Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 04 – Chapter 10

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:  This chapter is relatively long, so please pace yourself. Enjoy!

A Dearth of Power

A smiling Smoke was on a call. “…That’s great, Sierra, I’m really happy for you. So, you’re going to spend some more time there in Ardennes Forest while training your private army with your new Druid abilities?”

“Yeah, I don’t know how long we will actually be staying. I’m guessing, a week or two?” replied Sierra with uncertainty.

“Two weeks should be fine. You’ll probably arrive at the same time with our new Mercenaries from Mount Alouer.”

“Okay, I’ll see you back in Verbrannt. I wonder what Vigilantez would look like, but don’t go posting a video like Amahan,” she warned him. “That really pissed me off when I didn’t see the Djinn’s face.”

“I won’t be making a video about Vigilantez at all,” he answered reassuringly. “Remember, I like to keep those private stuff for people I actually know.”

“Good. Then, let’s get to it,” said Sierra affectionately. “Take care.”

“Always,” he replied with the same caring tone.

After Smoke ended his call with Sierra, he focused on finding his last shrine of Vigilantez. It had been a long time since it was only him and Igniz on a quest by themselves.

Without a doubt, he loved the company of his private army members, but he also longed for times like this.

While he was busy completing the Vigilantez Quest, Adder and Ledur had already started their ground work on Coatl’s invasion.

The two of them led the other core members and had a third of the Vigilantez’s army at their disposal. Together, they discreetly started making a base of operations near the Heraldic City.

Not to be outdone by his core members, Smoke intended to collect the remaining three essences of Vigilantez.

After two days of gliding from Mount Alouer, Smoke finally saw one of Wysteria’s active volcanoes, Mount Gar. He landed safely away from it.

He then checked the specific coordinates of the shrine, and realized that it pointed him to a cave on the side of the volcano.

“Igniz, stay alert,” he reminded his symbiote as the two of them walked towards the cave.

His dark ember sprite lit up his purple flames as if to signify that he was ready for anything.

Smoke often had to grab a hold on the side of the volcano due to the ground shaking without warning as varying tremors occurred.

As they entered the cave, dusts and pebbles kept falling down from the ceiling. Smoke and Igniz found themselves at the entrance of a long corridor, barely wide enough for him to squeeze into.

“Lead the way,” Smoke ordered his symbiote as the tunnel steadily grew dimmer.

He was sweating profusely after ten minutes of walking sideways, he found himself turning right. He then saw an orange light at the end of the tunnel.

Once he exited the narrow corridor, he found that he was in one of Mount Gar’s magma chambers. He wiped the sweat from his forehead as it felt extremely hot, but was surprised to see that he could tolerate the lava’s heat.

‘It must be because of my high Fire Resistance,’ he surmised.

Looking around the fiery chamber, he found an inscription on one of the walls.

+ Push forward and enter the hidden chamber which you seek.


He searched around the magma chamber, and found no other entrance or writings. His dark ember sprite, no bigger than a ball, whizzed around at blinding speeds. Igniz was desperately signaling him to look across the lava.

There, he saw  another ledge. Upon further inspection, he found that there was one more crevice on the other side.

“Good work, Igniz,” he said proudly. Smoke glided across the lake of lava while his dark ember sprite flew by his side.

Smoke found that the cave itself was as wide as the tunnel he had passed earlier. However, the opening was not as wide as the rest of it. He tried to use his Earth Manipulation to open the wall, but received an annoying notification window instead.

– Cannot control this Earth with your current level of Earth Manipulation.
– Cannot control this Earth with your current level of Earth Affinity.


“Guess, we’re going to have to do this the hard way,” said Smoke to Igniz.

Equipped with the pickaxe which he got from Franz Briar, Nanahuatl’s resident Farmer, Smoke started widening the entrance of the cave. His symbiote also helped out by melting the sides of the entrance, making the earth softer.

After thirty minutes of manual labor, the two of them entered the tunnel. Due to his minute size, Igniz easily flew in. Whereas, Smoke had to enter sideways once more.

About two hundred meters into the cave, they were abruptly met with a dead end.

“Igniz, can you look around if there’s another opening? Check all directions. Upward, downward, any which way you can think of,” ordered Smoke.

His symbiote searched every inch of the tunnel, but found nothing.

“Are you sure?” he asked, annoyed.

Igniz shook his entire body sideways. From his symbiote’s apologetic eyes, Smoke could tell that he did his best.

“Forget about it, let’s head back. Maybe there’s another opening,” he said in a calmer tone.

After the two of them went out of the second tunnel, they tried searching for another opening. Yet, no matter where they looked, they did not find one.

Standing in front of the inscription, Smoke noticed that the word “forward” was italicized in a discreet manner.

“Why didn’t I think of this before?” he suddenly asked Igniz.

He then reached out, and pressed “forward” as hard as he could.

He felt the area around him shake as an opening on the wall began to take shape. Slowly, a door on the right side of the inscription appeared.

In frustration, Smoke strongly scratched his head. “Looks like it was literally telling us to push forward,” he said to Igniz. “Come on. Let’s go inside.”

As soon as they entered the room, a flying orb of flames appeared in front of them.

SHUT

Smoke immediately turned around and found that the door instantly vanished. Only the flying orb of flames and Igniz were the source of light inside the sealed chamber.

“Welcome! You have entered the realm of our lord, Vigilantez,” said the fiery orb. “We shall test your power over the flames.”

The flying orb intensified its fire, and revealed a set of black rocks directly below it, arranged neatly in a square formation.

“Defeat our flame guardian within the given time limit, and you shall receive the essence of our lord, Vigilantez,” said the orb, and it floated higher up revealing the size of the chamber as it illuminated it.

The chamber had a floor area of only fifty square meters.

‘Not that big enough to maneuver around in,’ realized Smoke as he took out his twin lightning rods. The black rods emitted a small amount of electricity around them, when he placed them together.

Suddenly, he caught movement from the corner of his eye. Smoke turned his gaze on the rocks below the orb, and found that they had formed into a black tiger with flowing lava for its stripes.

Igniz fired at the flaming monster, but caused no damage. However, it did reveal its name and life bar, Magma Tiger (600,000/600,000 HP).

A timer then appeared in Smoke’s line of sight.

> 5M:00S left


“Five minutes?” cried out Smoke in disbelief.

He had no doubt that he could defeat the magma tiger, but he was not sure that he could do it within the given time frame.

For the time being, this was a one on one fight, as Igniz could offer him no help. This lava monster was clearly immune to fire.

The magma tiger chuffed at him while pacing back and forth, sizing him up. Smoke felt that the monster would pounce at him at any given moment.

Due to the lull of the opening battle, he quickly threw his own rocks, but these were not only black, they also had silver among them. Not only that, they were also metallic. He also threw two electro stones and used one of his rings’ active ability, Golem Creation.

The magma tiger was taken by surprised as two metallic golems suddenly surrounded it.

The created monsters were slow, but the stupefied lava monster was not able to react in time. Smoke’s golems caught the tiger with their arms. One of them held onto the magma tiger’s head while the other squeezed the monster’s body tightly.

Smoke then leapt on top of the magma tiger and began attacking its spine. his twin rods made only 1,000 damage points on the fire beast. He struck swiftly, and was able to do sixteen strikes.

In response, the magma tiger moved around recklessly. Smoke thought that the lava monster could not move as his golems were extremely strong.

However, he was proven wrong. With one quick motion, the magma tiger pinned the golem holding its head against the wall. The lava from its stripes then overflowed and melted the golem’s arms.

Smoke turned around, and found that the same thing was happening to the golem holding its body. Yet, this was not the most alarming thing. His life bar got reduced by 600 points, as the lava stripes on the magma tiger’s back also damaged him.

Hurriedly, he leapt off the fire beast. Smoke brushed off the lava which stuck to his pants, revealing burn marks on them.

‘That’s a first,’ observed Smoke. He then checked the monster’s life bar, which displayed (584,000/600,000 HP).

He couldn’t decide whether he should gamble using Lightning Strike or conserve his mana for his other abilities.

Before he could come to a conclusion, the magma tiger charged at him with its claws. He evaded the monster’s initial attack, but couldn’t dodge the lava that flew afterwards.

This time, he was damaged for 1,600 points. He checked the time and found that he only had three minutes left.

Distracted and bewildered, Smoke was not able to dodge the magma tiger’s second charge. The lava beast pounced on him and caught him by its claws.

It opened its jaw wide and took a bite at his shoulder and left arm.

“Aaaahhh!” cried out Smoke in agony. He was damaged for 30,000 points. His life bar displayed 80%.

The magma tiger then let out its lava, and it trickled down on Smoke. Due to his Fire Resistance, the damage was minimal. Yet, a constant damage of 600 points continued on for ten seconds.

Struggling to break free, the pinned down Smoke threw the lightning rod on his right hand at the magma tiger’s eye.

It hit the lava beast, and the monster backed away in pain. He was able to roll away while collecting the thrown weapon.

He brushed off the dried lava, and revealed a tattered armor. Fortunately, his cloak was undamaged by the magma tiger’s attacks.

The flaming beast then charged at him again, but this time Smoke was able to dodge its claws and the lava that it threw.

However, the lava monster spun around and its fiery tail hit Smoke on the chest, knocking him hard against the wall.

The magma tiger then rushed towards him. He then used his Hyper Jump ability and retreated across the chamber.

“Damn it!” he cursed under his breath, as he didn’t realize that its tail could also attack.

Desperate, he placed his twin rods together and used its Lightning Strike ability. His lightning attack hit the magma tiger squarely in the head, and the small chamber was engulfed in a blinding light.

When it became clear again, he saw that the lava monster’s life bar was only reduced to 65%.

“Great!” he said sarcastically. He racked his brain for ideas. Now, he had less than 22% on his mana bar. He switched out to his white metallic staff, in hopes of finishing the magma tiger with one energized strike.

Yet, he noticed a flashing red window notification.

> 0M:00S left


Then, the flame orb descended and absorbed the fire from the magma tiger, extinguishing its lava. The fiery beast turned into a black volcanic statue. A second later, it crumbled to the ground.

“Your time is up!” said the flame orb bluntly. “You could have defeated the beast in less than a minute, if you were a worthy person of my lord’s powers.”

“Wait! What happens now?” asked a worried Smoke.

“The remaining shrines of Vigilantez will disappear from Zectas,” explained the flying orb. “Fear not. For it will return to the plane of existence after a year has passed. You may, however, keep your one essence.”

“No! I really need to get Vigilantez—” Smoke wasn’t able to finish begging the flaming orb as he and Igniz were teleported outside Mount Gar.

He tried searching for the cave on the side of the volcano, where he had just entered, but found that it was no longer there.

“At least it isn’t permanent,” he said to his symbiote, as he tried to be optimistic.

Igniz orbited around him rapidly, as if trying to console him.

“Don’t worry, Bud,” said Smoke. “It’s just like my Mima always tells me. When one door closes, you just have to find that open window and climb through.”



* * * * * *

After almost four days of gliding, Smoke arrived in Verbrannt. The village that they had resurrected had grown once more.

The forest of Anbau was now fully closed off by Verbrannt’s new wall. The wandering Lioumerean tribes were now settled in. A good number of the trees were cut down, to make room for their houses and farms for their mouflon, a sheep-like creature with red to brown wool and the horns of a ram.

Sierra and her Druid Priests and Priestesses have not yet arrived as they were still training in Ardennes. Only Mamelon and Guro were taking command of the village.

Guro and the refugees from Tatlong, Lugar, and Pinagsama have used Ledur’s dam well. They had even extended the irrigation canals into the area of the Lioumereans.

Verbrannt now had several layers of wall protecting it. It was reminiscent of the fortified places he had been to, like Coatl and Mount Alouer.

From above, he quickly spotted the busty blue armored beauty. Mamelon was making preparations near the Lioumerean’s homes.

Smoke observed that she had all of her Elemental Knights and Shamans with her. All the members of her group were already mounted and ready to go.

‘I wonder where they’re going?’ thought Smoke to himself, and dropped down near them.

SWISH

Louche and Earat, the only Halflings in Mamelon’s group, were closely riding their mounts in between Smoke and their beloved leader.

“Hey, guys,” said Smoke to the Halflings, and easily walked past them.

“Mamelon, how are you?” asked Smoke politely as he looked up to her, mounted on her bronze jackal.

“Oh, Smoke, you’re back. It’s good to see you,” she replied with a smile. She quickly got off her mount and shook his hand. “Where’s Ilad this time? Even though that Centzo mission was very important, he still wasn’t there.”

“He was helping me out with the Vigilantez Quest,” explained Smoke. “Unfortunately, it didn’t go very well.”

“What? That same Quest again? How difficult could it be?” she asked, unconvinced. “I even saw Amahan obtain his own Djinn.”

“It’s really hard. In fact, we failed the quest and won’t be able to take it for another year,” said Smoke.

“One year? Wait, then that means Ilad should be free from any of your pending quests!” excitedly exclaimed Mamelon.

“Yes, about that—” Smoke paused as he concocted a place where his other persona was. “He is with Ledur and Adder as we speak. He is preparing for our invasion on Coatl.”

“But I told him of how you fought bravely in Centzo. And he wants to offer you a gift. I asked him if I could give it to you, but he said that he would like to give it to you personally,” he explained as he didn’t have any precious equipment he could award her with on hand.

“I, however, would like to offer you five-thousand Mercenaries to serve under you,” began Smoke. “They’re scheduled to arrive about a week from today.”

“What am I supposed to do with five thousand Mercenaries?” asked Mamelon.

“Well, for starters, you can take on quests offered to them from the Avendre Headquarters,” began Smoke. “They’ll get paid, and of course you’ll get a share of the payment as well.”

“That sounds interesting,” she said intrigued. “Thanks, Smoke, I appreciate it.”

“But there’s a catch,” quickly added Smoke.

“Man, I thought you weren’t one of those guys,” groaned Mamelon. “You want a share of the profits?”

“No! Of course not,” Smoke strongly denied her assumption. “The thing is, the Mercenaries still have very low levels. So, you need to raise their levels yourself.”

“Just how low is this low you’re talking about?” she asked dubiously.

“About level 30?” guessed Smoke.

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” she replied. “I think my men and I can work with that. I’m really looking forward to taking on Avendre related quests.”

“Yeah, me too,” said Smoke. “So, where were you headed to?”

“Oh, we were originally about to go on another village rescue, but since the Brandals have been defeated, there are no more threats to the villagers,” explained Mamelon. “Courant and Virer suggested that we go aardwolf hunting.”

“That’s a really great idea,” Smoke said to the Electro Knight and the Flame Knight next to her.

“Yeah, with the increase of our Arcus we need more aardwolves to pull their war chariots,” said Courant.

“But, honestly, we’re just in it for the money,” explained Virer. “Cheri has been very demanding a lot lately. She wants to double the size of the house that we’re suppose to live in, and she’s been asking me to triple her bridewealth.”

“I see,” replied Smoke, without understanding what the Flame Knight was talking about. “But gaining money is always a good thing. I’m just realizing that lately,” he added as he remembered his intention of paying off all the debts of the incoming Avendre Mercenaries.

“Aime is just the same, she’s been nagging on about getting a farm in her bridewealth as well,” said Courant.

“Hm. I think you should talk to Thyrsus about all of this. I think he can help you out with most of the things that you need,” suggested Smoke. He then moved closer to Mamelon and whispered to her. “Who are Cheri and Aime?”

“They’re Zectian sisters, who Virer and Courant are trying to marry. Apparently, they’ll only marry them if they can match their bridewealth,” explained Mamelon. “If you ask me, I think the two of them just bit off more than they can chew.”

“Are you serious about that?” asked Virer eagerly.

“Smoke, you’re sure you can help us out?” added Courant with the same gusto.

“I don’t see why not, but let’s keep this between ourselves,” said Smoke in a hushed voice. “I’m not sure I can extend the same courtesy to all of the Elemental Knights.”

“Yeah, yeah. Of course, just as long as you’ve got the two of us covered,” said Virer excitedly, and slapped Courant’s chest.

“Mamelon, we better go,” said Courant, and pointed to the crowd of Elemental Knights and Shamans walking towards them.

“Alright, I won’t keep you any longer,” said Smoke to Mamelon and her core members.

“See you around, Smoke,” said Mamelon. “We’ll be back with a big haul of aardwolves. I think we’ll arrive before the Mercenaries get here.”

“Just plan on your training methods for them. After all, five-thousand Zectians is quite a lot,” reminded Smoke.

“Yeah, don’t worry about it. We’ll train them hard,” assured Mamelon. “And we’ll make sure that none of them will die.”

Smoke smiled and stepped away from Mamelon and her mounted regiment. “Great! That’s what I want to hear,” he said to her while he thought up of his own training methods.

* * * * * *

While waiting for the Avendre Mercenaries to arrive, Smoke gathered some of Verbrannt’s Craftsmen and took them out from the iron-curtain production.

He needed them to build large-carriages that could accommodate fifty-thousand Mercenaries. He also tasked Farmers, Fishermen, and Butchers to do special research. He asked them to develop food that would last longer and could satisfy the satiety bars faster.

The reason Smoke did this, was because he discovered that when dealing with large troops the problem is often in the logistics of transport and supplies.

In further preparation for the incoming Avendre, Smoke also asked his core members Thyrsus, Ichaival, Sharanga, Vijaya, Sharur, Jinggu, Laernea and Gandiva to return to Verbrannt.

Adder and Ledur were tasked to lead the rest of their ground work on the Coatl invasion by themselves. They did, however, have Adelige, Stark, Rasant, and Weise to help them, along with three-thousand men who were at their beck and call.

After a week, Mamelon and the rest of Smoke’s ranged core members were all assembled in Verbrannt. In the most opportune time, five-hundred large-carriages were also completed.

Unfortunately, Mamelon and her regiment wrangled only a total of a hundred aardwolves. This number was already high considering the circumstances, but Smoke still needed more of these monsters to pull his specially designed transports, at least ten times more.

Laernea and Gandiva, the Pathfinders, quickly got to work on taming the newly acquired mounts. They used their Beast Tamer abilities to good use. They asked some of the Farmers to help them as they began training the aardwolves in the plains of Lehre, outside the recently constructed walls near Anbau.

Smoke watched the two Lioumereans train the rideable beasts with interest. Yet, this was not the real reason he was here. He was waiting for the arrival of Sierra.

From across the plains, a mounted Sierra was riding on a monster that Smoke only saw from when he was in Mount Yunggo. A three-meter-tall ruby bear.

Due to their jagged ruby-like bodies, these monsters appeared to be uncomfortable mounts. Yet, Sierra, Phen, Rear, Vrai, and Ardu were all riding on them with ease.

‘It must be because of those furry armors they’re all wearing,’ Smoke surmised as he used his Telefax Vision while scrutinizing them from afar.

He then looked at the other Druid Priest and Priestesses behind Sierra’s core members, and found that they were riding on various mounts from dirus wolves, aardwolves to bronze jackals.

A few minutes later, they finally arrived in front of Smoke.

Sierra easily dismounted her ruby bear and ran towards him.

Smoke opened his arms wide and caught the leaping red-haired HighElf. “Welcome back,” he said lovingly.

Sierra then used her Transmogrify ability and transformed into a red Werebear. She heard his bones crack as she caught him by surprise in a bear hug.

She then canceled her transformation and returned to her normal body. “I’m home,” she endearingly replied while looking up to him.

The two of them released their embrace, and turned to face almost three-hundred Druids.

“Listen, don’t worry about not getting Vigilantez,” said Sierra. “With these many Druids, I’m sure that we’ll be even stronger than before.”

“I bet!” exclaimed Smoke enthusiastically. He walked over to them and congratulated each one of them. Laernea and Gandiva also walked over to greet Sierra’s return and their new Druid companions.

After welcoming all of them home, Smoke led Sierra back to the village ahead of everyone else.

“So, you okay with ten-thousand Avendre Mercenaries under your wing?” he asked her abruptly. Smoke decided to spread out the fledgling Mercenaries to his core members, hoping that they would get a more specialized training.

“Sure, I don’t have a problem with that,” replied Sierra eagerly. “I’ll have them into platoons and have the Druids lead each one of them.”

“We can also help Mamelon round up some more mounts,” she said as she pointed to a hundred aardwolves being trained by the Lioumereans. “Not to brag, but we’ve gotten quite good at it.”

“I believe you,” said Smoke as he watched her mount and the rest of the Druids being led into Verbrannt.

“How in the world did you manage to tame a ruby bear?” asked an astonished Smoke.

Sierra shook her head. “A lot can happen in a week.” She smiled while remembering the time when she and her group caught them. “It wasn’t easy, but being a Druid Archon really helped.”

The two highest ranked people of the Vigilantez spent the rest of the day touring the village.

They played hide and seek with the children. Smoke was about to hide inside a tunnel, but Sierra used her Overgrowth ability on him and entangled his foot with roots.

“Smoke is over hear! He’s over here!” shouted Sierra while hiding near him.

“I found you, Smoke!” said the little girl who was it. “My mother said that you’re suppose to be a very powerful person, but you’re not very good at hiding.”

Smoke didn’t know what to say and only scratched his head. “I think you’re just that good at finding people,” he finally said to her.

After playing with the children, they visited the settlement of the wandering Lioumereans. Sierra was surprised to learn that there was an expected increase in their population as almost all of the female Lioumereans got pregnant right after they settled in Verbrannt.

Next, they visited the flourishing farmlands near the new Gitna Dam.

“The sizes of the fruits and vegetables have almost doubled,” said Smoke.

“That’s great, but we discovered something during our training in Ardennes,” replied Sierra. “I think we could get more nutrients if we eat insects instead.”

“Insects?” asked Smoke with a disgusted face.

“Nothing radical, of course. Just some grasshoppers, honeypot ants, cicadas, and crickets,” she explained with a straight face.

Smoke blankly stared at her. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“What?” she asked and shrugged her shoulders. “If we’re going to feed fifty-thousand people, we need
another source of food.”

Smoke still look unconvinced, so Sierra explained further. “Our typical farm animals requires roughly eight pounds of feed to produce a single pound of beef. Whereas, Insects require only two pounds to produce the same amount of meat, making them four times as efficient. We’ve brought enough that we can start harvesting them after a month.”

Sierra noticed his worried expression. “I promise, they taste just like ground pork after you chop them up and season them right.”

With the talk of their new potential food supply finished, the two of them went to see the improved defenses of the village.

More than a third of Verbrannt’s walls were already covered by Centzo’s iron-curtain technology. Along with the improved ballistae that Sharur, Jinggu, and Sharanga developed.

When dusk arrived, the two of them went for their traditional riverboat ride. Yet, this time, Sierra was cuddled next to Smoke, especially now that her body comfortably allowed it.

* * * * * *

Zectas’ afternoon sun glowed out its last minutes of daylight before turning in for the day. Twelve days after Smoke left Mount Alouer, all the rookie Avendre Mercenaries arrived in the vast plains of Warten, five kilometers away from Verbrannt’s region.

Only Smoke, Sierra, Mamelon, and the rest of his core members were there to greet them. The sight of fifty-thousand men lined up in formations made him feel like a general of ancient times.

Yet, upon closer inspection, Smoke noticed that his recruits were even more skinny now, then from when he saw them in the Avendre Headquarters.

“Welcome, Avendre Mercenaries. You have come a long way. For now let’s just eat and rest,” shouted Smoke at the top of his lungs as he tried to address the throng of Mercenaries.

Their shabby armor and weapons were asked to be surrendered, revealing their skin and bones. They were inspected under a large scale detection test by Baldaquin, the Light Wizard.

After their interrogation was completed, they were told to march to the plains of Lehre, were the Vigilantez’s beasts of burden were trained.

There, hundreds of tables were waiting for them. They were filled with fruit, nuts, and fish. Several pitchers of milk were also prepared in advance.

Sierra made sure to serve them with nutrient-rich food that were also easy to digest. Only a few of Verbrannt’s residents were there to help assist in serving the food.

Smoke made sure to only have a few of them as he didn’t want to overwhelm the fledgeling Mercenaries with new faces.

After all the Avendre were seated, they began wolfing down the hearty meal laid out in front of them. The Verbrannt volunteers kept refilling the table with food as the Mercenaries quickly finished everything in sight.

Smoke and the rest of the core members walked around from table to welcome the Mercenaries and raise their Intimacies with them.

After more than two hours of eating, all of the food prepared by Sierra ran out.

Even though Smoke knew that the Avendre Mercenaries had long filled their satiety bars, they still looked like they could eat some more.

Smoke then stood in the middle of the tables and addressed all of them.

“Now, I know that it’s still early but seeing as you have all eaten your fill, we want you to get some well deserved rest for tomorrow’s activities,” said Smoke encouragingly.

He then pointed to the hundreds of brown pitched-up tents near them. They were made of animal hide stitched up by Verbrannt’s Tailors and Seamstresses.

After showing them where they were going to spend the night, Smoke turned around and was about to leave.

Hurriedly, one of the Mercenaries ran and caught up with him.

“Hello, Sir Smoke, my name is Hazard. I would just like to thank you for all of this,” he said gratefully while shaking his hand. “None of us ever got to experience any of this before. We thought that you would have us go to war as soon as we arrive here. I mean that’s how most of the missions go, and only the lucky ones who survive get to eat.”

Before he could reply more Mercenaries went to him, and thanked him in a similar manner. He was touched at the Zectians’ indebtedness.

“You’re all very welcome,” replied Smoke happily. “For now, just relax and I’ll see you all tomorrow.”

All of the Mercenaries saluted Smoke, which made him confident at their Intimacy levels. One by one they headed for tents to rest, except for the one named Hazard.

“Sir Smoke, I heard from one of the Commanders that my cousin was under your leadership just recently during Centzo’s defense,” began the Mercenary. ” I’m not sure if you remember him, but I’m hoping that you would know of him.”

“Well, there were many of the Mercenaries under me, but tell me his name, maybe I know him,” accommodatingly answered Smoke.

“His name is Jeter Pion,” said Hazard. “He is an Avendre Commander, so I was hoping that you might remember him. I haven’t heard from him in some time, and I was wondering if he is still stationed there?”

Smoke’s face instantly turned white. He did not know what to tell the young Mercenary.

Suddenly, Sierra appeared from his side.

“Smoke will tell you about him in the morning. Because I have an urgent matter to discuss with him right now,” said Sierra as she excused Smoke from the Mercenary.

“Of course, I understand,” replied Hazard respectfully. “Please feel free to tell me whenever you have some free time.”

The young malnourished Mercenary bowed down to the two of them and went inside one of the tents.

“Thanks,” he said to her gratefully. “I wasn’t sure how to tell him that his cousin died.”

“But you’re going to tell him in the morning, right?” confirmed Sierra.

Smoke nodded. “I will. I’ll also tell him of Jeter’s valor.”

She then took his hand and led him towards Verbrannt’s gate. “Were you about to log out, or do you have some time to spare?”

“Yeah, I was. Starting tomorrow, it’s going to get really busy,” he answered bluntly.

“Oh, I was hoping we could do something just the two of us before we start training them,” hinted Sierra shyly.

“But that was before you saved me back there,” he quickly added. “Come on, let’s go,” he said excitedly. This time, it was him leading them into the village they rebuilt together.

* * * * * *

The next day, all fifty-thousand Avendre Mercenaries were assembled in the plains of Lehre.

Despite Sierra and Mamelon’s efforts they only gathered enough draught animals to pull only three-hundred-sixty out of the five-hundred transports created.

Each large-carriage required at least six draught animals to pull the transport which could hold a little over a hundred Mercenaries.

Smoke then addressed everyone before they would embark on their own special assignments. “Yesterday, you arrived and got a quick breather. However, we cannot stay relaxed for too long. We have divided you into special groups, to ensure that each one of you will grow to your full potential.”

The Avendre remained stoic and stared straight on.

“Rest assured that your meals will remain in a similar manner as of yesterday,” jested Smoke.

Instantly, the Mercenaries reacted with murmurs of thanks and anticipation.

“So, for the time being, focus on improving yourselves,” said Smoke to encourage them. “I’ve heard that most of you are here to pay for your debts, and the quickest way to do that is by increasing your levels and earnings.”

This was true, but his actual intention was to free all of them himself. However, he did not want to inform any of them as he was far from making this into a reality.

“Now, please bring your attention to the Generals in front of you. They will be in charge of your future. Follow their orders without question, and you will see yourself leap across the ranks,” stated Smoke reassuringly.

The Avendre Mercenaries stared at the Vigilantez placed before them. They looked to them with hope, with the aspiration to have better lives.

Sierra’s ten-thousand Mercenaries were lined up to the rightmost side of the formation. They were further subdivided into platoons of more than thirty Avendre, which were led by one of her fellow Druids.

Mamelon’s five-thousand men took formation in the left side. She divided her group further into three. She took two-thousand under her wing while the rest was divided equally between her closest Sonstwelter friends, Virer and Courant.

Thyrsus, Vijaya, Sharanga, Ichaival, Jinggu, Sharur, Laernea, and Gandiva were each given three-thousand Mercenaries to train personally.

Whereas, Guro received ten-thousand to be trained under her tutelage. Smoke was not sure whether the lioness Lioumerean could handle that many trainees, but she assured him that she could.

Meanwhile, Smoke only selected a thousand Mercenaries under his wing. He also asked Espion to join him in training this selected group.

With the Avendre subdivided, Smoke checked the Mercenary Quests that opened to him as a satellite of the Avendre Mercenaries.

Avendre Mercenary Satellite Quests:

* Salvage Salah

* Beasts of Burden for Betul

* Protect Poludnie

* Secure the Heiress of Silap


After he read the Avendre Quests, Smoke remembered that Silap had its own Avendre Satellite Base. In fact, it was there that he made a contract with five-hundred Avendre Mercenaries to protect Verbrannt.

He then shared the Mercenary Quests to his core members.

Sierra was the first one to speak up. “My division won’t be taking any of these quests. I plan to take them to Veneficatl Valley. There are some places there that I think would benefit my Druids and the Mercenaries.”

On the other hand, Mamelon gladly accepted the Beasts of Burden for Betul Quest. “I would like to take the Betul Quest,” said the busty Aqua Knight. “With the increase of my regiment, I estimate that we could wrangle four times the number of mounts that we previously brought in.”

“Also, we won’t be taking any of the transports. They are already limited as it is, and I have a different plan for these Mercenaries,” she said sadistically.

“You’re going to have them march to straight to Betul?” asked Smoke incredulously.

“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure to give them a proper rest,” replied Mamelon passively. “Just think of it as part of their training.”

Without further discussions or even changing the Mercenaries’ damaged equipment, Mamelon gave them her leave. Together with the Elemental Knights, Shamans, and Mercenaries they immediately set off. They were headed for the desert of Wundern, a bountiful area with beasts of burden, which was also near their target village.

“What curious Sonstwelters,” remarked Guro. “I think I’ll follow Sierra and Mamelon’s lead. I won’t be taking any of the quests, as I feel that it is much too soon for them. Also, there is also the problem with our lack of draughts, so I won’t be taking any of the transports. For the time being, I’ll train them here.”

“Oh, good. I thought you were going to have all of your ten-thousand Avendre head somewhere on foot,” said a relieved Sierra .

“But they’ll wish they would have gone on a death march,” said Guro menacingly and looked at her assigned legion.

“What about weapons and armor?” Smoke asked her.

“Don’t worry. There are plenty of raw materials in the forest patches nearby. We’ll make something out of those,” answered the middle-aged Lioumerean. “Until we meet again, fellow Zuchthaus Escapee.”

Guro also bade farewell to the other core members, and led her nine-thousand Mercenaries to one of the forests near the walls of Verbrannt.

As for Smoke’s ranged core members, they all agreed to take on the Salvage Salah Quest. It was a mission to reconstruct the remnants of the village. Although, Verbrannt did have some refugees coming from this place, there were others who remained behind. With all of their legions combined, the ranged core members had almost half of the total of Avendre Mercenaries.

“Rebuilding and improving the ruined village from scratch should not be a problem for us at all,” declared Ichaival confidently.

“I also have a good feeling about this mission,” added Sharanga brightly. “It gives us the perfect opportunity to build the weapon we have planned for our new subordinates.”

“The two of you look like you’re having a great time lately,” Smoke innocently said to Ichaival and Sharanga.

“What do you mean? We always have a fun time together,” replied Ichaival.

“As long as Ichaival isn’t being a bother, he is always good company to be with,” added Sharanga demurely.

“That’s good to hear. I look forward to the growth of your development,” said Smoke meaningfully.

Sierra suddenly tugged Smoke’s arm. “I need to go. We still have a long journey ahead. Thank you for providing transports for all of us. That really saves us a lot of time. It’s too bad that we couldn’t capture more draughts.”

“Don’t worry about it. Soon, we’ll have more than a thousand large transports and all of them we’ll be pulled by strong monsters,” bantered Smoke.

She gave him a brief hug, but the sensation lingered even after they let go of each other. She then turned to the rest of the core members remaining. “Everyone, please feel free to call me if you need my help.”

With that, Sierra and her legion headed for the magical valley of Veneficatl.

After the red-haired HighElf left, the rest of his core members bade him farewell as well. All of them headed for Verbrannt to prepare for their journey to Salah.

Smoke then turned to Espion and the one thousand Mercenaries who were left behind.

“Welcome to team Select,” began Smoke. “As some of you might not yet know, the handsome young man next to me is, Espion, he will be your Vice-Captain.”

All of them saluted Espion in the Avendre manner. They covered their eyes with their right hand, touched their heart, and lastly, with their open palm pointed it to him.

Espion hurriedly emulated them, and addressed them. “Let us learn from one another and grow together.”

“Now that we have that settled, let’s all head for our transports. We have to visit a good friend of mine first,” stated Smoke with authority.

All of them comfortably rode on ten large-carriage transports and headed southward.

* * * * * *

Along with Espion and a thousand Avendre, Smoke came across the most familiar village to him. A sense of being home enveloped him. Its short walls surrounding it serve no protection at all. Yet, the magical barrier put up by Darius, could destroy any invaders below his level and concealed it from people that do not have access to it.

Smoke smiled when he saw the remnants of the armored armadillo carapace hill that he made when he hunted ten-thousand of them.

Despite being there for so long, he still felt that the enigmatic village of Nanahuatl had plenty of mysteries left unsolved.

The moment they got inside its humble gates, he saw the central fountain. This was the first thing he saw in Zectas. Then, a second later, an ancient men dressed in Wizard’s robes appeared before them.

Darius used his instant Teleportation ability as soon as he felt Smoke’s presence. Yet, he looked significantly younger despite his long white hair.

“Darius! I’m back!” said Smoke happily and ran to him. He hugged the Beggar Legati tightly.

“Glad you could finally grace us with your presence,” replied Darius teasingly and hugged him back. “It is good to see you in a brighter light,” said Darius.

Smoke remembered the time when he returned after he was tricked by Horrabelle. Since then, he promised himself that he would improve. He was hopeful that he had, but knew that there was still an even bigger room for growth.

“I have a couple of new recruits that I need to train, but before that I thought I’d give you a visit first,” explained Smoke. “Espion, why don’t you take the Mercenaries over to the armored armadillo fishing weirs.”

Espion looked confused. “You want us to collect fish?”

Smoke shook his head and laughed. “No. Tell the men to relax in the river. There aren’t any dangerous monsters there, and the children would love to have new playmates.”

After Espion and his selected Mercenaries left, Darius ceremoniously bowed down to him.

“Thank you,” replied Darius gratefully. “This old man appreciates you taking some of your precious time to visit him.”

“Well, talking to you have always been helpful. So, I’m doing this for myself rather than for you,” said Smoke flippantly.

He tried to mask the fact that of how much he actually missed his old friend.

“That sounds only fair. It would be underhanded if I’m the only one benefiting from your visit,” replied Darius seriously. “So, what delicious treat did you bring for me this time?”

“Oh, have I got something in store for you!” exclaimed Smoke. “You know how Sierra’s been cooking a lot of tasty meals lately, right?”

Darius nodded excitedly. The old man’s saliva drooled along the side of his mouth.

“Well, she’s made a new menu. It’s specially designed for the Avendre Mercenaries to gain more muscles, but I think you’ll like it,” he explained.

Smoke led Darius to his house.

“Should I gather the villagers?” asked Darius cautiously. “If you only have a few of them, then I think it would be better not to tell everyone.”

The old Beggar carefully looked at their surrounding, checking to see if anyone was eavesdropping on them.

“After all, the ones that could eat it will only feel guilty for those who couldn’t… So, I’ll have to take it upon myself to bear this culpability alone.”

“Wow, that’s very selfless of you,” bantered Smoke. “But I think I we should share this we the rest of the village on another time. Let me just cook it first. Sierra already had it seasoned and shaped. I just have to grill them first.”

They rushed in Nanahuatl’s iconic house, which used to belong to the Beggar Imperator, Kumbaba.

When Smoke reached the kitchen, he took out Sierra’s specially prepared treat for Darius. He placed burger patties on his grill, and chugged a few ember stones below it. Igniz then released a small fireball which caused the ember stones to create the right fire for cooking.

“They’re pretty famous back in my world, but I haven’t seen it here yet. So, Sierra thought she would share this type of food with you,” explained Smoke. “They’re called burgers. Normally, you place them inside a special type of bread called a bun. We had the Bakers of Verbrannt make some, specifically for this.”

Smoke expertly grilled six, one-pounder-burger patties. After cooking them to golden brown and slightly charred, he quickly placed the sliced cheeses on top of each one of them. One by one, he placed them on the bun and added lettuce and tomatoes.

“It smells really good,” said the salivating Darius. “It doesn’t look that complicated, but what are those spices inside the ground meat?”

“That’s Sierra’s secret,” replied Smoke sheepishly. “This is nothing fancy, but I think it’ll taste great.”

As soon as Smoke finished Sierra’s special burgers, Darius grabbed one of them and took out a big bite.

“Mmm… You should have cured Sierra’s curse long ago,” said the old Beggar. “I’ve never tasted anything like this.”

Smoke grabbed one of the burgers and stared at it curiously. He opened his mouth but hesitated to take a bite.

‘Sierra already tasted this herself and Darius thinks it’s tasty,’ he debated with himself whether to eat the special burger.

‘What the heck,’ he thought in the end, and took out a big chunk. Smoke found it juicy and a little bit crunchy.

“All in all. It tastes just like a regular burger back home,” he said to Darius. “I thought it would give an after buzz, but it’s all good.”

Darius nodded passively, not paying any attention to what he was saying at all.

“Can I have the rest?” Darius strongly asked. “I mean you’ll have an endless supply of these…burgers, right? And I don’t know when the next time you’ll be coming here.”

“Sure, no problem,” answered Smoke and offered the remaining four burgers to his dearest friend.

With nothing to restrain him, Smoke eagerly watched Darius perform his wondrous talent. The old man wolfed down all of the burgers as fast as he could.

“Please tell Sierra to come visit me some time as well,” said Darius while wiping the meat juice off on the side of his mouth.

After eating their burgers, Smoke thought to update Darius on his adventures.

“…You know I met this interesting person in Centzo. He goes by the name of Prosjak. I think you might know him,” he said meaningfully.

“Nope, don’t know him, but of course I have stayed within these walls for so long and I don’t know who’s who anymore,” replied Darius truthfully.

“So, what do you have in plan for your men?” asked the old Beggar.

Smoke grinned and gave him a knowing look. “I want you to teach them how to make double bladed swords like Adders’ BlitzSturm.”

“Why? Even if there is a thousand of them, I can still make it myself,” offered Darius.

“This way, they could make a strong bond with their weapon,” explained Smoke. “I’ll have them hunt the orchid mantis in Mandragora Forest, and then we will return here where they’ll create their own swords.”

“I see. That does sound like a good plan,” said Darius fondly. “I’ll teach them how to make the double bladed swords, as soon as you make me thirty more of those delicious burgers.”

“I’ll just make ten more and that’s that,” answered Smoke while shaking his head, amused at his friend’s bottomless stomach.

* * * * * *

On board their transports, the journey to Mandragora Forest was quick and easy. Equipped with only their sabers and kite-shields, Smoke instructed the Mercenaries to face the monsters inside the first layer, home of the poison slimes.

While the Avendre ventured into the forest, Smoke and Espion were left outside in the plains. The two of them were busy preparing a big batch of medicinal stone deer stew. He remembered how he had to settle for the medicinal rabbit stew, the first time he was here.

The Avendre returned shortly after they faced the green poison slimes. As he expected, all of them were inflicted with the Poisoned Status. He quickly gave them the stew and ordered them to return to the forest.

However, one of the Avendre Mercenaries stepped up and went against him. “But we will die from the poison.”

Smoke recognized him as Hazard, Jeter’s cousin. Ever since he told him that Jeter died, his Intimacy with the young Avendre dropped to below fifty.

Despite his efforts, Hazard would always question his orders.

“The HP regeneration from the medicinal stew will compensate for the Poison,” assured Smoke. “In fact, once you’ve reached a certain point, your resistance to this monster’s poison will allow you to do this.”

He then took out a poison pellet and squashed it with his bare hands.

“Wow!”

“Whoa! Look at that!”

“Is that really a poison pellet?”

Similar statements came from the other Mercenaries who saw his demonstration. This instantly encouraged them to return to hunting the poison slimes.

Hazard unwillingly returned with his group while shaking his head in disbelief. They endured being in their poisoned state even while they slept. They took shifts, waking the other one up to eat the medicinal soup which Smoke had prepared for them in advance.

While they slept, Smoke was busy mending their sabers’ and shields’ durability. The slimes’ body were soft but it still took a toll on their equipment.

When he wasn’t fixing items or preparing meals, Smoke was busy with his Manatl, Earth Manipulation, and Lightning Manipulation exercises.

He used either Earth Spikes to hit his concave Manatl. He had to use his metallic golems when he trained his Lightning Manipulation.

Sometimes, when he wanted to focus on his Manatl training, he would have Igniz attack him with an onslaught of fireballs.

In this manner, Smoke was not neglecting his own growth while managing the progress of his Avendre Mercenaries.

Whereas, Smoke ordered Espion to only observe and guide from above the trees. The only abilities the Vigilantez Spy could improve on was his Stealth, Bronze Owl Ears, and Mental Map.

Espion continually gave out directions to the Mercenaries below him. He ordered them where to move next and how many monsters to expect, as he could map out the Avendre’s and monsters’ locations.

Due to this, the Mercenaries would systematically clear the first layer of the forest without having to make unscheduled return visits to their encampment in the plains.

Unbeknownst to Espion, Smoke did this to also improve his own battle tactics and strategies.

While waiting for the Mercenaries to acquire the poison resistance, Smoke corralled their aardwolves and dirus wolves inside his customized earth walls. Thankfully, there was another forest nearby, which was abundant with stone deer. There, he hunted enough meat to feed sixty draughts for a week.

After seven days, all one thousand of Smoke’s Mercenaries gained immunity from the poison slimes’ attacks and raised their levels to above 40.

Smoke’s and Espion’s own abilities have drastically improved as well.

With the first layer of the forest cleared, Smoke had them prepare for the next one. They were ordered to stand still as Igniz enchanted their swords and shields with his Fire.

This time, they were going to face against the crafty orchid mantises. Smoke told them about how they moved, but the Mercenaries were not prepared for their serene appearance.

The one and a half meter monsters looked like swaying flowers in the wind. The monsters’ uniform motion hindered the Avendre from figuring out where to attack.

Since Smoke only needed them to acquire two mantis blades each, he thought he should lend them a hand. “Igniz, create a firewall on the gathered orchid mantises.”

At once, his dark ember sprite constructed a wall of flames on the swaying monsters. The life bars on the monsters’ displayed a measly 8,000 HP. After taking damage from Igniz’s flames, their life bars were reduced by 2,000 points.

Igniz then blasted the monsters with a torrential rain of fireballs, revealing a damage of 4,000 points on a single fireball. This made the orchid mantises to stampede towards the Mercenaries, but the burning plant monsters got out of their formations.

With their Fire enchanted weapons, the monsters were easily picked off by the Avendre. In less than ten-minutes, the swarm of orchid mantises were wiped out.

All of the Mercenaries collected more than four mantis blades. With their initial mission completed, they were ready to head back to Nanahuatl to craft their new weapons.

“Alright, ready your gear and attach the draughts to their transports,” instructed Smoke proudly.

Yet, one of the Avendre questioned him posthaste.

“But why should we stop here?” asked Hazard. “There is still the third layer left, right? And isn’t that the last one? Why don’t we finish it?”

“Only the boss of this forest remains there, and we have what we need. It would be inefficient for us to fight it when its experience and item cannot accommodate all of us,” explained Smoke.

“Inefficient?” asked the Mercenary sarcastically. “Who are you to tell us what is inefficient when you’re just a lousy leader who couldn’t even properly direct a strong Avendre Commander.”

Without another word, Hazard went into the final layer of Mandragora Forest.

Smoke and Igniz hurriedly went after him into the forest clearing.

Inside, Smoke could sense the tree ent’s whip-like vines aimed at Hazard. He used his Hyper Jump ability and appeared in front of the head-strong Mercenary.

Smoke instantly created a full spherical Manatl, which engulfed Hazard and himself.

SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD

Despite the dozens of vines hitting his barrier. The tree ent’s attacks could do nothing against his full Manatl.

“What is that thing?” asked a surprised Hazard. “It attacked me from nowhere.”

“That’s a tree ent. It’s the boss of this forest,” answered Smoke without looking at him. “Igniz, attack it from behind.”

His dark ember sprite hurriedly circled the tree ent and rained his fireballs on it, revealing the monster’s name and life bar. Entree (150,000/210,000 HP). Igniz’s back and fire attacks were extremely effective against the plant monster.

Entree then switched focused to Igniz. Its vines came at the ember sprite from all direction, which forced him to stop attacking the tree ent.

With the monster’s back turned to him, Smoke canceled his Manatl sphere and transferred the gathered energy into his white metallic staff.

BONK

The sound of his staff hitting the back of Entree’s head resonated in the forest clearing. Yet, the monster still had 30% left on its life bar.

Instantly, Smoke switched out his staff for his twin lightning rods, and used its Lightning Strike ability. He crossed the black rods together and struck Entree at point blank range.

A blinding blue light flashed before them. After the light faded, the tree ents life bar now displayed 0%. Its hundred of vines shriveled up and slowly vanished out of existence.

Smoke collected the necklace that the monster left behind.

+ Acquired rare amulet: Heart of Entree.


He didn’t need to inspect the necklace to know its attributes. Without a word, he walked over to Hazard.

The young impetuous Avendre was slumped on the ground of the forest clearing. He looked at Smoke with remorseful eyes, and tried to explain his foolishness, but no words would come out.

Then, Espion appeared from behind them. “What in the world do you think you’re doing? Didn’t Smoke tell you not enter here?”

“Espion, it’s alright,” said Smoke calmly.

“No, it isn’t. He should understand how to follow your orders,” argued Espion. “We’re training you to face far more dangerous things than this, but at the moment you’re not ready to face any of them.”

Hazard did not answer them and only kept staring down.

“Espion’s right. You’re far from the level to face stronger monsters,” kindly added Smoke. “Which is why I’d like you to have this.”

Smoke gave the newly acquired amulet to Hazard.

The young Avendre stared blankly at the rare accessory in his hands. “Why? I thought you were sending me back to Mount Alouer for sure. Why give me this rare item instead?”

“You have great potential. Very much like your cousin. It would be a waste not to polish a rough gem,” replied Smoke softly. “I also feel responsible for Jeter’s death, which is why I want to train you into an even greater fighter than your cousin.”

Hazard looked at him with a confused expression. He grasped the necklace firmly and placed it around his neck. “Alright, I’ll do my best from now on, and I’ll follow your orders.”

A notification window suddenly popped up.

+ Your Intimacy with Hazard has risen to ‘Trusted Companion’


It was far from being blood brothers, but Smoke still appreciated the increase in Intimacy with the hard-headed Avendre.

“Now, why don’t we join the others and head back for Nanahuatl,” said a friendly Smoke.

After they returned to Smoke’s home village, Darius immediately began to teach the Avendre Mercenaries how to forge their very own double bladed swords.

Darius told him that it would take a week to finish this task. During this time, Smoke was visiting the different families in Nanahuatl.

With the rapid birth of newborns in the village, he used his improved Earth Manipulation to create a new playground for them. He created slides, see-saws, and even a six-meter tall anthill where the young ones could enter and play. All of these were far things that the infants could not use, but the bigger children gladly welcomed them. Smoke also considered how fast time flies in Zectas, soon these babies would grow up to be young adults.

When he wasn’t bonding with the residents, he was busy training his abilities. He also sparred with Espion to help increase his Spy’s fighting experience.

Yet, no matter what they were doing during the day, at sundown the whole village always ate in front of Smoke’s house. His increased in speed enabled him to easily feed the growing village, including his one thousand Mercenaries.

After a week of toiling with their mantis blades, all of the Avendre finally got their personally crafted double bladed swords.

Smoke then ordered them to set out and hunt for phasmatodeas, towering stick insects that reached the height of two-meters. Yet, the monster was also extremely thin. Their bones made great arrow shafts. These monsters had almost no defense and a life bar of 15,000 HP.

With their new weapons coupled with Igniz’s Fire Enchantment, the towering stick monsters gave no resistance to the Mercenaries.

Using his Cunning of the Dire Fox, Smoke directed them to the location of thousands of phasmatodeas. He looked at them with the eyes of a proud parent. He couldn’t believe how well they fought with their double bladed swords. They were nowhere near Adder’s skill, but they had more than doubled their attack power by simply using the weapons they crafted themselves.

With his Avendre Mercenaries’ complete domination over the phasmatodeas, Smoke decided to check on the Avendre Quests.

Avendre Mercenary Satellite Quests:

* Salvage Salah [Taken]

* Beasts of Burden for Betul [Taken]

* Protect Poludnie

* Secure the Heiress of Silap

* Banish the monsters bothering Barat

 

He immediately noticed the new Mercenary Quest that appeared. He thought about taking the Silap or the Poludnie Quest, but was hesitant to either one.

However, now that there was a new quest, he decided to take it on right away.

“Alright! Good work, everyone,” began Smoke. “Next, we’re headed for Barat Village to take on some spined coyotes. Collect the loot and pack your gear. We’re moving out!”

It had only been half a month since Smoke was together with them, but he personally felt close to them almost as much as his core members.

‘Even if I train them to be over level 150 in less than a year…there is still a high probability that they would all be wiped out by Burmistrz’s Cavalry Knights,’ he somberly thought to himself.

“Guys, change of plans. We’re going to stop by Nanahuatl before heading for Barat,” Smoke said suddenly before the Mercenaries could get on board their respective transports.

* * * * * *

Smoke awoke to see the familiar white fountain with a strapping bearded man sitting on its walls. ‘He really looks like a Wizard Boss now. I wonder how much power Darius has recovered?’ he secretly asked himself.

He had logged out of Zectas during the trip back, and timed his sleep to match their time of arrival in Nanahuatl.

Casually, he stepped off the transport, and asked Espion and all of the Avendre to get some much needed relaxation near the weirs.

Meanwhile, he walked over to Darius. “Nice of you to greet me, every time I arrive,” he said gratefully and hugged the old Beggar.

“Of course! I know that I’m mostly the reason you come here in the first place,” said Darius flippantly.

“That is, true,” answered Smoke. “Alright, I’ll get right to it. I don’t want to risk the lives of the Mercenaries, facing off against Cavalry Knights. We’re suppose to attack within a year’s time, otherwise Burmistrz will have gained another attack force that could try and take over another city.”

Darius didn’t say a word and only listened to him.

Smoke appreciated how Darius knew that he still had more to say. He felt that if it were anyone else they would have interjected by now.

“I wasn’t really up for it in the first place. Prosjak was the one who strongly suggested it to complete this quest, and I was blinded with the idea of gaining thousands of new subordinates,” explained Smoke, and let out a deep sigh.

“Maybe, if it was after three years, then we would have a better chance of surviving against them,” Smoke grit his teeth as he had an inkling of the battle a year from now.

“This sounds like a serious problem,” stated Darius. “It is so serious that I won’t even mention about eating those yummy burgers before we proceed talking.”

Smoke was taken aback. He wasn’t sure if Darius wanted him to make the burgers.

“So, what was it that you truly wanted to do when you first got the mission?” bluntly asked Darius.

“Actually, I wanted to create an elite team and sneak into the city and take him on directly, but I don’t think it would be successful—” Smoke paused as inspiration hit him. “But Sierra just got her Job Change to Druid Archon, and Mamelon’s Elemental Knights have also increased their levels.”

Darius clicked his tongue while stroking his long white beard. “But sneaking into the city itself would require you to have a low number of people. Unfortunately, from what I heard about this Burmistrz, you would need at least twenty people to take him on.”

Smoke stared at the water in the fountain. He knew that Darius was right. “If only there was a way to get him away from his men.”

“Well, there is an ability that could instantly teleport the caster and any other person they are holding and transport them to a prepared casting circle,” said Darius out loud.

“And you can teach this to me?” asked Smoke excitedly.

Darius shook his head. “Sorry, it cannot be taught. You would need an ability book, and I think you could only find one of those in a temple of the Guardias de Tiempo.”

This time, it was Smoke’s turn to click his tongue.

“Luckily, I still have one more transference crystal left” quickly added Darius, and reached inside his wizard robe for a pure white gem. “I could create an impetus gem, and that would serve as my substitute. With that you can teleport anything touching it to my preconfigured casting circle.”

“Hm. Then, Burmistrz would be teleported here, in Nanahuatl,” said Smoke while strongly shaking his head. “We can’t have that.”

“Not to worry. I can create my casting circle outside the village walls,” offered Darius. “And remember, I can cast a cloaking spell over the village, making anyone who has never stepped inside unable to enter it.”

Darius then teleported near the outskirts of the village entrance. Smoke hurriedly used his Hyper Jump to get closer to him, and had to run up the missing distance his ability could not cover.

The old Beggar wrote ancient runes in the air with both his hands, and uttered words Smoke could not comprehend.

A green, white, and blue casting circle appeared outside the village on top of each other. Next, Darius casted a rainbow of glittering colors and covered Nanahuatl inside a dome.

“There, I’ve already finished half of what needs to be done,” said Darius proudly. “Should I proceed?”

“Hypothetically, the people inside the village, they could still cast range attacks outside this invisible barrier you created?” asked Smoke eagerly.

Darius smiled as he understood where he was getting at. “Why, of course! People inside the village can safely attack.”

“Ha! Then, Burmistrz is practically dead!” exclaimed Smoke. “I’ll hit him with that impetus item, teleport him here.”

Darius nodded with the same enthusiasm. “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Then, you finish him off with one of your special spells,” said Smoke and gave Darius a thumbs up.

Darius’ mouth fell open. “Hm. Well, hm. You see, how do I say this?”

“You’ve already gotten most of your powers back, right?” asked Smoke. “I mean you just casted that preconfigured casting circle and all.”

“Yeah about that, I still need a day to recover my mana to create that special impetus device,” began Darius nervously. “And, when you use the impetus device, it would use my mana as its power source and drain me empty.”

A frustrated Smoke angrily scratched his head, almost pulling out his long white DarkElf hair.

“Well, I could still attack with him a bow and arrow… but if you recall, I specialized in magical attacks, so I don’t think my damage would amount to much.”

“Not a problem, not a problem.” Smoke repeated himself. “I think it will still work. I’ll just have all of the Vigilantez hide inside the village while I bring Burmistrz here.”

While Smoke was ranting on, Darius remembered an update he was suppose to tell him. “Oh, by the way, Caid said something interesting about the Magietrois. It looks like our brothers in the Verum de Mendicantibus have—” Darius stopped talking as Smoke was clearly not listening to him.

Smoke’s smile turned into a devilish grin. He faced Darius’ preconfigured casting circle and imagined Burmistrz’s face in pure agony.

* * * * *

Smoke’s heart was beating fast as he was gliding towards Coatl. He quickly disseminated the plan that he and Darius had conceived. The Vigilaintez’s strategists had no problem with the general concept.

However, Thyrsus pointed out that Burmistrz would likely be suspicious of the invisible attackers from Nanahuatl. Adder also added that the Duke could easily escape on the other side.

So, Sierra suggested that only Sonstwelters were allowed outside the village walls, and they would surround the preconfigured casting circle, preventing Burmistrz from escaping.

It took them a week to assemble all of the Vigilantez into Nanahuatl. This was Mamelon’s first time in the village.

Smoke would have vehemently denied other Sonstwelters about the knowledge of his home in Zectas, but Mamelon and the rest of the Vigilantez Sonstwelters fully earned his trust. Their actions spoke of their true nature, and he knew that he could count on each one of them.

On the other hand, the Avendre Mercenaries were tasked to continue with their current missions.

Sierra’s group were still out in Veneficatl Valley. She also left half of her Druids there to supervise them.

Mamelon’s was busty in Wundern Desert wrangling more mounts. Earat and Louche were left in charge of them.

Meanwhile, Thyrsus and Vijaya were given command of all the core range members’ Avendre. They were still fixing Silap up.

As for Guro, she remained in Verbrannt, along with all her dedicated recruits. She promised to increase the land size of the village by three times that of Anbau Forest.

Whereas Espion led Smoke’s Avendre to Barat Village. Smoke insisted that the Mercenaries be kept busy and unaware of this special mission. It was imperative that their training continue as scheduled as he had big plans for them.

After twelve hours of gliding, he finally saw the heraldic city of Coatl. Caid informed him that it was time for the finals of the Swordsman to Knight competition.

Smoke thought that it would be a perfect opportunity for him to grab Burmistrz.

With the aid of his Telefax Vision, he easily spotted the braggart Duke on top of his special stage in front of the arena.

Diving as fast as he could, Smoke went straight for Burmistrz as he held onto a pure white gem. Igniz started orbiting around him rapidly, and together the two of them gave the sight of a falling meteor.

CRASH

Pieces of debris flew up in flames as Smoke used his Comet Crash ability on the unknowing Duke. He stunned him for a full second.

“Impetus Activate!” shouted Smoke before the Duke could recover, but Macher suddenly appeared out of nowhere and grabbed on to the Duke.

POOF

Smoke, Igniz, Burmistrz, and Macher were instantly teleported inside Darius’ preconfigured casting circle.

‘I thought you had to be directly touching the impetus object for it to work, but clearly that isn’t the case,’ Smoke surmised as he angrily stared at Macher.

Burmistrz hurriedly equipped a zweihänder while Macher threateningly pointed his glaive at Smoke.

“So, you’re the famous Smoke,” growled Burmistrz. “You really are tricky I’ll give you that.”

Burmistrz looked around the casting circle and found himself completely surrounded by the Vigilantez Sonstwelters.

“Prepare to die, Smoke!” shouted Macher as he charged at him.

Yet, before Macher could reach him, Sierra used her Overgrowth ability and entangled both Burmistrz and Macher with thick roots. She then used Contrition on both of them, increasing their damage taken.

A bombardment of elemental attacks from Mamelon’s regiment quickly showered the two of them. Their life bars and names were revealed thereafter. Macher (610,000/680,000 HP). Ultimo Maire (2,084,900/2,100,000 HP).

Macher’s life bar was extremely high for a Cavalry Knight, but the Duke’s was even more impressive.

“Everyone, focus fire on Macher!” shouted Smoke, and swiftly equipped his white metallic staff.

A torrent of spears, arrows, and bolts suddenly appeared out of nowhere, as Smoke’s ranged forces safely attacked from behind Darius’ invisible barrier.

Smoke started to jump out of the casting circle, but his leg was caught by Ultimo’s whip.

“Where do you think you’re going, boy?” snarled Ultimo. “You are going to be a victim of your own trap!”

“Not today!” retorted Smoke. He instantly created a concave Manatl which protected himself from his allies attacks.

“Aargh!” cried out Macher in pain, as most of the ranged attacks directly hit him. The lowest of which injured him for 2,500 damage points.

The few attacks that did miss, struck Ultimo and Smoke’s Manatl.

Ultimo guffed at the Vigilantez joint ranged effort as it only dealt less than 500 damage points. It appeared as if he welcomed the damage to him.

“Stop this! Stop this, now!” pleaded Macher as his life bar was reduced to 25% in less than a minute. “Duke Burmistrz, please save me! I know you can get out of this.”

“Relax, Macher, you’ll return to Zectas anyway,” replied Ultimo passively.

However, Ultimo raised his zweihänder over his head and severed off Sierra’s thick roots with one stroke. He then yanked Smoke from his crouched position, and used him as a shield for Macher.

Against his will, Smoke blocked the incoming attacks at Macher and spared him from dying. It was the last thing he wanted to do, but at least now he was free from Ultimo’s whip.

All of the Vigilantez instantly stopped attacking as Smoke was in the way. He canceled his Manatl and transferred the gathered energy into his staff.

With her Druid staff in hand, Sierra suddenly ran into the preconfigured casting circle and stopped behind the entangled Cavalry Knight.

She struck Macher’s nape with all her might, and proceeded to pound her ferule into his spine. Deep dents appeared on Macher’s armor with each bludgeon.

Despite the several elemental spikes striking Ultimo, he relentlessly charged at Sierra.

However, Sierra delivered the last strike needed to reduce Macher’s life to zero.

“Good job, HighElf, you really killed him. Now, why don’t you have a taste of your own medicine, Smoke,” replied Ultimo as he grabbed him and Sierra with only his left arm.

‘How strong is this guy?’ wondered Smoke as he felt his breath being squeezed out of him.

Suddenly, he saw Laernea and Sharur jump out from Nanahuatl’s hidden barrier.

“Go back!” worriedly shouted Smoke.

Then, he saw why Ultimo was holding them with only one hand. In his right, he held a pure white gem, much like the one he used earlier.

“Impetus Activate!” shouted Ultimo.

* * * * * *

POOF

Smoke, Sierra, Sharur, Laernea, and Ultimo were teleported inside a sealed great hall of the Zuchthaus Labyrinth under Coatl City.

Yet, this great hall was different to the others Smoke had been to, as this one had lesser pillars. They did, however, have torches. This considerably brightened the visibility of the expansive chamber.

Before Ultimo could do anything else, Smoke struck him with his energized staff and damaged him for 100,000 points.

Ultimo firmly planted his feet on the floor, but he was still blown backward while standing.

“That’s very impressive,” stated Ultimo. “What kind of attack was that? It has been a long time since I’ve been damage by this much.”

“Laernea, Sharur, back away. Leave this to Sierra and Me,” ordered Smoke, and paid Ultimo no mind. “Look for an exit instead.”

He did a quick search with his eyes, but could not find any doorways. As he realized that this was another part of the labyrinth he had never been to, he wondered how many more sealed chambers like this one existed.

“Don’t bother. There isn’t one,” interjected Ultimo. “This is where the Tenebris made their own preconfigured casting circle,” he said, and pointed to the floor.

“Honestly, I was surprised that you had a transference gem as well,” Ultimo casually spoke. “From the lack of powerful spells that attacked me during your entrapment, I’m guessing that you only have that one powerful Wizard who created your transference gem.”

“Sharur, Laernea, do as much damage as you can, but don’t let him get near you,” said Sierra and charged at Ultimo.

The Duke of Coatl removed his thick, royal coat and revealed his massive muscles through his plaid shirt. He had no form of armor on him at all. “It has been a long time since my days in the Ladrones del Mundo. I gladly accept your challenge!”

Laernea and Sharur fired their bolts and arrows at Ultimo. However, they only damaged him for less than 200 points.

Ultimo did not bother to block or dodge the ranged attacks. Instead, he held his zweihänder with both his hands and swung it at Sierra.

Sierra parried Ultimo’s zweihänder with her ferule, but she was blown backwards. Smoke hurriedly caught him, and avoided a harmful tumble on the floor.

Despite their low damage, Laernea and Sharur kept on attacking.

“Why did you two leave Nanahuatl’s safety?” asked Smoke, as the four of them regrouped themselves. “Good thing Igniz wasn’t near us when that bastard forcibly transferred us here.”

“I don’t know what happened myself,” answered Sharur hesitantly. “After I saw Sierra rush inside the casting circle, my feet began running towards her.”

“I tried to stop Sharur, but it was already too late,” meekly added Laernea.

With them staying as far away from Ultimo as possible, the former High Commander of the Ladrones del Mundo kept on taunting them. “Smoke, did you know that I used a transference gem on your beloved Flame Knight, the one called Ilad?”

Smoke paid little attention to Ultimo as he racked his brain for ideas on how to get out of this situation.

“Of course, it was a different casting circle and a different room. I never kept track of which ones the Tenebris made. Unfortunately, I only have two more of these precious gems left,” babbled on Ultimo.

“Sierra, can you use your Overgrowth ability on him?” asked Smoke in a hushed voice.

“I’ve been trying that for a while now, but it seems like the roots can’t penetrate through this labyrinth’s floor,” she replied, annoyed.

“Then, let’s just go for a two-two formation,” said Smoke. “Sierra, can you cast—”

He was about to ask her to give them some buffs, but she already beat him to it.

Sierra tapped her ferule on top of their heads and small thorns enveloped their body, which gave them a return damage aura. She then casted Archon’s Blessing on Smoke, doubling his life and damage for the next two minutes.

“But that bastard is still under my Contrition ability. So, he will still receive increased damage,” explained Sierra.

“Alright, let’s go!” yelled Smoke and charged at Ultimo.

Smoke and Sierra ran side by side while Laernea and Sharur constantly fired their ranged attacks at the Brandals’ final Boss.

The ranged attackers continuously hit their mark, but Ultimo remained unfazed.

Sierra careened blindly towards Ultimo, but was blasted backwards with another full swing from his zweihänder.

However, this was all part of their plan as Smoke suddenly appeared behind Ultimo and delivered a point blank Lightning Strike on his spine.

Smoke successfully struck Ultimo with his surprise attack, but it only harmed Ultimo for 50,000 points.

Ultimo countered with a slash on Smoke’s chest, but he was able to avoid it with his Hyper Jump ability at the last second.

“Smoke, you always keep on impressing me, I just can’t believe it,” bantered Ultimo. “It was a good idea on what you did to Horrabelle, and I bet you thought you could do the same thing with me. Trap me in a chamber, alone. Well, look where we are? Isn’t this what you wanted?”

‘What I wanted was for you to die outside Nanahuatl!’ angrily thought Smoke.

Sharur and Laernea’s ranged attacks kept hitting Ultimo, but their damage was barely registering in his life bar. Even Sharur’s spiral bolts could not knock him back.

Sierra suddenly appeared from behind Ultimo and was about to hit his back, but Ultimo effortlessly parried her ferule with his sword and slashed her arm. She backed away and used Cure on herself.

With Ultimo still focused on Sierra, Smoke stepped in and struck his chin with Lightning Shock, paralyzing him for three seconds.

Both Smoke and Sierra dished out their attacks on his unarmored body, yet their damage could not go beyond 1,000 points.

“Back off, now!” shouted Smoke.

Ultimo stretched his arms over his head after he recovered from his paralysis. He looked like a man just woken up from a nap.

“Did you think that you could harm me, just because I didn’t have any armor on?” questioned Ultimo. “Am I the first Barbarian Warlord that you have ever faced?”

“This guy just doesn’t shut up,” said an irritated Smoke out loud.

“Fighting a Witch in close range was a brilliant idea, but fighting a Warlord in closed quarters…Well, that’s just inviting death,” stated Ultimo flatly.

“Argh!” suddenly cried out Ultimo as four bolts struck his back, and impaled themselves deep into his flesh.

Sharur charged his Spiral Pierce attack, while Laernea coated the OrkElf’s bolt with a strong poison and anticoagulant. With their joint strike, Ultimo was inflicted with the Poisoned and Bleeding status.

“I guess I shouldn’t have underestimated the two of you,” said Ultimo, and tried to reach for the bolts. He pulled each one without flinching.

“Your actions have consequences. Prepare to die,” said Ultimo calmly and charged for Laernea and Sharur.

However, Smoke stepped in between them and protected them inside his spherical Manatl.

SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD

Sparks came out from each of Ultimo’s strike with his zweihänder. Sierra tried to attack him, but Smoke signaled her to stay away.

With both his grip on the gigantic sword, Ultimo’s attacks were steadily becoming faster. His sword began to show afterimages of itself, similar to Smoke’s weighted chain and sickle.

After a minute of relentless attacks, Ultimo showed no signs of fatigue or becoming out of breath. Yet, Smoke’s Manatl displayed cracks of degradation.

“Smoke, what do we do?” asked Laernea as she held on to her long bow and pointed it at Ultimo.

“I’m going to cancel my Manatl, and the two of you run over to where Sierra is,” said Smoke calmly.

After giving them a nod, Smoke shouted. “Now!”

He canceled his Manatl, then Laernea and Sharur ran for their lives. Smoke jumped back. With his energized white staff, he charged into the flurry of Ultimo’s zweihänder and struck him in the shoulders.

This time, Smoke damaged him for 75,000 points.

Ultimo backed away, and grabbed his injured left shoulder.

“So, that’s how it works,” said the Barbarian Warlord.

“Let me see you try and stop this,” taunted Ultimo and charged at Smoke with another flurry of attacks.

Smoke instantly put up a concave Manatl and held his ground firmly, but suddenly the unceasing attacks stopped.

He searched for Ultimo in front of him, but he found him running over towards Sierra, Sharur, and Laernea.

Sierra transformed into a Werebear and fearlessly charged at him. Ultimo swung his sword at her, but she parried it away with her claws and slashed his arm instead.

“The famous red Werebear,” said Ultimo unfazed. “Let’s see you block this!”

Ultimo released afterimages of his sword and Sierra braced herself for the imminent slashes, but none of the Barbarian’s attack made contact with her.

Smoke appeared in front of Sierra and protected her inside his Manatl.

SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD

Then, Ultimo’s attack suddenly stopped. The Barbarian Warlord went after his real targets, Laernea and Sharur.

He threw his zweihänder at them, and it plunged into Laernea’s stomach. The lioness Lioumerean slumped down to the floor.

Sharur rushed to Laernea’s side and pulled out the Barbarian’s sword. “Are you okay? Quick, give me some of your herbs,” said the rattled OrkElf.

“I don’t think my herbs could do anything for me now,” she answered softly.

“Sierra! Sierra!” desperately shouted Sharur. “Come here, Laernea needs you!”

However, it was Ultimo who arrived first. He easily kicked the OrkElf away from Laernea, and picked up his zweihänder.

“Well, hello there, pretty kitten,” said Ultimo with a sinister smile. “Want me to take your suffering a—” the Barbarian stopped talking as Smoke’s charged staff hit him in the back.

Both Smoke and Sierra arrived at Laernea’s side. Smoke hurriedly put up a Manatl sphere while Sierra cured the bleeding Lioumerean.

“Sharur!” Smoke yelled to warn his friend as Ultimo did not bother to attack his Manatl, and directly went after the OrkElf.

Sharur bravely stood his ground and fired his spiral bolts at Ultimo.

Smoke canceled his Manatl, but had not gathered any energy as the Barbarian did not attack his barrier.

Desperate, Smoke used his Hyper Jump ability and collided with Ultimo. The Barbarian Warlord’s forward motion made him fall face front.

Two silver golems shortly stood up beside Ultimo. Smoke created them but was left with little mana. His two minions stomped on the grounded Barbarian but dealt insignificant damage.

Meanwhile, Sharur ran over to where Sierra and Laernea were. The red-haired HighElf was still healing the injured Lioumerean.

Laernea’s life bar was still not fully restored as Sierra focused on closing her gaping wound.

Smoke switched to his power chainsaw bow and fired poison arrows at the downed Ultimo.

Suddenly, a zweihänder plunged through one of his metallic minions and knocked out the golem’s electro stone.

The golem instantly crumbled to the floor.

“You really give me little credit, Smoke,” angrily spat Ultimo. “Of course I would know the weakness to Horrabelle’s beloved creations.”

Ultimo stood up and effortlessly drove his zweihänder into Smoke’s second golem.

Smoke retreated to where his friends were. He instantly created a spherical Manatl and protected them. He needed to buy time while he still had no idea how to deal with Ultimo.

SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD

Afterimages of Ultimo’s zweihänder came at his barrier once more. This time it took less than a minute for his Manatl to show signs of degradation.

“Sierra, how are we doing back there?” worriedly asked Smoke.

“Laernea’s healed,” replied Sierra briskly, and casted Druid Archon’s Blessing on Smoke once more.

“Alright, everyone retreat to the left,” ordered Smoke.

He canceled his Manatl and backed away as before, but this time Sierra Transmogrified into her Werebear form and countered the Barbarian’s zweihänder with her claws.

Sierra successfully delivered her Double Slash attack and knocked back Ultimo by two-meters.

Equipped with his energized staff, Smoke jumped behind Ultimo.

THWAK

Smoke delivered a decisive blow to the back of Ultimo’s head, revealing his life bar to be (1,424,900/2,100,000 HP).

‘I guess this could work,’ thought Smoke and quickly joined Sierra and the others.

“How’s everyone doing?” asked Smoke.

“We’re all fine,” added Sierra while clutching her Werebear arm. She had been injured when she countered Ultimo’s swords earlier.

“Sierra, you should heal your wound,” said a concerned Sharur.

“I can’t use my Druid abilities when I’m in my Werebear form,” answered Sierra.

“So, what’s the plan, Smoke?” asked Laernea while pointing her bow at Ultimo.

“We’ll wear him out,” briskly answered Smoke. “Laernea, Sharur, you two keep firing at him. But make sure to always stay behind me.”

“My attack hurt him earlier too,” added Sierra. “I can’t just sit still and wait to heal you guys. The best defense is a strong offense.”

Smoke wanted to argue with what Sierra said, but he knew that she had no intention of doing anything else.

“Alright, but be care—” Smoke was interrupted by Ultimo as his zweihänder came at him.

Once more, Smoke created a full spherical Manatl.

Less than two minutes passed, and his Manatl showed signs of breaking.

Suddenly, Ultimo stopped attacking. Simultaneously, his Cunning of the Dire Fox lost the Barbarian Warlord’s presence.

Smoke desperately looked around. Since his Manatl would break in the next attack. He canceled it absorbed it into his staff.

Then, he saw some movement coming from above. He looked up to see a leaping Barbarian overhead.

He squarely landed on top of Smoke and drove his zweihänder into his shoulder.

“Owww!” screamed Smoke as the Barbarian’s sword exited his body.

He looked around in search of Ultimo only to see him running towards Laernea.

SHINK

Ultimo mercilessly plunged his zweihänder into the lioness Lioumerean’s heart.

THWAK

Smoke hit Ultimo on the back of his head with his energized staff, sending the Barbarian Warlord a few meters away.

However, it was already too late. Laernea’s life bar displayed zero.

“Noooooo!” shouted Smoke while he crouched down next to Laernea. He had no idea that Ultimo could leap that high.

“Waaaaaaaah!” roared Sierra as she went into a rage.

Sharur’s bolts came spiraling at the grounded Ultimo, but only dealt the same insignificant damage.

In her red Werebear form, Sierra stormed at Ultimo with her claws above her head. She delivered a clean slash with her right claw, but her left did not harm Ultimo as he caught it in an armlock instead.

“Aaugh!” Sierra cried out in pain as her arm was being squeezed tightly.

SHINK SHINK SHINK

Ultimo’s zweihänder viciously pierced Sierra’s chest, three times.

One of Smoke’s black rod struck Ultimo’s chin, and his second one unlocked the Barbarian’s hold on Sierra.

Sharur quickly came and pulled Sierra backward to where Laernea’s body was, but it was already gone as it was absorbed into Mictlan.

The only thing that remained of Laernea was her long bow.

Sierra tried to revert to her HighElf form but Ultimo was crashing down on them from above. The Barbarian Warlord used his Leap Attack on her and prevented her from changing.

Sharur tackled Ultimo off her, and the two of them rolled on the labyrinth floor. The OrkElf then kicked Ultimo’s zweihänder away, but the Barbarian Warlord grabbed a hold of his head instead.

Ultimo held onto Sharur’s head and brought the OrkElf against his back.

CRACK

The Barbarian Warlord broke Sharur’s neck, reducing the OrkElf’s life bar to zero.

A bleeding Smoke came running towards them, but Ultimo threw Sharur’s dead body at him. Smoke was flattened by his friend’s dead body.

Seconds later, it faded out of existence, joining Laernea in Mictlan.

Before he could get up, Ultimo’s zweihänder plunged deep into his stomach, impaling him to the floor. Smoke’s life bar quickly went below 25%, which activated Horrabelle’s Decay Aura.

Sierra, in her Werebear form, tackled Ultimo off of him. The two of them rolled on the floor next to Smoke, and were damaged by the Decay Aura as well.

Smoke quickly activated his necklace to counter the curse’s effects, but Ultimo squeezed both Smoke’s and Sierra’s necks with his massive arms.

“This is the end, Smoke,” hissed Ultimo. “Oh, I know that you’ll come to find me again, but don’t you worry. I’ll be right here waiting for you.”

With the Heart of Reente’s regeneration negated, Smoke’s only chance of survival was Sierra. He looked at her life bar and saw that it was still at 30%.

Ultimo followed his eyes, and smirked at him. “So, you’re more concerned with the girl, huh?”

The Barbarian Warlord released his hold on Smoke, and kicked they dying DarkElf away. He then picked up his zweihänder and pointed at Sierra.

“Say goodbye, Werebear,” taunted Ultimo and slowly inserted his sword into her, reducing her life bar each time it penetrated her.

Finally, Sierra’s life bar was reduced to zero as well.

Ultimo released Sierra’s lifeless cursed form, and carelessly dropped it on the ground.

Then, a storm of sickle and iron-ball engulfed Ultimo. Smoke only had seconds left to live, and he had to do everything he could with this final attack.

Smoke’s weapon glowed red as he screamed. “Suicide Attack!”

+ You’ve dealt your MAXIMUM CRITICAL BLOW x 5 on Ultimo Maire. Damage 666,666.

– Using the Suicide Attack ability, you have killed yourself.

– You lose 1 level!

– All the stats that have increased on the last level up will be rolled back!

– Because you have died, you cannot log in to Zectas for another 24 hours!

* * * * * *

Nash stepped out of his game pod, drenched with sweat. He wiped the tears from his eyes and searched for his phone.

Without a doubt he knew she would immediately pick up.

“Sherry, can I come over?” asked Nash somberly.

After a quick shower, Nash hurriedly went over to Sherry’s house. It was only ten-minutes away.

DING DONG

Sherry’s doorbell rang.

She came out, wearing her pajamas. Her eyes were bloodshot, clearly from crying.

“Listen, I—” began Nash, but Sherry placed her fingers on his mouth. She wordlessly led him into their living room.

“I’m watching a documentary on pyramids,” she said and offered him a seat on their couch.

Nash saw ice cream, chips, cookies, and a chocolate cake scattered all over the coffee table.

“It helps keep me off my mind on things,” explained Sherry in between sobs. She sat down and grabbed the ice cream.

Nash settled in next to her and placed her arms over her shoulder.

Minutes flew by, and the two of them silently watched the documentary. Then, it showed how the ancient Egyptians prepared their meals.

“Sharur was the first one to teach me cooking in Zectas,” Sherry said suddenly, and erupted in tears.

“Yeah, Laernea was a great cook too. Both of them were,” added Nash and squeezed her shoulders. “They were true friends.”

“You know, I’ve read about it in the forums, about groups who meet up, pining over dead Zectians,” began Sherry. “I know it sounds ridiculous, but I can completely understand them.”

“Why am I hurting this much?” she asked out loud. “They were just characters inside a game,” she said, and sobbed.

“It hurts because they were real,” consoled Nash. “To other people they might have been just an organized zeros and ones, but to us, to the people who knew Sharur and Laernea, they existed.”

Sherry nodded her head, and continued to focus blankly on the screen.

Nash did the same and let out a deep sigh.

“You know, even though it will only be a day for us, it’ll be four for them in Zectas when we get back,” suddenly said Nash out of the blue, and held her hand tightly.

“Yeah, I wonder how everyone else will be then,” replied Sherry and rested her head on his shoulders.

* * * * * *

Smoke and Sierra simultaneously awoke to Nanahuatl’s fountain. A crowd of their core members were gathered there. The air was heavy and stifling.

“I prayed to Cuezaltzin that you were just delayed somewhere,” spoke Jinggu. “I prayed that my brother was safe with you, in a place where we can not talk to you. But seeing the two of you here only confirms it.”

The lone OrkElf stormed away. Thyrsus and Ichaival immediately went after him.

“So, this means Laernea’s gone too?” asked Gandiva as her tears began to flow. She slumped down next to the fountain.

Smoke remorsefully nodded. Sierra quickly ran to Gandiva and hugged her.

Igniz flew towards Smoke and sadly orbited around him. “Yeah, they’re gone, bud.”

Everyone circled around the two of them, and had them retell the whole horrendous event.

“So, did you kill Burmistrz?” suddenly asked Sharanga after Smoke paused. “He hasn’t shown himself in Coatl’s annual events.”

“I don’t think so,” somberly replied Smoke. “He’s extremely tough. He even has an ability that negates my Cunning of the Dire Fox.”

After Smoke and Sierra told them of the tragedy, Smoke was pulled away by Darius.

“Listen, I need to tell you something,” began the old man. “Remember when I told you about the Magietrois?”

“Vaguely? Why?” asked Smoke.

“Our Brotherhood has found one of them,” explained Darius. “It is said that one of the heroines of legend is in Sawtorn.”

“Sawtorn? Where’s that?” wondered Smoke out loud.

“It is one of the southern continents,” explained Darius. “Although, our brothers weren’t sure whether it was in Vitzytl Kingdom or Thanotl Kingdom.”

“So, which one is it?” inquired Smoke.

“There is an 80% chance that one of them is in Vitzytl. So, I’d go there,” answered Darius.

“And what good would the Magietrois be?” questioned Smoke.

“Well, for starters, one of them was said to be a Thaumaturge,” replied Darius. “Someone who has the power to bring back people from the dead.”

Then, a strong urge to find the Magietrois overcame him. “So, how do I get to Vitzytl?”

“You could teleport there,” briskly answered Darius.

“You can do that?” asked a surprised Smoke.

“With my full power I could, but I meant that you teleport there with a continental teleportation circle. Each city should have one,” explained Darius. “You could ask your friend, Duke Jeune, to help you out.”

Smoke energetically nodded. “Thank you so much, Darius. You are a real lifesaver.”

“Remember, our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones that we miss,” said Darius.

He smiled and left his old friend. He quickly searched for Sierra in the crowd of his core members.

After he pulled her into his house, Smoke hastily began describing the miraculous chance to save both Laernea and Sharur.

“So, you want to come with me to Vitzytl?” asked Smoke.

She paused and deeply thought about it. “I would love to, but I can’t. Someone has to stay behind with them.”

Sierra lovingly turned to the Vigilantez.

“Besides, you remember what that bastard said,” began Sierra. “He’ll come after all of our friends. We have to be even more stronger than ever. I’ll stay here and train with everyone.”

“Alright, but don’t go looking for trouble without me,” replied Smoke.

“I won’t, as long as you promise to come visit my house like you did yesterday,” countered Sierra.

“You would have to twist my arm to stop me from coming,” bantered Smoke affectionately. “I’ll be back before Burmistrz amasses another army.”

“That is, if he doesn’t come looking for us first,” pointed out Sierra.

“Then, you’ll just have to fortify Verbrannt and make it impossible for anyone to conquer it,” said Smoke irrefutably.

* * * * * *

Inside Centzo’s royal throne room, Smoke was kneeling in front of Duke Jeune.

“I’m sorry, Smoke, but our continental teleportation circle has been disabled because of the war,” explained the young Duke. “And it would take a tremendous amount of power to have it working again.”

“Why do you need it anyway?” asked Prosjak, who stood beside Jeune.

“As you might have heard, one of the Magietrois has been found in Vitzytl Kingdom,” said Smoke and looked at Prosjak.

“Really? I’ve never heard of such reports,” countered the royal adviser.

“Are you sure?” asked a surprised Smoke. “Maybe you should check your sources again?”

“I’m always up to date with my information,” retorted Prosjak. “Maybe, it is you who should check who ever told you this information.”

Smoke fell silent. He could not understand why Prosjak would not know about the shared information from the Beggar’s Brotherhood.

“Anyway, I still say it is better for you to stay here in Wysteria,” added Prosjak. “There is nothing for you in Sawtorn.”

“Prosjak, please be quiet for a while,” interjected Jeune. “Smoke, I am truly sorry that I cannot accommodate your request at this moment. However, I do know of an independent village far south from here.”

Jeune signaled one of his attendants, and the man brought over a map to Smoke.

MAP LOCATION: Havre Village

Coordinates: Latitude: +10°09′ S, Longitude: -291°15′ E
Note: Two hundred kilometers away from current location.



“I heard that there are a lot of ships from the Sawtorn continent docking there. Maybe, you can find one and ask them to take you?” suggested Jeune.

“Thank you so much, your Grace,” said Smoke gratefully and lowered his head before the young ruler.

Prosjak forcefully let out a cough. “Well, if you insist on going there, then may I suggest that you take on a disguise. Burmistrz should not know that you are out of the continent. You are one of his threats that is keeping his Cavalry Knights at bay from attacking.”

“I see,” replied Smoke. Just then he realized why Prosjak wanted him to commit to a full frontal assault.

The royal adviser wanted him to act as a pointed sword at Coatl.

“Don’t worry, No one will know that I am in Sawtorn,” assured Smoke.

Prosjak then signaled another attendant. This time, he was given a bag of precious jewels.

“Take this as a recompense for your loss,” stated Prosjak solemnly. “I know that no amount of wealth could pay the life of a dear friend, but perhaps this could help you on your journey in the southern Kingdoms.”

Smoke graciously accepted the bag, and respectfully lowered his head at Prosjak.

“Thank you both for your help,” said Smoke and asked to leave.

“Before you go, you should know that Sawtorn is famous for Wizards and Magicians,” stated Prosjak.

Smoke gave them both a small bow and left for Havre Village.

* * * * * *

Gliding beside the clouds, Smoke arrived in Havre after two hours of flight from Nanahuatl. He had to return home for one more time before he set off on another continent.

With the aid of his symbiote ability, Telefax Vision, he saw that it was a well developed village. It had sturdy stone walls and several armed Bowman on top of them.

He surmised that its land area was about only a third of Verbrannt. However, its harbor was far more advanced than Sierra’s village. Or for any other village for that matter.

Learning his lesson from Mount Alouer, Smoke lowered himself before he entered the skies of Havre.

“Igniz, time to hide,” he said to his dark ember sprite.

Without delay, his symbiote hid inside his metallic-orb compartment.

Smoke donned on an earth mask, which he made himself. He also painted his white metallic staff, and turned it to brown.

His hooded cloak, Wings of Cologus, were already brown to begin with. However, he asked James Jackal to alter it. The Master Tailor turned his cloak to appear that of a Wizard’s.

Darius also gave him an ordinary Wizard’s trousers with no added effect, but it did complete his perfectly brown motif.

“Who goes there?” suddenly asked one of the Bowman on top of Havre’s walls.

“Good day, Sir,” replied Smoke. “My name is Faux. I seek to find transport to Sawtorn.”

“Never heard of you, and we don’t take kindly to strangers,” replied the Bowman.

Smoke then reached into his bag, and pulled out one of Prosjak’s precious gems.

“Perhaps you know of this?” asked Smoke as he raised it above his head.

“Faux! Of course, you’re a High Wizard, right?” said the Bowman and hurriedly went down to open the gate.

“The name’s Venal,” said the Bowman, and opened his palm to Smoke.

Smoke casually gave him the jewel, and Venal covertly placed it inside his pockets.

“I’m an Elementalist, an Earth Elementalist to be precise,” answered Smoke.

“Right, Earth Elementalist Faux, I knew I recognized you,” said Venal out loud for everyone to hear.

“Listen, if you want to get to Sawtorn, then I might know of someone,” said the Bowman in a hushed tone as he ushered Smoke in. “But it comes at a price—”

Smoke silenced Venal by slipping him two more jewels.

“Right, this way, Faux,” said Venal. The two of them headed for the docks.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

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