Macher, and enjoyed the warm feeling of white lights entering his body as he was being healed.

Macher looked around and knew it was a hopeless situation. He needed to get out of there with what was left of his private army. He couldn’t allow them to die here, not without him conquering a city.

TOOT TOTOTOOT TOOT TOOT TOOOOT TOTOTOOT

Sounds of Cavalry Trumpets rang from outside the walls.

‘He still had more men?’ wondered Smoke in disbelief.

“Old man, you defended your city well, but I found the pattern to your golden puppet’s defense,” Macher said to Prosjak, and used his ability called True Strike.

Macher threw his glaive and eighteen afterimages of his weapon appeared. Dosadno tried to block most of them, but he couldn’t stop them all. The golden puppet defended the ones that could target the vital portions of Prosjak and neglected the ones farther out of its reach.

However, the ones that got past the golden puppet disappeared and instantly reappeared in front of Prosjak and stabbed him through his stomach.

Prosjak fell down and displayed a life bar of 25%. Apparently, the middle-aged man had a low HP and an even more lower defense. His life bar displayed (52,500/210,000 HP).

Smoke quickly rushed to Prosjak and took out Macher’s glaive. The middle-aged adviser was inflicted with the Bleeding status. Due to the large wound the glaive left, 1% of his life bar was being drained per second.

“Incitant! We need your help!” cried out Smoke but none of the Priests could hear him as they were still busy healing everyone else.

Then, he heard Macher’s voice. “Farewell, Smoke. We shall meet again!” he said threateningly and rode off towards the Vigilantez blocking his escape.

Smoke couldn’t understand how Macher could have hid more of his Knights from outside the city. “Igniz, fly up. I need to see this,” he ordered his symbiote, while still holding on to the injured Prosjak.

At once, Igniz blitzed upward.

Smoke used his Symbiote Vision and saw four-thousand Cavalry Knights riding on muscular acinonyx cheetahs. From one look at those Cavalry Knights and mounts, he could tell that they were of a special breed.

“Everyone, retreat! Follow my lead!” shouted Macher and went straight towards Adder’s formation.

‘Oh no! He’s going after my core members,’ thought a worried Smoke. He stood up, but Prosjak grabbed on to his arm.

“Where are you going? Please help me,” begged Prosjak. The royal adviser’s skin was becoming paler by the second.

Thankfully, Sierra arrived and began healing the middle-aged man. “Go Smoke, I got this,” said a fully recovered Sierra.

Smoke took to the skies and readied to crash down on Macher. “Igniz, to me!” he yelled out and his symbiote flew towards him.

As soon as Igniz started covering him in flames, several long-spears went straight for him. Smoke fell down to the ground, impaled with three spears. Coupled with the damage from the fall, he had less than 25% of his life bar. He took out the spears, but Horrabelle’s curse, Decay Aura, activated and his life bar was steadily being depleted together with the draining damage from the Bleeding Status.

Incitant rushed over to him and yelled. “Sortis Revoco!”

His Bleeding Status was removed, but his Decay Aura was still active and began reducing Incitant’s life bar by 100 HP per second.

“Whoa! What is that?” asked an alarmed Incitant as he was being attacked by the curse.

“Just heal me and we’ll be fine,” ordered Smoke impatiently.

A white casting circle immediately appeared below them, and both of them were healed by small balls of white light.

Despite being healed, Smoke worried about the imminent danger, as he could see the onslaught of the specially trained Cavalry Knights. Dozens of Avendre Mercenaries were thrown up in the air as they forcibly made their way towards Macher.

Smoke got out of the casting circle as soon as his life bar reached 50%. “Everyone, just get out of their way!” he yelled as he desperately started running out to help his army, who were blocking Macher’s path.

‘Killing Macher isn’t worth the lives of all those Zectians,’ Smoke thought to himself.

Fortunately, Adder heard his voice and began ordering everyone to step away from the Cavalry Knights’ path. The Condortlian Warrior expected a similar scenario when they defeated the northern Brandal army.

As Adder disseminated Smoke’s orders, the rest of his core members complied without question.

However, a group of Avendre Mercenaries, led by Jeter, did not receive this important information. They remained where they stood, and fought off against a few surviving bandits and numerous Cavalry Knights.

Although outnumbered, the Mercenaries were inspired to fight by the Vigilantez. Also, their increase in several levels from the previous battle made them stronger and allowed them to hold their own against the well trained Cavalry Knights.

Macher, who was looking to inflict a heavy blow on Smoke’s army, pointed towards Jeter’s group of Avendre Mercenaries. He signaled the Commander of the Silny Division to crush them from both sides.

The Cavalry Knights on acinonyx cheetahs and Macher’s surviving army clashed against Jeter’s legion of Mercenaries.

Yet, even with ten more levels, the Avendre Mercenaries could still have not survive such a gruesome encounter. Attacked from both directions, Jeter ordered his men to retreat.

They were already having a hard time against one force of Cavalry Knights. Yet, before Jeter’s troops could pull out, most of them were already impaled on glaives and long-spears.

Macher, recognizing the uniform of an Avendre Commander, personally went after Jeter. He took one of the long-spears sticking out of a dead Mercenary and used his Illusionary Strike on Jeter.

The Avendre Commander was pierced in eight critical locations, and Macher’s final attack sent him flying to the destroyed wall. He was cruelly impaled against it, his feet departed from the ground, as he remained suspended in the air by the spear.

Macher then led all the Cavalry Knights out of Centzo. Jinggu and Sharur’s boulders came hurtling down on them, but most of them easily destroyed the fiery rocks with their glaives and long-spears.

The Vigilantez’s Therianthropes and Tikbalangs made sure to hold onto at least one of the Knights, but they only numbered less than three-hundred.

Stuck behind the Cavalry Knights stragglers Macher left behind, Smoke furiously watched him escape. He saw that his core members were still struggling against them, and couldn’t risk any one of them dying here.

Macher escaped with more than eleven-thousand men, while Smoke, Incitant and Prosjak only looked on from inside the broken walls of Centzo. All of their factions remained to finish off the last members of the invading forces.

* * * * * *  

An hour passed since Macher’s escape. The remaining Brandals and Cavalry Knights had all been wiped out. Smoke sat down on the rubble of the city’s broken wall, and stared blankly at Jeter’s kite shield and saber.

Meanwhile, Sierra had the Shamans and Acolytes prepare the meal for the residents of Centzo. They used the food brought by the Avendre Mercenaries and the food supplies they looted from the Brandals.

Sierra had the food imbued with healing properties to further enhance the effect of their meal. She then had her Therianthrope forces, in their human form, serve the residents.

Adder and Ledur joined their empathetic leader.

“Jeter fought bravely. He died an honorable death,” said Adder and patted Smoke’s shoulder.

“Did you know that I was planning on recruiting him to our private army,” said Smoke with a heavy heart. “I was going to payoff his debts with the Avendre after this battle was over.”

“Well, I heard from Jeter’s men that it was his dream to fight alongside us, and especially under your leadership,” added Adder. “So, I think he went to Mictlan without any regrets.”

Ledur remained quiet, as he struggled to keep his vow of silence. As his sign of encouragement, the winged Tikbalang simply ruffled Smoke’s long white hair with his hooves. He then proceeded to fix the destroyed portion of the western wall with his Earth Manipulation.

“Thank you. I think I get what you’re saying,” said Smoke somberly. “We better start securing the city. We don’t know if Macher and his forces might come back.”

Smoke joined Ledur in fixing the torn-down western wall. Whereas, Adder went out to find Espion. The two of them were assigned to be liaison officers for the Vigilantez and Centzo factions.

Apparently, Espion had long started to coordinate with Prosjak and Duke Jeune about future relations with Verbrannt and Centzo.

While fixing the wall, Smoke saw the twin OrkElves work on the catapults left in front of the western side. The OrkElves’ forces began gathering the siege weapons left behind by Macher and his invading army.

Still suffering from the loss of Jeter, Smoke then realized that he had not thanked his core members properly. 

“I’ll be right back, Ledur,” he said to the winged Tikbalang and flew off.

He glided down swiftly to them. Sharur and Jinggu immediately stopped tinkering with the siege weapons when they saw him.

“Listen, I know that I haven’t worked closely together with the two of you lately, and I’m sorry for that. But I want you to know that the two of you played an important role in this victory,” explained Smoke earnestly.

He wanted to thank them properly in case he would miss the chance like he did with Jeter.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Sharur. “Sierra’s been covering your absence, and we know that whatever it is you’re doing, it will always be for the good of someone else.”

“I feel exactly the same way,” said Jinggu and grinned. “Besides, you haven’t really been neglecting us. You still talk to us once in awhile.”

“Still, we should remedy that soon,” said Smoke and lightly punched Jinggu’s shoulder. “Hopefully, Sierra can work her magic with the food, and feed everyone in the city for a proper victory celebration.”

“Knowing Sierra, I’m sure she’ll be able to do it,” replied Sharur.

After Smoke left, the twin OrkElves gathered two trebuchets and seventy catapults together. Smoke told them to improve their mobility as he planned to take them back with them to Verbrannt.

Smoke then spotted Thyrsus, Vijaya, Ichaival and Sharanga waiting on top of the southern wall. Apparently, they organized sentry groups to survey the entire capital. Their falcons flew on intervals and all reported to Vijaya.

All of the Hunters were still waiting for their falcons’ return. Smoke saw Ichaival retelling one of their fights, while Thyrsus and Vijaya were laughing. Only Sharanga remained unfazed and kept a stern experssion.

When he got closer, Smoke realized that the story Ichaival was saying was about Sharanga’s traps accidentally capturing one of the Avendre Mercenaries.

Smoke called out to them. “Hey, Guys, I wanted to thank you for your nice work out there.”

“We could have done better, but at least all of us made out okay,” bluntly stated Vijaya.

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Sharanga.

“Overall, I think we did more than okay,” interjected Ichaival. “Don’t get me wrong. I know that there’s still plenty of room for improvement, but we survived and got stronger.”

“Speaking about improvement,” interjected Sharanga. “I came up with some idea for my traps after I saw that Elementalist summoning the water elemental.”

“That’s great, Sharanga!” exclaimed Ichaival and fervently praised her. “Only you, would find inspiration from the enemy.”

“Not now, Ichaival!” said an irritated Sharanga, and turned to Smoke. “I was hoping I can ask for some of your elemental stones.”

“Sure, alright. Which elemental stone?” asked Smoke curiously.

“Maybe a stone from each of the elements you have on you,” said Sharanga.

Without delay, he reached into his backpack and gave her a clay, ember, electro and a dew stone. “Here, I hope they’ll be very useful to you.”

After giving Sharanga the elemental stones, Smoke noticed Vijaya staring at the battle-filled clearing surrounding the capital.

Vijaya stared at the barren land. “How long do you think it will take this place to recover?”

“As long as the people of Centzo are alive, I’m sure this region will be back on its feet in no time,” answered Thyrsus out of the blue.

“Alright, I’ll let all of you get back to it, I’m going to go see what everyone else is doing,” said Smoke and bade farewell to the Hunters.

Next, Smoke searched for the three Lioumereans. He heard from Espion that they volunteered to help find lost family members.

From above, he spotted Laernea, Gandiva and Guro sitting behind a desk, getting information from residents who were looking for their family.

He never expected to see such a civilized scene from the three Lioumereans. All of them were always on the go and had trouble staying in one place for too long.

Smoke landed softly next to their table. “What are you three up to?” he asked and startled Laernea.

“Isn’t it obvious?” stated Guro flatly. “We are connecting lost family members. If you want to help, feel free to pull up a chair.”

“Yeah, there are four more centers similar to this one all over the city,” explained Gandiva briskly. “What we need to do afterwards is collate the data and hopefully we’ll all find the missing people.”

“What made you volunteer for this?” asked Smoke curiously.

“Did you forget? The two of us were orphans. We wouldn’t want such a misfortune happen to another child,” said a hurt Laernea.

“I simply don’t want people to feel lost,” added Guro.

Smoke remembered how Guro was imprisoned inside the labyrinth for years. He realized that these three Lioumereans naturally suppress their mischievous and fierce personalities whenever the need to help others arose.

“Well, let me get a copy of your gathered information, and I’ll deliver them to the other centers,” said Smoke proudly.

Laernea handed him a stack of paper, and he placed them neatly inside his backpack. He then flew off to the other centers.

While delivering the papers, he spotted Adelige, Rasant, Stark and Weise. All four Maneators stayed away from the Centzo residents.

He heard from Weise about how other people outside Verbrannt react when they see their faces. It appears that they still cringe in fear whenever they see Maneators.

Smoke surmised that this was Weise’s attempt to stay away from Centzo’s residents. He then also noticed that the Maneators had the Tikbalangs join them.

After he delivered the Lioumereans’ gathered information on the lost residents, Smoke returned to help Ledur in fixing the wall. A few minutes into his work, he spotted Incitant walking over towards him.

“Smoke, just the DarkElf I wanted to see,” said Incitant cordially.

“What can I do for you?” answered Smoke with an unwelcoming tone.

“I just wanted to make sure that you’ve got no problem with the villages that we’re going to get in the awarding ceremonies,” explained the Archbishop.

“I know that you’ve done more than we did in this battle, but please don’t try to steal the reward that was already agreed upon,” pleaded Incitant calmly.

“Of course, you don’t have to worry about anything like that,” replied Smoke.

“Thank you, Smoke, you really are an honorable person,” said Incitant and offered his hand to Smoke.

Smoke shook it to be civilized. He just wanted Incitant to walk away so he could resume his work on the wall, and forget about losing Jeter and the other Zectians fallen in battle.

Six more hours passed and they had finished most of the essential repairs on the city. There were still several buildings that needed to be torn down as they were already unsafe to be fixed. However, there was no longer a single crack in the capital’s wall. Not only that, they also had round-the-clock watchers posted on all sides of the wall.

Since the awarding ceremony wasn’t until tomorrow, Smoke decided that he was going to log out for a while. He walked over to where Sierra was. She was still busy cooking food for the thousands of Centzo citizens.

“I think I’m gonna get some shut eye,” Smoke said to Sierra. “Can you take a break from feeding them for a while?”

“Of course,” replied Sierra and asked Phen and Rear, who were in their human form, serve the starving citizens.

“You’re not planning on running away somewhere now, are you?” asked Sierra worriedly.

“No, nothing like that. I really just want to get some sleep,” said Smoke defensively.

Sierra smiled at him and pulled him in for a tight hug. He hugged her back and easily wrapped his arms around her. A feat he was never able to do when Sierra was in her cursed Werebear form.

“We’ll get stronger,” he whispered in her ear. “Strong enough to make this pain go away.”

“I know,” replied Sierra wholeheartedly.

Smoke released Sierra’s hug and logged out of Zectas.

* * * * * *  

The next day, the entire city was out celebrating. All the residents were in the streets singing songs of their victory over the Brandals.

Although there was little food involved, the merriment still continued on. It was as if a long ban of sorrow had been lifted from the city. Centzo was on its way back to its salubrious state.

Yet, another more intimate celebration was being held in the royal throne room of the capital. There, Smoke and Incitant, along with their personally selected members were all dressed in their fanciest attire.

“I see you’re still going for the warmonger look,” Incitant said to Smoke as he pointed to the DarkElf’s battle-worn clothes.

“I haven’t bought anything fancy,” Smoke tried to explain his appearance as he didn’t want Incitant to know of his hidden Job.

“You should at least have it repaired,” exclaimed Incitant. “I know the best artisan here. I’ll—” the Archbishop was cut short as they heard the loud tapping of the royal staff.

TAP TAP TAP

Prosjak holding a thick staff tapped the floor. “Everyone, please welcome, Duke Jeune of Centzo.”

The ten-year-old ruler appeared in front of the crowd in his own modest robes. He had called Smoke and Incitant here for their awarding ceremony.

“In the presence of everyone here, I would like to commend these two individuals for their efforts in freeing Centzo,” said Jeune.

“Incitant, please step forward,” said the Duke.

“For your alliance’s services to Centzo I award you and your group the villages of Arm, Elend, Gering, Mager, Mau, Minder, Labil, Hin, Trostlos and Braucht Hilfe,” proclaimed Duke Jeune. “Of course, the last one may still have some of the invading forces. So, I need you to take care of that yourself.”

“Also, I award Incitant the title of Centzo’s Lord Defender,” added Jeune.

Incitant remained speechless and simply bowed down at the Duke. The Archbishop stepped aside as Prosjak signaled for him to do so.

“Smoke, please step forward,” ordered Jeune.

“Your guild and your leadership with the Avendre Mercenaries have been a crucial factor in our victory over the Brandals and Duke Burmistrz,” began Jeune. “As agreed upon, any business transactions that you or any of your representatives would have in Centzo will be exempted from taxes.”

Smoke was taken by surprise, the original agreement was only to be discounted with 75%. Yet, now they were now tax free instead.

‘I’m sure our Merchants from Verbrannt will make a killing from all the earnings that they’ll have from this,’ thought Smoke happily.

Duke Jeune resumed speaking and brought back Smoke’s focus.

“Also, it is officially declared that the free state of Verbrannt and the city of Centzo are now and forever will be, allies!” added the Duke.

Smoke looked at Sierra and saw her smiling face. He knew that the economist in her was already scheming up ways to exploit this tax exemption.

Prosjak then ushered him out of the way and the Duke addressed the entire room.

“Citizens of Centzo. We are now free, but this freedom was won with blood. Let us all learn from this experience. From this day forward, I shall implement an obligatory military draft on all citizens, aged sixteen and above. No one is exempted from this rule,” the Duke spoke with strong conviction. “Let it be known throughout Wysteria that Centzo is a city that will not fall, and it will never fall as long as we stand together!”

The crowd applauded the young ruler. Despite his youth, he showed talents of great wisdom, understanding and compassion.

Prosjak then dismissed the gathered crowd and led Duke Jeune away from the royal throne room.

Smoke went over to Sierra as she was the only other Vigilantez there with him. Everyone else of his core members were already out enjoying their free time in the city’s celebrations.

“I can’t believe we’re free of taxes,” said Sierra as he got closer to him. “You’re not bummed that you didn’t get a title, though are you?”

“No, I don’t need a title. I’m just sad that not all of our members got any form of reward from all of this,” said Smoke as he thought about his men.

“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure that their allowances will increase, and they’ll have better equipments. In fact, all of us should have better equipments after we rake in the money,” said Sierra excitedly.

He clearly saw Sierra’s eyes dazzle. He couldn’t begin to imagine what she already had planned in that short amount of time.

“Anyway, let’s head over to them,” said Smoke to Sierra, and led her to where the Vigilantez were gathered.

* * * * * *  

The Vigilantez had made themselves comfortable in the cleared up city block. None of the fallen buildings were restored. Instead, there were several benches placed in a large circle, and fully grown trees were transplanted in the area.

Many of Centzo’s children were seen inside the spacious city block as they were drawn in by Laernea and Gandiva’s playful nature. Apparently, their work in finding the lost family members worked out perfectly. They all found the missing family members reported.

The Maneators and Tikbalangs were alarmed to see the children at first, but none of the children were scared at the sight of them. In fact, they even played with them.

Smoke smiled as he watched them having fun. ‘What a spacious place. I think the residents could easily have picnics here if the Duke won’t build anything here,’ thought Smoke to himself.

His curiosity got the better of him and asked Espion. “Do you have any idea what’s going to be put up here?”

“From what Prosjak told me, the Duke plans to build a park here in place of the tall buildings from before,” explained Espion.

Smoke looked around and was impressed by the work of Centzo’s Gardeners. The park had quickly taken shape. Flowering bushes were planted around to give the park a fence-like facade. The trees were trimmed to give them a much cleaner look.

Despite the city’s celebrations, most of the Vigilantez stayed in the newly created park. They enjoyed watching the work of Centzo’s Gardeners.

Then, a new group of people arrived, they were Centzo’s finest artisans. They brought large objects, over five-meters tall. They were all covered in white sheets. 

The artisans placed the mysterious objects right at the center of the park. There, the hidden items were lined up right next to each other.

Smoke, Sierra and the rest of his core members got closer to see what was going on. Slowly more of the Vigilantez members and the Avendre Mercenaries joined in to observe the artisans.

Suddenly, a group of golden armored Knights arrived. It was Duke Jeune, the young ruler of Centzo. The group stopped in front of the covered object. He was also accompanied by Prosjak, who was carrying the same thick staff in the royal throne room.

The golden armored Knights all moved to the side and gave the Vigilantez a clearer view of the Duke. Prosjak stepped forward and tapped on the ground.

TAP TAP TAP

“Members of the Vigilantez, Duke Jeune wishes to speak with all of you.”

Prosjak stepped aside for Jeune.

“I can honestly say that without your bravery, this city would have fallen. Without your consideration, this city would have starved. Without your friendship, this city would have been lost,” said Jeune gratefully.

Jeune then pointed to the covered object behind him. “Allow me to present to you, this monument of your bravery.”

A statue of Smoke, Sierra and the rest of the Vigilantez was revealed before them. There were Elemental Knights, Maneators, Tikbalangs, Werewolves, Werebears, Centaurs, Ranseurs, Arcus and even the Avendre Mercenaries.

All of the Vigilantez applauded and cheered. Some of the were able to hold back the tears, while others cried out. They remembered the comrades they lost, but were also happy that the Brandals were no more.

“Come, examine it for yourselves,” said Jeune and gave way for the Vigilantez to take a closer look.

Many wanted to shake the hands of the young Duke, and he gladly accommodated them.

Prosjak, who stood beside the Duke the whole time, was slowly guiding him to where Smoke was.

Away from the rest of the Vigilantez, Duke Jeune called Smoke to him.

“We still have unfinished business, you and I,” said the Duke calmly.

“Huh? What do you mean? You already awarded me in the throne room,” replied Smoke.

“There was one other reason we were successful in freeing Centzo, and that was because you slayed Horrabelle and disabled her Therianthrope army from joining the Brandals,” stated Jeune.

Then, a notification window popped up.

+ Completed Quest: Cut the Head of the Snake
   
    You have killed Horrabelle and prevented her and her Therianthrope forces from attacking Centzo.

  Rewards:
  * Intimacy with Duke Juene has increased to 90
  * 1,000,000 experience 
  * Title: Centzo’s Assassin

Smoke was pleased to see that he had increased his Intimacy with the Duke to such a high level, but he was intrigued to see the new title he acquired.

He wanted to inspect the title, but Jeune was not done talking. “With your recent accomplishments I would like you to go on another assignment for me.”

“If it’s anything within my power, then I’m yours to command,” replied Smoke as he got into the role of Centzo’s Assassin.

“I imagine that Burmistrz won’t be happy with his utter defeat here. From what Prosjak told me, I think we wiped out almost all of the Brandals in the last battle,” began Jeune. He spoke with such consideration for the future that Smoke wondered why they made this Zectian into a young boy instead of an old wise Duke.

“However, I am sure that Burmistrz won’t stop. I know that he will assemble more people under his banner and try again,” added Jeune.

Smoke nodded as he completely agreed with the young boy.

“Therefore, I wish for you to save us from such a foul event. I want you to kill Burmistrz,” said Jeune without blinking.

A notification window popped up instantly.

+ Quest: Cut the Head of the Snake II
    Assassination Quest
    Level: A+

    Due to your previous success, Duke Jeune requested that you assassinate Duke Burmistrz and wipe out the Brandal’s head.

    Accept the Quest? [YES/NO]

“I gladly accept,” replied Smoke solemnly.

“Very good. Well, let me meet some more of your people. I wish to know more of the Vigilantez and hear stories from them,” said Jeune and walked away.

Prosjak remained behind and spoke with Smoke privately.

“I’d like to personally thank you. I’m afraid I don’t have any rewards to give you, but I would have liked to give you a recommendation,” said Prosjak mysteriously. “But you aren’t at the stage to accept it yet. Maybe, next time. When you’ve reached the right level.”

“Huh? What do you mean? What right level? Is my level still too low? Is that it?” Smoke pestered Prosjak about the requirements for getting his potential reward from him, but the middle-aged adviser never spoke another word about it again.

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