Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 04 – Chapter 09

Author: John Nest

Warning: This chapter hasn’t been edited or proofread…So, please feel free to comment any suggestions…

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

Side Note:  Merry Christmas! I wanted to have released this on Christmas itself, but got too busy with the holiday. Hope you have fun reading it! ^_^

The Vigilantez’s Nascent Dominance


Swiveling his computer chair back and forth, Nash sat on the edge of his seat as he double checked his latest video about to be uploaded. He compiled the recordings from his battle for Centzo’s freedom and showcased Incitant and the Sonstwelter Alliance who defended the city.

After Tristan lost Tonaci City, he stopped posting videos and kept a low profile. Nash decided to follow his lead, in the sense that he stayed out of the limelight. He extended this to Prosjak and the rest of Centzo’s residents as well. He kept their real abilities hidden from his video, most especially their iron-curtain defense.

Centzo’s Blacksmiths, Tailors, and Seamstress were currently working double time in order to complete an iron-curtain that covered the entire capital.

Due to his high Intimacy with Duke Jeune, they were also tasked to make a large portion to give to Nash as a sample, and included the instruction manual on how to create one. Given these items, he was sure Verbrannt’s own Blacksmiths, Tailors and Seamstress could reproduce the iron-curtain.

He uploaded his latest video, and watched the results of his previous video. It was of how his Vigilantez went against Horrabelle’s Therianthrope army. He figured it was pointless to hide those scenes from the rest of Zectas’ players as many of Macher’s army were Sonstwelters, and saw most of the battle.

However, he stopped the video when Horrabelle was trapped inside the earth-dome. As he did not want his true abilities to be publicly known. Unknowingly, this stirred the comment section of this video.


DMX: …And Smoke was never seen again…

Louche: Only that isn’t the case. You should have seen the end of that battle. It was…something else entirely. I know, because I was there!

Dark_AvEngER: Damn it! I was so looking forward to see how that ended, but knew that Smoke was up to his old tricks again when I saw the time left on the video…

Manita: Oh you bastard! You got me hooked, and on the last moment you went and took it all away from me.

Emagine: Imagine that. Looks like one of the Smoke’s fan boys infiltrated his guild?

Louche: I am not Smoke’s fanboy. I’m a devote follower of Mamelon.

Nozzie: And who’s Mamelon? Some guys just keep on posting things and expect us to understand what they’re saying.

TriTank: Smoke’s idiocy is a virus! He’s even infected Amahan’s video. You should see how abruptly they end those videos now.

ProfessorXectas: At least Smoke and Amahan are still making videos, and what about your beloved Tristan? He hasn’t made one for quite some time now…

TriTank: Oh, I can assure you that he has transcended in playing on the same level as Smoke and Amahan. In fact, he doesn’t see the need to post these videos anymore…but if he does post one again, I’m sure that it will blow Smoke’s and Amahan’s right out of the water.

Magikera: Dream on!


Nash did not mind most of the comments, but was intrigued to see that Amahan had done a similar cliffhanger post. He quickly searched through the Zectas website and found the Exorcist’s latest video.

It started with the Decane guild entering the last temple of Gahoul Comataz, Djinn of the North.

Nash then saw an ice orb float in front of Amahan.

After a few seconds the ice orb spoke. “You have reached your destination. Now, we shall see whether you are worthy to possess my master’s powers…”

The video skipped as Amahan edited out the ice orb’s trial before him. Nash knew from personal experience how difficult a Djinn’s trial could be, and completely understood why Amahan decided to remove it. This was exactly what he would have done as well.

The next scene then showed a five-meter tall statue of the legendary Djinn, Gahoul Comataz. It was made of ice crystals with an array of vibrant colors, which gave it a life-like impression. The Djinn had a sharp, feathery humanoid body with the color of the night. Its head was that of a black falcon with a silver beak. Comataz had long talons for fingernails and storm colored wings that was twice the length of his entire height.

As he continued to watch Amahan’s video, he then saw the Exorcist walk slowly towards the statue with four sapphire crystals, which Nash recognized as Comataz’s four essences.

Amahan then placed all of the precious stones on the foot of the statue and uttered these words. “Je te convoque, Gahoul Comataz!”

A blinding blue light appeared in front of Nash’s monitor. When it cleared up, a notification window popped up.

[REBORN] Djinn of the North: Gahoul Comataz

  This monstrous ice Djinn, now loyally serves Amahan!
  + Gained Djinn of the North: Comataz


Nash then remembered that Gahoul Comataz was not only the Djinn of the North, but was also the keeper of Aquilo, King of the forgotten Northern Kingdom!

As soon as the notification window vanished, Nash waited with anticipation to see what the actual Djinn looked like. He imagined that it would be similar to its intimidating five-meter tall statue, but Amahan’s video abruptly ended.

‘So, that’s how it feels,’ thought Smoke to himself after he finished watching the video.

Nash smiled as he was genuinely happy for Amahan. The Exorcist to the North may have gotten a Djinn before him, but he would not be far behind.

“Nash? Are you done, yet? Mr. Cacoy is already driving up our street!” shouted Donny from below.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming. Hold your horses,” answered Nash and locked his computer screen.

His youngest brother was excited to leave as today was his second Amateur Unarmed Tournament Open Martial Art Techniques Association, or as it was commonly called, AUTOMATA.

Whereas, Seth decided not to join this year as he wanted to focus on his extra lessons for advance computer studies.

Nash ran down the stairs, and saw Seth drinking a soda while watching television. It was a live broadcast of Zectas’ CEO. She looked like to be in her early fifties and had short hair. She was receiving a humanitarian of the year award.

“What’s going on, Seth? Why is she being awarded?” asked Nash curiously.

Seth shrugged while he finished his soda. “Not really sure, I just tuned in myself. I think it’s because of all the positive things Zectas has done in society for the past two years since it’s been up.”

Nash watched the coverage a little bit longer when he heard Donny scream out his name from Mr. Cacoy’s silver suburban.

“You take care of Mima, okay? You know how she’s been feeling under the weather almost everyday now,” reminded Nash as he walked out their front door.

“Good Morning, Mr. Cacoy,” Nash greeted his Eskrima master.

“Shut up, and get in. Donny’s almost late as it is,” said Cacoy.

“But, you were the one who just—” Nash instantly stopped talking when Cacoy sped out of their street, leaving tire marks all over the place.

“What were you saying back there, Nash?” asked Cacoy meaningfully, as if trying to bait a prey into a trap.

“Nothing. I said I hope we can make it on time, that’s all,” hurriedly explained Nash.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get there in time, and he’s going to win the nationals this year!” declared Cacoy.

“But we need to win the city-preliminaries first,” humbly said Nash.

“Come on, Nash, you don’t think I can win the city-preliminaries? I even trained harder this year. You don’t have to be so pessimistic about it,” said a hurt Donny.

“Oh, no. I didn’t mean it like that, Donny,” added Nash quickly, but he already spoke such thoughtless words.

Nash kept his mouth shut. He took out his phone and placed his blue-tooth headset on, and watched the live broadcast of Zectas’ CEO receiving the award.

Since he already missed the live broadcast, he settled for her trending video on her acceptance speech.

“As some of you might have heard from the news. Zectas’ strict requirements on their game pods entry to the virtual reality world has made quite an impact on ours. Their players have to exercise, and they even ban players who do drugs,” began the presenter. “Not only that, but they also offer real opportunities for people to earn money.”

The presenter paused and smiled at Zectas’ CEO. “But they didn’t stop there. They even opened several free game centers where people could use their game pods for free. This selfless act allowed people who couldn’t afford to play their game, gain access to its limitless opportunities.”

“To the person in-charge of giving our citizens new lives, new jobs, new hopes, we award the Humanitarian of the Year to, Dr. Lisa Zuckerman,” said the presenter and clapped loudly.

A short-haired brunette classically walked up to the podium.

“Thank you, Harvey,” she began, and received the award from him. “Thank you also to the governing body who thought that I deserved this award. But I would be a liar if I said that I did this alone. First off, I would like to thank the core developers. You know who you are. So, I will not mention your names.”

Despite her years, Lisa half-giggled and half-cried. “Sorry, I apologize for that. I just remembered what one of them said. He said that we are surely changing the world and someday soon we’re going to get rewarded by it. And now I’m standing here in front of you.”

The Zectas’ CEO tried to recompose herself and took a deep breath. “Anyway, we also have our investors who gave us an overwhelming starting capital, but of course you got a lot richer from that investment, right?”

The audience laughed loudly as it was well known that the stocks for Zectas had more than quintupled over the last two years.

“But I must say that this award also goes out to all the Sonstwelters out there. That’s Zectas’ slang for its players,” she explained to the audience briefly. “You’ve channeled so much of your time and effort into the virtual reality world of Zectas that it truly has become a different world to live in. Because of you, we now have our monetary system where almost everyone could earn and live out their dreams.”

She smiled and looked at the gathered crowd. “I also urge parents, who could pass the physical and mental conditions of the game to join your children inside Zectas. Our demographic for people who are in their forties to their fifties have increased as well.”

A song was then played by the orchestra to signify that her time was up.

Lisa then paused and stared into the camera. “Lastly, I would like to thank, Darius, for convincing all of us of Zectas real existence. I used to feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I wasn’t living, but you were the key to lifting that burden.”

‘Did she just say Darius? It couldn’t be the same one I know from the game. Could it?’ Nash wondered to himself.

After the video ended, Nash placed his phone inside his pocket as they were almost near the tournament.

As soon as they got off the silver suburban, Donny immediately spotted a young black-haired teen, who was about the same age as himself.

“Why is Kurt Santos here?” asked Donny loudly.

“Who’s Kurt Santos?” asked Nash.

“Donny, Donny, overhear!” called out the smiling boy whom Nash thought to be Kurt.

Nash and Donny slowly made their way to him while Cacoy parked his car.

“I was so looking forward to our next fight that I registered in the city you were in,” said Kurt excitedly. The kid then offered his hand to Nash. “Oh, you must be Nash. Donny and Seth spoke highly about you. My name is Kurt Santos. I actually live in Virginia Beach, but there were no rules that said you had to live in the city to participate in its preliminaries.”

From Kurt’s lengthy and rapid manner of talking, Nash thought that he was very energetic and friendly. “Nice to meet you, Kurt,” he smiled and shook the boy’s hand.

“So, you really did come here after all,” interrupted Donny icily. “I thought you were kidding about wanting to fight as soon as possible.”

Kurt smiled and playfully slapped Donny’s shoulder, but Donny easily deflected it with his right hand, and stepped back.

“Come on, Donny, don’t be like that. Even though I won the championship, I told you, you’re the strongest opponent I’ve ever faced,” explained Kurt eagerly. “I’ve been training ever since I was two years old. Honestly, practicing Eskrima everyday got boring for me, until you came a long. After we fought last year, I practiced even harder and even had my older brother train with me.”

With a hurt expression, Donny looked at Nash briefly and turned back to the boy.

“Good for you, Kurt, now why don’t I register and we’ll see each other in there,” said Donny flatly and entered the building.

Nash shamefully followed Donny inside. He would have wanted to help Donny prepare for this competition, but he needed to be inside Zectas as much as possible.

As the two of them walked farther in, Nash tried to defend himself. ‘What is he still mad at me for? I’m already giving up an entire day of Zectas just to be with him,’ he reasoned to himself as he carried Donny’s things.

Donny then went on to get his pairings from the officials. As it turned out, he wasn’t scheduled to fight with Kurt until the finals.

“You got this in the bag, Donny, you can do this!” said Nash energetically as he cheered his brother on.

Donny looked at Nash skeptically. “Really? Just a while ago you told me I had to pass the city-preliminaries first, and now look who appears?”

Without answering, Nash proceeded to help his brother wear his protective gear.

“Just two wins and you’ll finally get your revenge for last year,” encouraged Nash.

Donny bit his mouthpiece and paid him no mind.

Cacoy then grabbed Donny’s shoulder. “Remember, Kid. Don’t do anything fancy. Stick to the basics and finish it quickly.”

Donny looked at his master and bowed to him respectfully.

Obediently following Grandmaster Cacoy’s instruction, Donny breezed through his first two opponents, and found himself waiting for Kurt to face him.

A few minutes later, Kurt had also won his second victory and earned the right to face Donny in the finals.

It was as if destiny called out to the two of them. These two young teens met in the finals, and the audience were enthralled to see their fight.

“Good Luck, Donny,” said Nash and offered his fist for a bump.

Nash smiled widely when Donny met his fist.

“I’m bringing home the bacon!” declared Donny to Nash and Cacoy.

Donny and Kurt faced each other from the opposite sides of the square rubber mat. They bowed to each other, to the referee and finally to the judges.

Nash could clearly see Donny’s seriousness and determination on his face, but he saw the same expression on his youngest brother’s opponent.

Donny dashed out from his side and lead with a right jab. From Nash’s standpoint, Donny moved fluidly. He had clearly improved, but Kurt caught it and bent it backward into Donny’s body for an arm lock.

However, Donny calmly performed a backflip and got out of Kurt’s hold. He then delivered two quick kicks to Kurt’s left shin and which made him out balanced.

As soon as Kurt lifted his arms in the air, Donny’s fist rapidly delivered a series of combinations to Kurt’s solar plexus, and armpit.

Kurt fell down on the mat and stayed there. Normally, Donny would have mounted his grounded opponent, but this wasn’t just anyone else.

Despite being grounded, the last year’s champion grinned at Donny. Both his hands clutched the places where he was struck as they were all in pain.

Donny remained in a fighting stance and waited for Kurt to get up. As the younger Smoak expected, Kurt got up without a problem.

This time, Kurt charged in with a jab and Donny swiftly countered with a right cross. However, Kurt snapped back his leading hand while pulling hard on Donny’s arm. Kurt lifted both his feet in the air and caught Donny in an arm bar.

The two boys were on the mat with Donny’s right arm hyper-extended. Donny struggled to break free. His left leg was going up and down a few times, when suddenly it hit Kurt’s right arm and loosened his hold on Donny.

The young Smoak quickly rolled away, and moved his right arm in a three-hundred-sixty-degree motion. Staying away from Kurt, he made quick jabs with his hand to check the damage. It made loud cracking sounds, but he was able to do fast and powerful jabs with it.

Kurt then moved to the center of the mat and planted both his feet firmly while assuming a wide stance. He then motioned for Donny to step in front of him.

Donny shook his head, but moved toward his opponent anyway. He then assumed a similar stance to Kurt.

The two of them then performed blitzing attacks with their fists, while parrying and blocking one with the other. Then, Donny started kicking at Kurt’s legs, but his opponent easily evaded his attack and countered with kicks of his own. Their arms and legs continued hitting each other and bruises began to show.

Nash whistled loudly as he watched their match progress. Their stalemate lasted for a full minute, and the referee had to jump in between the two of them as the round had already ended.

Donny returned to his corner where Nash and Cacoy were waiting for him. Nash quickly offered for Donny to sit down, but his brother shook his head.

“No. I’m not sure that I could stand up again if I did,” explained Donny and drank the water offered by Cacoy instead.

Nash quickly proceeded to lightly massage Donny’s legs with ice packs. He looked at the bruises on Donny’s legs and couldn’t help but be impressed at his brother. He looked over to Kurt and found the young boy standing up as well.

He glanced at the people in Kurt’s corner and found that one of them looked familiar to him, but Nash couldn’t place him from where he knew him from.

“Seconds out!” ordered the referee.

Only Donny, Kurt and the referee were on top of the mat once more.

Kurt was slowly walking towards Donny. He was limping but his eyes still clearly showed his perseverance to win. Whereas, Donny himself waited for his opponent while preserving his strength.

The moment Kurt got into his range, Donny lunged out with a strike.

Unfortunately, Kurt caught Donny’s hand and pinned him to the mat while quickly pulling his arm over to his back. Donny cringed in pain as he was caught in another arm lock.

“Aaaaah!” screamed out Donny, but he would not surrender.

“Come on, Donny, just tap out already. You know I can’t loosen my hold. Otherwise, you would just escape,” reasoned out Kurt.

“No!” shouted Donny. “Aaaaah!” he screamed out again.

After more than a minute passed, it was the referee who decided to end the fight and declared Kurt the winner.

Donny screamed out in protest. Nash and Cacoy quickly went to him, to help him and calm him down.

It was a close fight, but Kurt was still slightly better than Donny.

As he assisted his brother back to the locker room, Nash heard one of the bystanders talk. “The two of them should have met at the nationals.”

He couldn’t have agreed more, but this was the hard reality.

* * * * * *  

Nash stretched out his arms as he stepped out of his Zectas game pod. He was still in Centzo as the Vigilantez were still there enhancing the city’s defenses.

He felt that it was safe for them to stay in Centzo for a little while longer. According to Caid, Burmistrz himself was rattled.

Their defeat in Centzo made Burmistrz recall all of the stationed Cavalry Knights in the outer villages back to his capital in Coatl.

The Beggar Evocati estimated that it would take more than a year for the Burmistrz to recover the loss of his Brandals.

Confident of their situation in Zectas, he logged out as it was time for him to get his monthly check from the game center.

THRASH THRASH THRASH

Yet, he couldn’t leave Donny alone as his youngest brother was making a loud racket in their garage.

It had been a full day after Donny lost in the AUTOMATA’s city-preliminaries.

THRASH THRASH THRASH

Donny still continued on clamoring downstairs, which made Nash decide to go down and see him. As he passed by the kitchen, he found their Mima sitting in the kitchen table.

“Nash, could you come here for a second,” she called.

He immediately changed directions and walked towards her. “Good morning, Mima. How are you feeling today?”

“Still not good, but I had to get up to see what Donny was up to. I heard from Seth about how he lost yesterday, but I think this is going a bit too far,” explained his Mima. “It kind of reminds me on how you were like when you first started going into that game pod of yours.”

Nash’s shoulders dropped. He gave a guilty smile and couldn’t come up with anything to say in his defense. He was about to reprimand Donny, but realized that this was the same way he acted when Tristan tricked him.

In fact, this was how he reacted whenever something bad happened to him in Zectas.

Mima then patted Nash’s hand. “Just be kind to Donny, okay?”

“Alright, Mima, I will,” replied Nash and headed over to his brother.

THRASH THRASH THRASH

Nash walked in on Donny as he was hitting a tin-garbage can into a misshapen figure with his Eskrima sticks.

“Ahem!” coughed Nash forcibly. “Hey, Donny.”

His youngest brother stopped hitting the garbage can and looked at him.

“Are you honestly going to tell me that I shouldn’t be like this?” asked Donny threateningly.

“No. Of course not,” replied Nash quickly. “I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“Pretty great! Obviously!” answered Donny sarcastically.

“Yeah, I can see that,” replied Nash with the same tone.

The two brothers fell silent and awkwardly chose different sides of the garage to stare at.

“Listen, I’m really sorry that I wasn’t around to help you with your training,” apologized Nash sincerely.

Donny mumbled something inaudible, but Nash decided not to force his brother to talk.

“I was too absorbed in my own thing that I completely neglected you,” explained Nash, but he knew that it wasn’t a valid reason at all. “I wish I had more time, but I just don’t have that much time to spare with your training.”

“Don’t worry about it, Nash. I understand that,” said Donny meekly. “I’m not really mad at you. In fact, I’m more angry with myself.”

Nash was taken aback. He wasn’t expecting to hear this from Donny.

“I mean Seth is doing his computer thing, and you have Zectas… I thought I had Eskrima. I mean the two of you are doing your own thing without any of my help, but both Seth and you still take the time to check on my progress,” explained Donny.

“But, Donny, I think you did really well against Kurt. You were clearly why he got stronger this year. He was intimidated by you,” Nash said to his brother proudly. “So, don’t give up. Next year, it’ll be us who will register to whichever city Kurt is entering.”

Donny smiled gratefully, and appeared to have calmed down a bit.

“Also, I know that I’ve been acting like a psycho with my sudden outbursts before, but I want you to know that it isn’t right. I’m working on it myself, and I think I’ve already adjusted to —” Nash stopped talking as he received a call from his Manager.

“Excuse me, Donny, I have to take this,” said Nash and answered his Manager.

* * * * * *  

His Manager called him, and told him to come thirty-minutes later than the agreed upon time. Nash promptly arrived in the game center on the newly set schedule.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

“Come in, Nash. You’re the only one who doesn’t seem to understand my open door policy,” said a friendly man sitting in his manager’s table filled with stacks of papers and paper clips.

“Mr. Kohle, sorry. I keep on forgetting to just enter your office, Sir,” sheepishly explained Nash as he sat down in front of him.

After he spoke, he instantly noticed that Mr. Kohle’s hair had started to grow thin and that his face looked worn out.

“Is everything alright, Sir?” Nash voiced out his concern. The game center manager had always been like a second father to him, and it was because of him that he is playing Zectas now.

“It’s nothing. Just not getting enough sleep lately,” replied Kohle. “Anyway, here’s your check.”

Nash reached out his hand and took the check, but Kohle grabbed his hand.

“Listen, it’s been over a year since you started playing Zectas and I wanted to know if you’re experiencing any side effects?” Kohle asked apprehensively.

“Side effects? I don’t think so?” he answered as he tried to recall any semblance of a symptom.

“Really? Because I got a call from your grandmother, telling me that you’ve been having outbursts lately? And now even Donny is acting the same way?”

“Mima called you?” asked a surprised Nash. “And what outburst?”

“She told me that she’s been hearing you yelling inside your room,” spelled out Kohle. “On the plus side, I asked that if you’ve been violent towards her or your brothers, but at least she hasn’t noticed anything like that.”

Nash was taken aback. He didn’t know where all of this was coming from. Although it was true that he felt a bit irrational at times, but it was only because of the circumstances in the game.

He didn’t respond and only stared at Kohle with a perturbed expression.

“Based on what I’m seeing, I guess your grandmother was right to worry,” he spoke with great concern. “I think something inside Zectas changed you.”

“Mr. Kohle, people change all the time. If I got a job somewhere else I bet I would’ve changed there too,” countered Nash defensively.

“True, but I have it on good authority that there could be side effects to people who get too immersed in the virtual reality world,” flatly stated the game center manager.

“For example,” said Kohle as he suddenly picked up some paper clips on his desk and threw it at Nash.

Nash instinctively dodge all the paper clips and cried out. “Hey! What’s the big idea?”

“Sorry about that. I just wanted to prove my point,” said an astonished Kohle.

“A group of researchers in MIT tested Zectas players and Non Zectas players with a similar experiment,” Kohle began to explain. “They would catch test subjects off guard and throw random stuff at them.”

“Let me guess…all of them filed a lawsuit against the researchers,” said Nash sarcastically.

“No,” added Kohle quickly. “Some of the Zectas’ players could dodge them just like what you did while others would block the thrown objects. Whereas, the non players would always be hit by some if not all of the objects thrown at them.”

“So, we’ve got superpowers now?” asked Nash with a raised eyebrow.

Kohle strongly shook his head. “Of course, nothing like that. They just said that Zectas players have better reflexes.”

“I don’t think that’s a bad side effect.” Nash shrugged his shoulders. “In fact, that could be very useful in sports.”

“True, but now the researchers are also doing some psychoanalysis on the players…and one of their initial findings is that some Zectas players have experienced personality changes.”

“You don’t have to worry about me, Mr. Kohle. I’ve got it handled,” he waved his hands passively.

“Maybe, but I don’t want to risk that with you. That’s why I’m offering you a different job. It doesn’t pay as much as your earning now, but at least it’s safer,” explained Kohle as he grabbed some sheets of paper and offered it to him.

Nash forcefully turned the papers back to Kohle, and stared at him angrily. “I don’t want another job. I’m happy playing Zectas.”

“Please, Mr. Kohle, I don’t want to quit Zectas. I’m fine, honest,” humbly pleaded Nash as he quickly changed his demeanor.

“Are you sure?” asked Kohle with uncertainty.

“Yeah, I’m positive. So, I have to run,” said Nash hurriedly and stood up. “Thanks again for the check. I’ll be back next month.”

Nash sprinted for the door and left the game center in a flash.

Kohle stared at the door. He took a deep breath, picked up his phone and called one of his contacts. “Hello, Dr. Z? I think something’s wrong with Nash. No! You told me that even if his game capsule was the first of its kind, it was suppose to be safe.”

He abruptly stood up after he heard the answer on the other line. “I know that you used his data to create the special capsules you launched a few weeks later.”

“If something happens to Nash, I’ll tell the world the truth about what Zectas really does to its players,” threatened Kohle and dropped the call.

* * * * * *  

Smoke awoke at the sights and sounds of the salubrious city. Yet, this time, it was not the sounds of plays that filled Centzo. Instead, he heard the clamoring of steel, the sawing of wood and other production works of enhancing the city’s defenses.

The capital was less crowded as many of the citizens have already gone with Incitant and other members of Centzo’s Sonstwelter Alliance. They had set out to rebuild the villages given to them. More than 40% of the capital’s population had been reduced after they left.

Sharur, Jinggu, and Sharanga have also developed mounted ballistae, which allowed them to increase the range of their attack from the walls. They were placed slightly higher above their iron-curtains and enabled them to attack while defending at the same time.

There were plenty of things that Smoke needed to do in order to assassinate Burmistrz. He had thought of one method, but that was more of a suicide mission than an assassination.

Together with Adder and Espion, Smoke went to see Prosjak. He would have taken Sierra with him, but she had already left Centzo. She took all of her Therianthrope army for company as she went to complete her Hidden Job Quest.

“This way,” said Espion as he led the way to Prosjak’s office.

The royal adviser’s door was open. “Prosjak, may we come in?” asked Espion humbly.

The middle-aged man sat behind his desk, looking at stacks of papers. “Of course,” replied Prosjak. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, Smoke, wanted to discuss about the Duke’s next assignment,” began Espion.

“Yes, about that,” replied Prosjak. “I just spoke with my colleague who’s a part of the Avendre. I think he could help you out. If the city wasn’t in such a bad shape, military-wise, I think we could have spared sending the Mercenaries with you.”

Prosjak then took out a letter and handed it over to Smoke.

+ Acquired parchment: Prosjak’s Introduction letter to Solliciter


‘Prosjak’s colleague was the leader of the Avendre Mercenaries?’ thought a surprised Smoke.

“Thank you, Prosjak, but can you tell me how to get to Mount Alouer?” asked Smoke.

“Certainly,” replied the middle-age man and wrote it on a piece of paper. He then handed it over to him.

A notification window popped up after he read it.

MAP LOCATION: Avendre Mercenary HQ in Mount Alouer

  Coordinates: Latitude: 12°25′ N, Longitude: 20°15′ E
  Note: Seven hundred seventy kilometers away from current location.


‘It’s not that far from here,’ observed Smoke to himself.

“I’m not sure what you’re actual plans are, but I do know that the Burmistrz forces have been greatly reduced,” explained Prosjak. “In fact, I heard that he has recalled all of his Cavalry Knights back to his capital. I estimate that he should need a—”

“A year in order to rebuild the force he lost from his Brandals,” interjected a surprised Smoke, as he finished Prosjak’s sentence for him.

Smoke knew this because this was exactly the same thing that Caid told him earlier.

“Oh, so you already knew about this? That’s good,” stated Prosjak cordially. “For the time being, I think going in with the Avendre Mercenaries would have the highest chance of success, but I am not sure how long that might take.”

Smoke thought to ask Prosjak on the other method he thought of. “What if an elite strike force could secretly penetrate the city and attack Burmistrz? Do you think that would work?”

“Hm…” Prosjak tapped his desk and looked at Smoke intensely. He then turned his gaze on Adder and Espion. “I think the chances for success on that method is less than 50%. Furthermore, I think that someone like you would never choose such a method.”

“What makes you say that?” asked Smoke curiously.

“Because you would never intentionally endanger the lives of your comrades, right?” stated Prosjak flatly. “Sure you would take them to war, but you always expect that all of them would come out alive.”

The royal adviser then pointed to Adder and Espion. “Without a doubt, your private army will follow you anywhere. I bet they would even jump over a cliff if you ask them to.”

Prosjak stood up, walked over to Smoke’s side of the desk and patted his shoulder. “Thankfully, you’re not that kind of a leader. That is why I think that you would never choose this method.”

“But I’m not sure that even with the Avendre’s help that we could take on Coatl itself. I mean a full frontal attack would involve a full scale war,” explained Smoke.

“What if we came at them from a different angle?” asked Adder abruptly.

“Well, I guess that could work, but digging a tunnel to reach Coatl would take longer as well,” replied Smoke.

“No, what I meant was—” Adder wasn’t able to finish his proposal as he was interrupted by Prosjak.

“When facing an insurmountable task, there is no shortcut. But if you’re patient enough. I think that charging in with the Avendre will still give you the highest chance of success,” Prosjak repeated what he just said earlier.

“Alright,” said Smoke with uncertainty. “Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll visit the Avendre’s HQ soon.”

As the three Vigilantez left Prosjak’s chamber with a muddled expression. Prosjak called out for Smoke to remain behind.

“About my other recommendation to you, it is not your actual level per se that stops me but your current rank. If you could move that to the next level, then I’ll tell you more about it then,” suddenly explained Prosjak.

Smoke had given up on asking him about that, but was pleasantly surprised to learn more about Prosjak’s requirement.

“I think I get it. Thank you for that, Prosjak,” said Smoke and started leaving again.

“Oh, and Smoke. Don’t do what I said just because I said it. Think everything through. After that, I know that no matter what you do, it will be the right thing,” stated Prosjak confidently.

Smoke briskly walked after his two Zectian friends in the corridor.

“What did Prosjak want?” asked Adder.

“Oh, he just told me about the other condition for another recommendation,” explained Smoke.

After they got out of the building, Adder finally shared his thoughts. “Do you think Prosjak wants us to do what the Brandals did to Centzo?”

“Do you mean harass the entire city, and cut out their food supply?” asked Espion.

“I don’t think so, but what he said about it having the highest chance of success does make sense,” reasoned out Smoke. “I just don’t like the time frame that it entails, and that is also if we could hire enough Avendre Mercenaries to match Coatl’s Knights.”

Smoke then pulled his two friends to a discreet corner. “I’ll leave for the Avendre’s Headquarters after I gather some supplies, while you two start preparations for our journey back to Verbrannt. Leave as soon as you can. I know that Caid said Verbrannt should be safe, but it’s best to be vigilant always.”

* * * * * *  

Under the lazy afternoon sun, Sierra and her personal army of two-hundred-eighty Zectians were headed for Ardennes Forest. They were spread out among ten ordinary carriages, which were being pulled by aardwolves. These were the mounts that survived the battle but have lost their war chariots.

Normally, they would have been given to be mounts on the Arcus who drove them, but sadly the Arcus themselves did not survive.

It had been almost five days since they left Centzo’s region. The desolate sight of the Brandals’ carnage were long left behind.

Instead, they gladly welcomed the sight of greenery and docile low-level creatures that grazed on the expansive plains. It was a pleasant distraction from always being reminded of the harsh battle they had just won.

As they were nearing the location, Sierra checked on the actual coordinates of their destination. She opened the Quest window.
 

+ Quest: Hidden Job of the Natural World
    Job Quest
    Level: A

    Hidden Job of the Natural World can only be accessed when you have gained the ability called Transmogrify. In order to complete the Job Change, you only need to appear in front of the altar of Ardennes Forest. [Latitude: 20°15′ N, Longitude: 25°12′ E]


She smiled after she read the quest information. This was why Sierra brought everyone with the Transmogrify ability with her.

Although, no one else knew why they were here, not even Smoke.

Looking over the horizon, Sierra found a good-sized mountain blocking their path. As it was getting dark, she decided to make camp.

“Alright, everyone, we’ll rest here for the night,” she yelled loudly for everybody to hear.

Ardu and Vrai, the youngest of her companions, were still in their late teens. As Werebears in their cursed forms, they were clearly bigger and stronger than any of the Werewolves. Naturally, commanding respect and authority from all of the Werewolves.

However, this was not the case when they were in their Human forms. Due to this, they worked extra harder at helping out around their group.

Without being told, the two of them were always the first ones to prepare the meals for all of their members.

Meanwhile, Phen and Rear took charge of security. Next to the two young teens, they were in command. They had no problem with the change in hierarchy as the two children were responsible leaders, and always listened to their advice.

After Sierra, Ardu, and Vrai finished cooking their meal, they all gathered in a big circle and talked while eating a delicious supper. They spoke of the people who thanked them in Centzo. There were many who gave invitations to live with them. Of course, none of them accepted such proposals as they all belonged together.

Then, Sierra decided to share the true purpose of their mission. “Everyone, your loyalty and faith is without question. You follow me into these lands without even asking for the reason why we are here. I think it is the right time that I tell you.”

All of her gathered friends waited in anticipation.

“I know that we must fight to protect the things that we love, but I hope that we can do so without having to revert to our bestial forms,” she said solemnly. “We fought so hard to be free from those cursed forms. I firmly believe that we should be able to contribute to the fight without having to rely on them.”

Vrai meekly raised her hand. “If you want us to fight in our normal bodies, then we will train hard.”

“Yes! And in order to do that you need proper Jobs,” said Sierra excitedly.

“Alright, where exactly are we going? And what is going to happen to us there?” asked Vrai bluntly.

“I honestly don’t know, but I believe that this will make us stronger,” replied Sierra with conviction.

“And even if it doesn’t, I think that we are already strong as we are now,” added Rear. “We’ll just become Ranseurs or Arcus or something else.”

Phen grunted in agreement with Rear. The rest of her private army cheered loudly after they heard the news.

“I’m glad you’re all on board with this,” said Sierra with a smile.

As the stars gave poor lighting, Sierra pointed over the mountain’s silhouette. “Tomorrow, when we reach its summit, we will see what is in store for us.”

After finishing their dinner, Sierra had a few conversations with her newly added private army members. She got to know them better and raised her Intimacies with them as well.

With eight more hours before the sun would rise, Sierra decided to log out and get a two hour sleep. She adopted Smoke’s sleeping pattern as she found it quite efficient.

* * * * * *  

Before the break of dawn, Sierra returned and was already busy cooking breakfast. Her Cooking ability was drastically increasing as she experimented with more ingredients and intrepid cooking methods.

Her private army gladly enjoyed the fruits of her enthusiasm for cooking.

They then quickly gathered their belongings and began climbing the mountain. The moment they entered it, they were met with more aggressive monsters than the ones from the plains.

Stone deer, rabid raccoon and even spined coyotes began attacking them. Yet, they were only equipped with ordinary weapons such as basic wooden staves.

They might not have had any abilities, but their levels were well above 100. They gained a tremendous amount of experience from when they were still cursed Therianthropes.

Sierra ordered them into formations and provided healing for all of her private army. She had them fend for themselves using their staves.

They got into teams of five and protected each others back. Slowly, they made their way up the mountain. These monsters’ only had life bars of 15,000 HP and posed no threat to them, but it was a great exercise for them to fight in their natural bodies.

After defeating the monsters, they happily gathered the dropped loot as this was something they could not do from when they were in their cursed forms. They carried the meat, pelt and other dropped items of the monsters.

As they reached the peak of the mountain, they saw a sea of trees on the valley in the other side.

‘I’ve never seen so many trees in one place before,’ thought Sierra to herself, and they were mostly fighting in forested areas.

Upon closer inspection, she spotted a clearing in the center of the forest. They carefully made their way down the mountain towards it.

Suddenly, a notification window popped up.

– Entered Ardennes Forest

  You have entered the sacred land of the Druids. Tread lightly for you walk on spiritual ground.

  – There are no aggressive monsters inside this forest.
  – Suggested level for entering this forest is not applicable.


Sierra closed the window, but was intrigued at its information. This was the first time she entered an area with no level requirement.

The thickness of the trees did not allow for any sunlight to pass through. There were only two sources of light that entered the sea of trees. They were from the area where they came from, and the other one was at the exit of the clearing.

Along the way, they spotted small flashes of light appear and disappear all around them. They looked like fireflies that could instantly vanish right before their eyes.

Sierra noticed that each one of them had a small ball of light personally escort them to the clearing. All of them, except for her.

When they finally reached the clearing, they found an altar made out of roots that grew out from the ground.

Cautiously, Sierra walked closer towards the altar of roots.

Suddenly, all of the small balls of light joined together above the altar of roots, and formed one gigantic orb.

“Greetings, only those with the knowledge of this place can see us from our sea of trees,” said the orb of light. “What is it that you seek here?”

Sierra boldly stood up in front of the orb and answered. “We seek the Hidden Job of the Natural World.”

The orb swiveled around as if it were looking at all of them.

“Nature has a delicate balance, but sentient beings always think that they are better than nature,” began the orb. “We find that only those of who have been corrupted and wish to repent may be worthy vessels of our power.”

Sierra then looked to her private army. “I know I said that we shouldn’t rely on our cursed forms, but I think this time we should. Everyone, Transmogrify!” she ordered loudly.

Without any question, all of Sierra’s private army members transformed into their cursed forms.

“AWWWWOOOOOOOO AWWWWW AWWWWWOOOOO!” loud cries of the Werewolves echoed throughout Ardennes Forest.

The red Werebear raised her paw, and signaled everyone to quiet down.

The orb of light shone even brighter. “We are pleased to see that all of you have your cursed forms under control. We shall grant you our powers, but we expect that you be advocates of the natural order. Punish the wicked who have made monsters such as yourselves.”

Suddenly, it scattered into the small light balls that had accompanied them to the clearing. The balls of light entered their heads of the Therianthropes and merged with their minds.

Slowly, they were reverted back into their human forms, but their equipment were changed as they were now equipped with armors which had thick fur. Sierra recognized the color of their fur to be the same ones as when they were in their cursed forms.

“Sierra, I’ve turned into a Druid Priestess!” exclaimed Rear excitedly.

“As have I!” added Vrai.

“I’m a Druid Priest as well,” said Ardu with the same enthusiasm.

Sierra looked around and found that all of her private army members had become Druid Priests or Priestesses.

The red Werebear looked around for her own small ball of light to merge with her, but she found none. She then saw that the orb of light was still floating above the altar made out of roots.

“Excuse me, I think you might have missed me,” said Sierra humbly.

“No, we were waiting for everyone else to complete their amalgamation,” answered the orb of light. “Everyone, as you are now Druid Priests, we hold you responsible with our powers.”

“However, we have decided that it is best to keep a close eye on you. As such, we will amalgamate with your leader,” said the orb of light and suddenly merged with the red Werebear.

An inquiry suddenly popped up in front of Sierra.

> Amalgamate with the Druid’s Orb of Light?
        Accept the Request? [YES/NO]


Although, half hesitant, Sierra answered. ‘Yes’

The orb of light engulfed her body completely and her equipment changed to that of a red furry cape which reached to the ground.

+ Job Change!

You have successfully changed your Job into a Druid Archon

HP has increased by 50,000 HP

MP has increased by 100,000 MP

STR has increased by 10

AGI has increased by 10

INT has increased by 30

DEX has increased by 10


Druid Archon Info:

  The true powers of the Druid Archon has yet to be revealed. It is said that they are the bridge between this world and that of the energy which created everything.

Notes:

* Most Zectians will shun you because of your faith in the power of Nature. This often contradicts with the beliefs of their chosen God.

* Your fame increases whenever you spread the word of nature’s power.

Druid Archon Abilities:

* Power of the Blood Moon
  Active
  Level: Beginner Level 1
  Experience: (0/1,000)

> Allows you to create a blood moon, enhancing the power of all Therianthropes under its red moonlight.
note: Duration increases as level increases.

* Convergence
  Active
  Level: Beginner Level 1
  Experience: (0/1,000)

> Allows you to gather mana, balls of light will give you MP instead of HP.
note: Increase of MP increases as level increases.

* Overgrowth
  Active
  Level: Beginner Level 1
  Experience: (0/1,000)

> Allows you to create roots within a specific area, entangling anyone caught in it.
note: Area of effect increases as level increases.

* Cure
  Active
  Level: Beginner Level 1
  Experience: (0/1,000)

> Allows you to heal one ally, nature’s healing lights will emerge from the ground.
note: Effectiveness of healing increases as level increases.

* Harmonize
  Active
  Level: Beginner Level 1
  Experience: (0/1,000)

> Allows you to heal allies within a specific area, nature’s healing lights will emerge from the ground.
note: Area of effect increases as level increases.

* Contrition
  Active
  Level: Beginner Level 1
  Experience: (0/1,000)

> Allows you to cast on a specific target, increasing their damage taken while they repent for their sins.
note: Damage taken increases as level increases.

* Thorns
  Active
  Level: Beginner Level 1
  Experience: (0/1,000)

> Allows you to target yourself or one ally, giving return damage of 10%.
note: Return damage increases as level increases.

* Archon’s Blessing
  Active
  Level: Beginner Level 1
  Experience: (0/1,000)

> Allows you to target yourself or one ally, giving double life and double damage for two minutes.
note: Duration increases as level increases.


Sierra was overwhelmed by her acquired Hidden Job. She wasn’t expecting something like this. She was originally hoping for something more battle oriented, but immediately dismissed the thought as this was exactly what she needed.

A Job that could truly help others. Her abilities from her Acolyte Job remained with her, but she wondered if she could still equip a mace.

Thankfully, she was still able to use her mace. She confirmed her theory that the Druids were variations of the Acolytes.

Yet, the mace looked foreign to her now.

Then, the altar of roots glowed a white light. She got closer to her and inspected it. A staff composed of intertwined roots sprang out of it.

+ Acquired unique root staff: Sierra’s Ferule.


After seeing all the notification windows and now getting a new item, she felt like a little girl again, from when her mother made her open dozens of gifts on Christmas morning. She hurriedly inspected the staff with her name on it.


+ Sierra’s Ferule

A unique staff composed of ancient roots from Ardennes Forest. It was created solely for Sierra, the Druid Archon. It is said that this staff grows with the user.

+10 Intelligence
Socketed [5 empty slots]

Equipment Ability:
*Conversion (Active)
> Convinces creatures to join caster’s side
> Success depends on the level difference between caster and creature
> Consumes 80,000 MP

Notes:
> Socketed magical stones may be removed.
> It can also equip other magical stones aside from the elemental ones.
> Sierra’s Ferule will not work for anyone other than Sierra, the Druid Archon.


Sierra was already overwhelmed with all the abilities of her new Job, and now she even had a special weapon specifically for her.

While she was still admiring her staff, the altar of roots created another one. Sierra tried to grab the staff but instantly released it as thorns sprang out of it.

A notification window then popped up immediately after.

– Restricted item: Only usable by Rear, the Druid Priestess.


“Rear, I think this one is for you,” said Sierra while she used Cure on herself.

Right after Rear got her staff, the altar of roots gave out another one. Without knowing who the staff was for, she took a deep breath as she prepared herself to be struck by thorns once more.

“Phen, this one’s yours,” winced Sierra in pain.

She then looked at all her private army members. ‘Only two-hundred-seventy-eight left to go,’ thought Sierra to herself and grit her teeth.

* * * * * *  

Smoke was gliding with Igniz through clear blue skies. After twelve hours and two quick breaks, he could finally see Mount Alouer.

From above, he saw multiple caravans coming in and out of the mountain trail. The Avendre Headquarters appeared to be a fort than a mountain.

It was surrounded by five walls which started from the foot of the mountain all the way to its peak. As he got closer, he saw several red flares aimed at him.

In the Vigilantez, this was a sign of distress. So, Smoke dove down at top speed towards the source of the flare.

However, this was not the case in Mount Alouer. The moment he got closer to the mountain, he was bombarded with arrows.

“Igniz, counter them,” he said reflexively, while he hurriedly got out his white metallic staff.

As he expected, more arrows got past his symbiote’s fireballs. Fortunately, he was able to create a concave Manatl before any of them hit him.

Smoke closed his cloak and dove straight down. He only opened it up again when he was a few meters from the ground.

Then, he sensed over a hundred hostile Zectians headed straight for him fast. He switched out his white staff for his Digger’s Wand. He instantly dug a hole and hid in it before the hostiles could reach him.

He created breathing holes and a small peep hole where Igniz could see through. He used his Symbiote Vision to get a glimpse of who were coming.

He found that all of them were Avendre Commanders.

‘They look like their on the same level as Jeter,’ he surmised, and wondered if they would listen to reason if he were to step out right now.

While he was still deciding whether to reveal himself, another Mercenary riding on what looked like to be a thinner version of Laernea’s stag moose arrived.

Smoke estimated that he must have been in his mid-thirties and was equipped in a uniform of a higher rank than the Mercenary Commanders.

“General Acheteur, we triangulated where he landed and have the area surrounded,” explained one of the Avendre Commanders.

The one called General Acheteur then looked around the area. “I know you’re here somewhere, Mister Intruder, why don’t you make this easy on yourself and give up,” he said creepily.

Smoke gambled on explaining to them why he was there, but the other reason he wanted to step out was because he was curious to see their levels and abilities.

He hurriedly hid Igniz in the metallic compartment in his chest, and then opened the hole he was hiding in. He stepped out with his hands in the air. “I’m unarmed, please don’t attack me,” said Smoke calmly.

“Restrain him, men. Make sure he can’t escape,” ordered Acheteur loudly. “We don’t know where this flying intruder came from.”

“Wait! I have a letter from Prosjak for Solliciter,” said Smoke quickly and pulled out a parchment from his pocket.

Acheteur signaled for one of the Avendre Commanders to take the letter from Smoke’s hand, while the rest of them still had their swords pointed at him.

“This looks to be authentic,” said the Avendre General half alarmed.

“We shall escort you to the reception area,” said Acheteur.

While walking towards the first wall of Mount Alouer, Smoke decided to do some small talk with Acheteur, in hopes of raising his Intimacy with him.

“So, is that a stag moose?” asked Smoke politely.

“What? Oh, my Monter,” replied Acheteur haughtily, while stroking the fur of his mount.
“She is a reindeer. Please don’t compare her with those brutish stag moose!”

“I see,” said Smoke awkwardly, as he scrambled to think of what else to say.

Then, they came upon the bronze gates of the Avendre’s Headquarters. Smoke strained his neck as he looked up the tall wall. He estimated it to be at least thirty meters tall.

“And this wall circles around the entire mountain?” unintentionally asked Smoke out loud.

“Yes, and we have Mercenaries on watch all the time,” said Acheteur proudly.

Behind the first wall, Smoke was surprised to see a village setting. There were houses, businesses, and a market. He thought that it would all be purely Mercenary training past the gates.

“This is where some of our Mercenaries have their families live,” explained Acheteur. “Some of our Mercenaries were sold to us, while others come on their own volition. If they get to the higher ranks and keep on completing successful missions, then they’ll get big rewards.”

Smoke nodded as he continued to observe the people behind the first wall.

“That’s my shop right there,” said Acheteur proudly and pointed to the General Merchandise store.

“Acheteur and Vendeur?” asked Smoke as he read the store’s name out loud.

Acheteur nodded with enthusiasm. “Yes, Vendeur is my wife’s name.”

They headed for Acheteur’s shop, as he left his reindeer there. Afterwards, the two of them proceeded on foot towards the second wall.

“That was a great looking store. I think I’ll visit there before I leave,” said Smoke eagerly as he thought he found a soft spot in the Avendre General.

“You’re most certainly welcome to shop there!” said a smiling Acheteur. “If you buy in bulk, I think I could give you a reasonable discount.”

They continued speaking in an amiable manner until they reached the second wall. It was a simple wall of only six meters. From its plain appearance, it appeared to serve no tactical purpose at all.

Behind the second wall, Smoke saw a garden. It could easily rival the work of Centzo’s Gardeners. Once again, Smoke was surprised as this was not something a Mercenary Headquarter would have.

“This is our reception area,” explained Acheteur in a more cordial manner.

Smoke smiled back. He didn’t need to inspect his Intimacy window with Acheteur to know that it had increased.

The Avendre General then led him to a shaded building without walls.

“Please wait here. Supreme Leader Solliciter will arrive shortly,” said Acheteur and bade him farewell.

Smoke looked around the garden. Since it was situated in a higher elevation, he could see more of the village behind the first wall.

He used his Telefax Vision to get a better view of his surroundings.

‘This place is really populated. I think it has even more people than Coatl and Centzo combined,’ thought Smoke to himself.

He then looked at the side of the garden and saw that it did not circle the mountain completely. There were training grounds on either sides of it. Without his enhanced vision ability, he would have not seen this at all.

He could clearly see the Avendre Mercenaries training. They were sparring with each other, doing drills and carrying weights.

He then saw another building similar to this one which was closer to the training grounds of the Mercenaries.

‘They must use this to showcase their Mercenaries’ talents,’ surmised Smoke.

Suddenly, a man dressed in a plain brown robe arrived in front of him. He was carrying garden tools.

“Hello, my name is Smoke,” he said and offered to shake his hand. “I like your work. I’ve never seen such well maintained—”

“Soldiers?” finished the man in the brown robe. “I’m Solliciter. I’m sorry for my appearance. Today is my gardening day. And if you don’t mind, would you accompany me while I trim my flowers?” said the supreme leader of the Avendre Mercenaries.

Smoke was slightly taken aback as he thought that he was only the Gardener.

“Is something wrong?” asked Solliciter. “Or were you going to say garden?”

“Honestly, I was going to,” answered Smoke sheepishly.

Solliciter laughed. “That’s fine. Almost everyone I meet thinks that I’m the Gardener.” He then walked over to a rose bush and began trimming it.

“So, Prosjak tells me that I should give you a big discount on my men,” said Solliciter bluntly. “I respect that man, but sometimes he just makes it hard to remember why I do so.”

“Hm…” Smoke paused as he wasn’t sure what to say.

“What exactly are you going to use my men for?” asked Solliciter.

“We are going to invade Coatl. Prosjak’s suggestion was to hire your Mercenaries,” began to explain Smoke. “He said with the discount that he could get for me, I could probably have an army strong enough to go against Coatl.”

“Ha! That would put me in quite a predicament,” said Solliciter. “You see, I also have a contract with Coatl.”

“Now, don’t get me wrong. My men our professionals. They are even trained to go against their own,” explained Solliciter proudly. “But I’m afraid that I’d lose my contract with Duke Burmistrz if you do use my men against his city.”

“Wait, didn’t you send your Avendre Mercenaries to Prosjak to fight against Burmistrz men?” asked a confused Smoke.

“Yes, I did, but that was to defend Centzo, not attack Coatl,” stated Solliciter flatly. “There are certain stipulations that would allow such contracts.”

“Alright, then how much would you be losing if you pulled out all your men from Burmistrz?” asked Smoke directly.

“Eight-hundred-million zecs,” answered Solliciter with a straight face.

Smoke gulped. The best he could offer was one-hundred-million.

“Are you giving up already?” asked Solliciter.

“Of course not. I’m just calculating how I can top that offer,” replied Smoke, but his voice cracked as he spoke.

“Tell me something, Smoke. Do you think you can defeat Burmistrz?” asked Solliciter while intensely observing his face.

“I know I will,” replied Smoke with utmost conviction.

Solliciter took a deep breath while trimming his rose bush. “How about this? I’ll give you all of my fresh recruits, and you train them yourself from scratch. I expect only a thousand zecs a month for each one of them.”

‘That’s really cheap. I wonder what kind of recruits he is giving me,’ thought Smoke to himself. “How many recruits are we talking about here?”

“Fifty-thousand,” briskly replied Solliciter.

‘I can only afford to have them for two months at that rate,’ thought a worried Smoke. “How about we drop that rate to two-hundred-fifty zecs a month for each one of them. Don’t worry, their levels will be beyond that of your Commanders when you get them back.”

“But you don’t know how many of them you can return to me as Commanders,” countered Solliciter. “On the other hand, I did hear of how you raised the levels of my Mercenaries during Centzo’s defense.”

“That’s right. Also, we already have five hundred Avendre Mercenaries in Verbrannt, and their levels are already the same with the ones ranked as Commanders here,” pointed out Smoke.

“Hm…So, you are consistent with training your subordinates to reach high levels,” said the supreme leader of the Avendre Mercenaries. He then snipped one of his rose buds and offered it to Smoke. “You know, I was looking for someone to be a satellite of my Avendre Mercenaries. Would you be interested?”

Smoke did not accept the rose. “What exactly does that involve? Being a satellite of the Avendre Mercenaries?” he asked cautiously.

“You train the Mercenaries. Preferably to the level of 100. Also, you take on requests within your immediate area. I’ll give you 25% of all the potential earnings if you take this on.”

“What’s to prevent me from doing their requests without your permission?” asked Smoke boldly.

“Well, for starters, you would lose my trust, and my men will come after you, your land and your people will be wiped out,” stated Solliciter as if it were a matter of fact.

Smoke pondered on Solliciter’s proposal.

“How about this, I’ll also reduce their monthly contracts to four hundred zecs. Surely you can’t say no to that?” said Solliciter with confidence.

“Deal!” said Smoke eagerly, and accepted the rose while shaking Solliciter’s hand.

“Well, I’m glad that we’ve come to an agreement,” said Solliciter cordially. “Now, why don’t we take a look at the army you’ve procured.”

The two of them walked over to the eastern side of the garden with the same wall-less building. After a few minutes, an army of scrawny teens marched out before the two of them.

Smoke thought that all of them were malnourished and had no experience in battle at all.

“Now, there’s no going back on our deal,” said Solliciter briskly.

“I wasn’t thinking of anything like that,” replied Smoke with a forced smile.

‘I just want to take them permanently off your hands,’ thought Smoke to himself.

“Let’s say that one of the Mercenaries under my command wants to be free. How much would that cost?” asked Smoke innocently.

“I’d have to look at each one of their files. But I guess on average it would be something like ten million zecs?” answered Solliciter. “You’re not planning on buying all of them are you?”

“Who would have that kind of money?” asked Smoke and laughed nervously.

He had never needed this much money in Zectas before, but now he wanted to gain an insane amount of it.

“I’ll have them prepare their belongings. It should take about thirty minutes. In the meantime, you’re welcome to explore our area behind the first wall if you like,” said Solliciter.

The supreme leader of the Avendre placed his garden tools on the ground and took out a piece of paper and a pencil. “That reminds me, where should these army head out for? Are you going to lead the way or do you have specific coordinates?”

“May I?” Smoke asked for the pencil and paper. “Can you send them over to this location?” he asked as he wrote down coordinates that were some distance away from Verbrannt.

“Sure, that’s not a problem,” answered Solliciter pleasantly. “It should take them about two weeks to get there. Don’t worry. I won’t charge you until the day they arrive in your indicated area.”

“Thank you,” said Smoke and gave him a small bow.

“I think I’ll take you up on your offer on seeing your village below,” he said and shook Solliciter’s hand.

“Please, don’t call our place a village,” said an offended Solliciter. “Although, it is not official, but our population is twice that of most of the cities here in Wysteria. Not to mention that our army is even comparable to all of the cities combined.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that,” apologized Smoke hurriedly. “The place just feels homey. Like everyone knows everybody else, that’s why I called it a village.”

Solliciter didn’t reply and simply nodded. He resumed trimming his rose bush. He waved his hand at Smoke, dismissing him.

Smoke then exited the gates of the second wall alone. He headed for Acheteur and Vendeur’s General Merchandise. He thought to buy some supplies for his next mission while waiting for the Avendre Mercenaries’ arrival.

‘Now, I need to stock up on my quest to complete Vigilantez,’ thought Smoke to himself as he looked at the blinking locations of the Ifrit Vigilantez’s Shrines.

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