Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 05 – Chapter 01

Author: John Nest
Proofreader: Overus

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

 

Stranger in a Strange Land

+ Entered Vona City

Capital of Vona Region. Ruled by Duke Fiable Cervelle. Also known as the pearl of Vitzytl, this city boasts of automated defenses. As such, it sees no reason to hire many patrolling Knights. Due to this, larceny runs rampant in the city. This is also the place where most High Wizards without means of teleportation go to in order to reach the continent of Wysteria.

After reading the information, Smoke closed it, and took in the breathtaking view of the new land. The sun had barely rose from the shore, as he stood on the harbor of Vona City. This was the gateway city of Vitzytl Kingdom. He had just gotten off the Naufrage, the junk ship which Venal arranged for him to sail across the south Wysterian seas.

From the boat, Vona City appeared to be a bustling place, filled with tall buildings. There were several docks in Havre Village that were filled with large ships, but this place had ten times more. The numerous vessels simultaneously docking and leaving were often filled with travelers and merchandise. The porters on the docks were busy carrying cargo, or escorting passengers to their respective ships.

The voyage took over two weeks. They suffered through troublesome waves, and other mishaps along the way. It was as expected, when traveling through the seas of Zectas.

During this time, Smoke had bonded with the crew members. Yet, they knew him as Faux, the Earth Elementalist from Centza City.

The crew would have invited him to stay with them during his stay in Vona City, but they were contracted by a group of High Wizard Sonstwelters to take them to the continent of Wysteria.

So, Smoke braved the Sawtorn Continent alone. Equipped with his modified hooded cloak, brown wizard pants, and full-faced earth mask, his tattered look gave him the appearance of a low-level Earth Elementalist.

There were a few other Sonstwelters in the docks, but all of them ignored him. They were focused on acquiring vessels to Wysteria.

Apparently, it was cheaper to use than the continental teleportation circles in the city.

“Looks like we’ll fit right in, Bud,” whispered Smoke to Igniz, who was hidden inside a metallic orb on his armor.

Despite his full-faced earth mask, a distinct sweet smell he had never experienced before filled his senses.

“Excuse me, what is that smell?” he asked one of the porters carrying a crate of bananas.

The porter looked at him with a dubious expression. “That’s probably fish oil, almost everyone here sells those.”

“No, I don’t think so,” he replied, shaking his head.

The porter guffed at Smoke, and carried on his crate of bananas.

Then, he saw a pomegranate stand next to the fish oil vendors.

‘Could that be it? But it’s just one stall?’ he wondered, and walked closer to the stand.

“How much is this?” he asked, grabbing one and smelling it.

‘Yeah, this is it. I didn’t know pomegranates could let out such a sweet smell,’ he thought, surprised.

“Just two zecs, Sir,” answered a young girl’s voice.

Smoke stared at her with astonishment, as he just realized that she was a thickly clothed OrkElf of about nineteen years of age. Despite her clothing, her muscles were still clearly visible.

‘Is she trying to disguise herself being an OrkElf?’ pondered Smoke.

“If you buy three, I’ll give them to you for just five zecs,” quickly added the girl.

“What? Five zecs?” asked Smoke in surprise. He couldn’t believe how affordable it was, but he was more shocked at finding the young OrkElf.

“Alright, alright, I’ll let you have one for one zec, but that is my bottom price,” said the girl with a quivering voice.

‘I guess the stories about Vona City having OrkElves were true after all,’ thought Smoke to himself as he half-paid attention to what she was saying.

Suddenly, a large male OrkElf came by pulling a cart filled with pomegranate crates. He took one of the crates out, and placed it right next to her.

Smoke was taken aback. Not one, but two OrkElves as soon as he arrived.

The burly OrkElf caught Smoke eying him. He immediately grabbed Smoke’s collar and raised him from the ground.

“You have a problem with me?” asked the OrkElf brute.

“Put him down, Colere,” ordered the OrkElf girl.

“But, Esper, he was giving me that look,” argued Colere.

“Put him down, now!” she yelled at the much larger Colere. “He is wearing a mask, how can you possibly tell what look he was giving you?”

“It was his eyes,” argued Colere. “Just look at them.”

The female OrkElf looked up, and stared intently at Smoke’s eyes. “They look normal to me.”

“Now, go bring in more crates,” ordered Esper. “I think we can probably sell ten today.”

“But we haven’t even sold one,” countered Colere. “Let’s just give up and go back home.”

“No! We need to eat something else other than pomegranates,” said a determined Esper.

“I’ll buy three,” interjected Smoke. He got out zecs from his bag, and handed them to the girl. Five zecs, right?”

“Thank you, Sir,” excitedly said Esper.

She raised the zecs up for the brutish OrkElf to see. “See, Colere, and you were about to attack him.”

Colere gave Smoke an awkward smile and a bow. “Thank you for your patronage, Sir.”

“Don’t mention it,” answered Smoke, and took a bite from one of the pomegranates.

“Mm. This is really juicy,” he said while munching on the fruit. “Say, why aren’t there any other buyers? You’re the only pomegranate stand I see here, you should be swarming with customers.”

“By any chance, did you just arrive in Vitzytl, today?” asked Esper.

“Yup, it hasn’t been even an hour since I got here,” happily replied Smoke.

“Ugh!” Esper groaned. “No wonder you bought our fruits.”

She then turned to Colere. “I think you’re right. Maybe we should go back home.”

“Hey, don’t give up. You said it yourself, even if there are thousands of pomegranate trees outside the city, people will still buy stuff that’s handed to them,” encourage Colere.

“Wait, what? You’re telling me that there are plenty of these wild pomegranates just outside? And everyone can freely take them?” asked an intrigued Smoke.

‘Hm. Maybe, it was the pomegranate trees that I smelled all along,’ he wondered to himself.

“Yeah, they almost grow like grass here,” answered Colere. “Legend has it that thousands of years ago, before Vitzytl Kingdom was created, this place was a barren desert. Until one day, a small group of powerful Magicians planted these special trees.”

Colere grabbed one of the pomegranates. “These things were the ones said to have brought more creatures into these lands, and supposedly created Vitzytl Kingdom itself.”

“That’s a pretty tall tale, but why are you selling these fruits anyway?” asked Smoke.

Esper raised her eyebrow. “Don’t you have OrkElves where you’re from?”

Smoke shook his head. “Not really. I just know of two, and they’re close friends of mine.”

“Really? You? You’re close friends with OrkElves?” asked a skeptical Esper. “Well, it’s a different scenario here in Vitzytl or even in Thanotl Kingdom for that matter.”

“OrkElves are treated like the plague,” began Esper. “No one wants to do anything with us. We’re even treated worse than lepers.”

Colere patted Esper’s head. “Now, now, you don’t have to get too emotional about it,” said the brutish OrkElf, soothing the angry Esper.

Smoke then saw Colere face him. “Because of this, there have been many OrkElf Settlements sprouting everywhere. Unfortunately, we’re mostly composed of teenagers or children, and no one there knows how to farm or fish. We just feed off the pomegranates to survive.”

“But we need more than just these wild fruits to live,” interjected Esper. “We need clothes, a proper home, medicine… And hunting stone deers with our bare hands is tiring. Those damn monsters run so fast when they’re almost dead.”

Esper’s eyes were tearing up as she spoke. “Not to mention security. How many times have vicious monsters entered our homes and taken one of the OrkElf children?”

Colere did not add on to what she said, but he only gave out a deep sigh. He then turned to Smoke. “Esper had a younger sister, but then a group of sand cheetahs came and ran off with the two of them… I did my best to fight them, but I could only save her.”

Smoke’s heart ached for the two OrkElves. He thought about giving them some of his jewels, but realized that it would only temporarily fix their problem. He needed a long term solution for them, but he still had no idea how to help them.

A few minutes of awkward silence passed. Suddenly, Smoke spoke out. “Well, my name is Faux, and I’m actually looking for a guide. Perhaps you, two, could work for me for a while?”

“A hundred zecs per day, for each one of us. And, you pay for our food and lodgings,” haggled Esper.

Smoke smiled and nodded without hesitation. He offered his hand to both of them, the OrkElves eagerly shook it.

Then, a notification window popped up.


+ Verbal Contract Confirmed

> Colere Ecarte has joined your service as a guide
> Esper Ecarte has joined your service as a guide

notes:
> You promised each of them a hundred zecs per day
> Failure to keep promise results in:
-200 Fame
+200 Alignment to Neutral Evil

‘Hm. That’s new,’ observed Smoke while reading the window.

“Now, that we have that settled, please take me to an Appraiser Shop,” asked Smoke as he turned his attention back to them. “I need to have these priced.” Smoke then took out one of the precious gems from his bag, and showed it to them.

“Faux, you have gemstones?” asked a surprised Esper. “Alright, I know the place. Follow me please.”

“What about all these crates of pomegranates?” asked Colere as he prepared his cart.

“Leave them,” irritably answered Esper. “No one’s going to steal them.”

The OrkElf kept muttering to herself. “I should have asked for three-hundred zecs a day…”

After a few minutes, Smoke and his guides arrived in a decent-looking Appraisal shop.

When they got inside, Smoke saw an old stout Gnome sitting behind his counter.

“Hey, Pousser, I brought in a customer. I think you’ll be happy with him,” said Esper.

Smoke briskly took out two gemstones from his bag and showed them to the old Gnome.

The old Appraiser held one of Smoke’s gems under scrutiny with his dichroscope. “Hm. I see several flaws in this one.”

His old hairy hands then took another. “Oh, and in this one as well. Okay, I’ll give you 80,000 zecs for each of these gems,” said Pousser.

‘That’s more than twice the amount from when I got it appraised in Havre Village,’ thought and excited Smoke. Yet, he kept his composure.

“Thanks, but I think I’ll go somewhere else,” said Smoke and asked for his two gemstones back. He used the old tactic of threatening to leave, to raise the offered price.

“Alright, alright, 90,000 zecs,” quickly offered the Gnome. “But I’m barely making any money at that price already.”

With his back turned to Pousser, Smoke smirked.

“That sounds rea—” Smoke was suddenly cut off by Esper.

“Cut the crap, old man,” she interjected. “You and I both know that those gemstones could easily go for 120,000 zecs.”

“Shut it! Stupid, OrkElf. It is so early in the morning, and the nice DarkElf was already going to accept my offer,” hissed the old Gnome.

“Now, you listen here, Pousser,” began Esper, while angrily pointing her fingers at the old Appraiser. “Out of all the Appraisal shops in the city, I chose to go to you. I expected you to be a decent businessperson, and deal properly with foreigners.”

“Fine, fine. Tlalt, Esper! For an OrkElf you sure know your prices in the city,” said Pousser. “I’ll give you 120,000 zecs for each of them.”

A stunned Smoke smiled at his newly acquired guide.

“Great! I’d like to exchange ten of them, please,” he said to the Gnome Appraiser.

After Smoke exchange his gems for zecs, the three of them began exploring the city. He saw several pop-up stores scattered in the city streets. Most of them were owned by Sonstwelters, but had Zectian attendants. Apparently, it was an affordable new way for Sonstwelters to own some semblance of property within the city.

However, they could only put up their stores from seven in the morning til four in the afternoon. Whereas, the main stores could be open for twenty-four hours.

In these temporary stores, Smoke bought medicinal herbs, several kilos of meat, a hundred meters of cloth, and other various items.

While filling up Colere’s cart, Smoke noticed how scarce Vona’s patrolling Knights were. “How come there are so few guards here? Is the crime rate that low?”

“Ha! You’d probably think that, but that isn’t the case,” answered Esper. “The truth is, being a Warrior or any variation of the kind is expensive here. That’s why the Duke relies on magic to protect the city.”

She then pointed him to various casting circles painted on the walls. “Those are capture circles, of course only a few authorized Wizards can activate them.”

Smoke nodded, but he did not completely understand how they worked. He thought to learn more about that later. For now, he wanted to finish his self implemented task.

Throughout all of their purchases, Esper made sure to get the bargain price out of each one. Colere’s cart was quickly filled to the brim with Smoke’s purchases.

After one hour of procuring supplies, Smoke thought that he had everything that he needed.

“Well, I think that’s it,” said Smoke. Suddenly, the OrkElves stomach growled. He realized that they had not eaten breakfast yet. He took out an ancient bison jerky and gave some to his two OrkElf guides. “Eat this,” he offered to the two of them.

“Meat!” eagerly yelled Esper and grabbed one of the jerky.

Colere tried to be calm about getting Smoke’s offered food, but he stumbled on his cart’s handle before he got to him. “Thank you,” he said bashfully after getting up on his feet.

While all of them were eating, Smoke thought it was time to go find a temporary location to stay.

“After this, we should head for a place to rest,” said Smoke out loud.

“Alright, what kind of inn would you prefer? The overprice kind but the best in the city, or the affordable but comfortable one?” asked Esper.

“None of those. I want you to show me where you two live. I was thinking of spending my days there while I’m still searching for a lead on my quest,” replied Smoke cordially.

“What?!” she asked in disbelief. “You have all that money, and you want to stay with us in our dump?”

Smoke kept smiling pleasantly. “Yes. Also, I’d love to see the other OrkElves you were talking about earlier.”

“Fine!” muttered Esper. “Colere, let’s go.” She kept mumbling while leading Smoke to where they were staying. “…Out of all the foreigners looking for a guide, we had to have the one who was such a cheapskate!”

* * * * * *

As they passed through the city gates, Smoke noticed thousands of massive ballistae scattered on top of the walls. However, these ballistae were made of stone.

“What are those?” he asked pointing to the humongous weapons perched on the walls.

“Breathtaking Ballistae,” promptly answered Colere. “Personally, I would prefer a regular ballistae, but those weapons use magic. I’m not really sure how they work, but I think they suck in air, and attack using air bolts. Hence, the name.”

‘Are ballistae a go to weapon for OrkElves?’ he secretly wondered to himself.

“Are they automatic?” questioned Smoke, refocusing his attention on the magical weapons.

“Not really, the Prime Wizard of Vona controls them from his tower,” answered the brutish OrkElf while dragging his filled-up cart.

“Oh, did you need help with that?” offered Smoke as he noticed how heavy it must have been.

“No, no. I got it,” grunted Colere. “But how are you at close combat? There might be a need to defend ourselves when we reach the plains of Geparden.”

“Is that the start of the sand cheetahs’ territory?” asked Smoke.

“Yes, but don’t worry. I can defend you myself now,” answered Esper, flexing her muscles. “We may have worthless fathers, but they did give us sturdy bodies…. If only I was stronger back then. Maybe, Souer would still be alive today.”

Smoke caught Colere give Esper a sorrowful look, but quickly tried to change the subject.

“We, OrkElves are still significantly weak when we’re still below ten years old, but beyond that age… Well, let’s just say that we’re survivors,” explained the burly Colere.

“Hm. I don’t think I’m really good at close combat,” said Smoke somberly as he recalled how Sharur and Laernea died in front of him when he fought against Ultimo.

“But I plan to change that soon,” he said strongly with conviction.

Suddenly, he saw the source of the sweet fragrance of the land. A forest filled with pomegranate trees greeted them as soon as they stepped outside the city gates.

As they entered the trees, Smoke got interested in the several low level monsters feeding on its fruits. There were a few stone deer munching on the fallen pomegranates, these monsters were well known to him as they gave delicious meat.

However, there were a few that he had never seen before.

He spotted a very large squirrel, about the size of a small house-cat, which was suddenly attacked by a large black raven. The raven’s claws grabbed the squirrel’s bushy tail and carried it off its branch, revealing the squirrel’s name and life bar, spittle squirrel (3,500/4,000 HP).

Smoke thought the spittle squirrel was a goner until it used its saliva as a projectile, and attacked the bird’s eye. Thus, revealing the bird’s details, rancid raven (6,200/7,000 HP). The spittle squirrel spat out four more times, and the rancid raven was forced to let go of its tail.

“That little guy looks really tough,” pointed out Smoke as he directed their attention to the escaping spittle squirrel.

“Yeah, you better not mess with them, Faux,” warned Colere. “They usually have families of up to ten, and their spit attacks have a bit of poison in them.”

Smoke was not deterred by the poison. He salivated as he wondered what their meat would taste like, but he could not hunt them now. His disguise as an Earth Elementalist greatly limited his abilities.

They passed by the pomegranate forest unhindered by these low level beasts. Smoke surmised that he could probably kill them with one shot if they did try to make a move on them, but none of the spittle squirrels ever did.

After two hours of trekking passed, they exited the forest of pomegranates and reached the plains of Geparden. Smoke’s Cunning of the Dire Fox instantly sensed four larger monsters approaching them fast.

Melding Igniz’s mana from within his symbiote’s concealed chamber, Smoke used his Telefax Vision to see the fast approaching sand cheetahs.

Smoke quickly took out his Digger’s Wand and created a wide trench in front of them, of about eight meters wide and fifteen meters deep. Due to his extensive Earth Manipulation training, the effects of his wand had greatly improve as well.

However, the sand cheetahs only picked up their pace. The agile monsters were unperturbed by his actions, and careened towards them even faster.

With one strong pounce, the sand cheetahs leapt across Smoke’s trench.

Quickly judging the monsters’ distance, Smoke knew they could cross the gap. He pointed his left palm on the edge of the trench near him, and a wall suddenly sprang out from the ground.

THUD THUD THUD THUD

All of the sand cheetahs fell inside his freshly made trap. He lowered the earth wall, revealing the bewildered monsters inside.

They were desperately jumping to escape his trap, but only their heads could come out. The sand cheetahs even resorted to climbing on top of each other, but these monsters were not great at balancing, and toppled on top of one another.

The monsters life bars appeared. All of them had 80,000 HP.

With the monsters captured, he turned to face his OrkElf guides. “They’re tougher than they look.”

“Not really, once you attack their necks, they will fall like flies,” explained Colere.

“Is that so?” asked Smoke, intrigued. “Let me try —” but he was not able to finish, as a coalition of twenty sand cheetahs were picked up by his Cunning of the Dire Fox.

“I thought you said they only traveled in a small coalition?” he questioned his OrkElf guides.

“Yeah, this is a small coalition,” replied Esper as she prepared her fists. “We don’t consider anything to be many unless they reach at least a thousand. Don’t worry you’ll understand after you see what a real horde is like.”

Pretending to be scared, Smoke nodded nervously. “So, you two can handle these monsters, right?” he said in an uncertain voice.

The coalition of sand cheetahs blindly charged at them. Smoke readied himself to save his guides at the last moment, by preparing to dig a tunnel under them and seal them there.

For now, Smoke created a small pillar and stood on top of it. “Alright, I’ll stay here and attack some of them with my earth magic.”

However, he had no real intention of this as he only wanted to see the two of them in action.

Esper and Colere guarded opposite directions below Smoke’s pillar, and faced the sand cheetahs with their bare hands.

The brutish OrkElf grabbed the two nearest monsters by their necks and quickly squeezed the lives out of them.

Whereas, Esper delivered an accurate blow to a sand cheetah’s lower jaw, sending it upward. With its neck exposed, she sent several swift blows to the monster’s jugulars and killed it instantly.

Yet, while she eliminated one of them, two more sunk their jaws into her calves.

Smoke was about to help Esper out, but she did not look bothered by their attacks. Her life bar was revealed, indicating (238,000/250,000 HP).

Esper casually struck the back of their necks, sending them to the ground. Once she downed them, she proceeded to stomp on their necks, snuffing out the last of their hit points.

Smoke then turned to check on Colere’s side, and found a total of four dead sand cheetahs beside him.

Soon after, the remaining sand cheetahs retreated with even faster speed than from when they were charging to attack.

“We should go after them,” said Smoke, lowering his earth pillar.

“No, don’t bother,” replied Colere. “Once a sand cheetah decides to run, it is extremely difficult to catch up to it.”

“Yeah, even with a child in its mouth,” sullenly added Esper. She then peered over the trapped sand cheetahs in Smoke’s trench. “What are you going to do with them? Their pelts do sell for at least five zecs, but they make better roofs though.”

Smoke then notice both of the OrkElves gather the loot and stow them into Colere’s cart, clearly with no intention of giving any of it to Smoke.

“I think, I’ll let you have these four pelts as well,” he replied.

“You want us to go down and kill them?” asked Colere.

“No, it’s alright. They’re already dead,” answered Smoke. With his Earth Manipulation, he raised the dead bodies of the sand cheetahs before they faded out of existence. He had pierced them with pin-point earth spikes aimed at their necks while the two were collecting their loot.

“How did you?” ask a dumbfounded Esper. “Wait! If you could have killed them that easily, then were you just testing us all along?”

The female OrkElf huffed loudly and was about to storm off. Colere hurriedly went to his cart and prepared to go after her.

“Esper, you can have all of these pelts as well,” called out Smoke.

Instantly, Esper stopped. She turned around and hurriedly collected Smoke’s loot. “Why didn’t you say it sooner.”

After she gathered the pelts, she turned to face Smoke. “So, you ready to go?” she asked politely.

“Lead the way,” replied Smoke.

“The sand cheetahs usually don’t attack again after another twenty-four hours,” explained Colere as they began walking again. “We’re not really sure why they do this, but I think it’s because their pride are so hurt that it takes them that long to recover.”

The three of them continued on their trek of the plains for another hour. The noon sun was confirmed by the grumbling of the two OrkElves’ stomachs.

“We have arrived,” said Esper, and she pointed over to a smaller group of pomegranates trees in the middle of nowhere.

As soon as they entered the pomegranate trees, a notification window popped up.

+ Entered Natur Spring

This spring in the plains of Geparden has been made into a temporary home by several OrkElves

‘So, even the game does not recognize this place as a village,’ he observed.

With only a few meters in, they were greeted by several OrkElf children. Smoke counted at least fifty of them.

They had lighter skin tones and pointier ears than the older OrkElves, and looked more like WoodElves or HighElves. The only defining OrkElf features were their brownish skin and strong chin. Smoke surmised that the OrkElf appearance must become clearer when they grow older.

Smoke was flocked by the children as it was their first time seeing an outsider come to their make-shift village.

“Hey, Mister, what are you doing in OrkElf Haven?” asked a boy from one of the younger OrkElves.

“OrkElf Haven?” asked Smoke.

“Our village,” explained the boy. “We call it OrkElf Haven. Although, I did hear one of the newcomers say that there was another OrkElf village by that name and I know that there’s even an OrkElf Heaven, but we are the real OrkElf Haven.”

Smoke nodded seriously, trying hard to assure the young OrkElf of his claim. “I see.”

“Come, Faux, this way,” said Esper. “Faux, Faux. Oi, Faux!” she yelled out when Smoke did not respond.

“Yeah?” said Smoke suddenly turning around. It had been more than two weeks, but he still was getting used to the alias he picked out for himself.

“I said this way,” grumbled Esper. “You wanted to stay in our house, right?”

“Yes, yes, I’ll be right there,” answered Smoke. He quickly faced the children, and gave them small chocolate pieces that he bought from the city. “I’ll be back to give you some more.”

The children curiously looked at the chocolate pieces and stared at it blankly. This was their first time seeing it.

Smoke took another piece from his bag and ate it.

The OrkElf children followed his lead. Their eyes widened with delight as soon as the sweet chocolate melted inside their mouths.

Smoke quickly followed after Esper and Colere. Before he could walk farther away, he heard the children screaming with delight and chattering at their first chocolate experience.

Shortly after, in the middle of the pomegranates, he found a medium-sized spring. Some trees had a few sand cheetah pelts thrown in their branches, while other trees had even more. Yet, there was one tree who had the most sand cheetah pelts. It was then that Smoke understood that these were their houses. The monster pelts served as their roof and walls at the same time.

Then, Colere stopped his cart in front of the pomegranate tree with the most cheetah pelts, and Esper sat under it. “Well, this is it. Home sweet home,” she said with a smirk.

‘I expected far worse than this. At least they know not to make the water contaminated with their filth,’ thought Smoke to himself.

“This is very quaint,” he said to Esper. “Your house seems to be the biggest one in this village.”

“Well, Colere has killed the most sand cheetahs,” she answered passively. “But it is still nothing to brag about.”

“Why don’t the two of you gather all of the other OrkElves here, and I’ll whip something up for you,” said Smoke suddenly.

“Huh?” Esper said, confused.

“Just go and call everyone here,” repeated a smiling Smoke.

After Esper and Colere left, he quickly went to work. He raised a large pot from the ground, and placed in all of the ingredients for an ancient bison stew. He thought a good broth should liven up the OrkElves.

In less than twenty minutes, all of the OrkElves were gathered in front of the spring. Several clay bowls filled with ancient bison stew awaited all of them.

The OrkElves did not wait for any invitation, and immediately began consuming the broth.

Smoke smiled at the sight of the OrkElves. He knew that doing this was delaying him from finding a lead on the Magietrois, but he knew that it was what Sharur and Laernea would have wanted him to do.

“Feel free to get some more,” he said to the feeding OrkElves, and pointed to the over-sized clay pot filled with stew.

“And while you’re eating, allow me to entertain you with a little magic,” said Smoke to them.

Several earth pillars rose from the ground behind the eating crowd. As they had formed a circle, he also created a circular path of pillars.

It had taken him thirty minutes to finish the pillars, and by then all of his stew was consumed. Yet, the OrkElves stayed in their place and watched in awe of his Earth Manipulation.

Next, he closed the gaps between the pillars by raising up earth walls, which rose taller than the pillars themselves. He then bent them downward, creating a roof-like covering.

Another hour passed when he finished this. Some of the OrkElves had gotten up to get a drink from the spring. Others grabbed some pomegranates and chewed on them. Yet, none of them stopped watching the earth magic before them.

A total of two hours into his magic show, Smoke had a created a large doughnut-like structure with the cold flowing spring water at its center. He then made several small windows on the wall of the circular edifice, allowing air to freely pass through it. He also made two large entrances on opposite directions, which had matching curved sliding earth gates.

“I’m sorry it’s very basic. I’m still mastering my Earth Manipulation,” explained Smoke after he finished the large earth structure.

“This is already great as it is,” said Colere in amazement.

“I’m not sure how many of you would be needed to move the sliding gates. Maybe we should try it now?” suggested Smoke.

At once, four OrkElves tried to move the curved sliding gate but it would not budge. It was not until six of them that it began to move.

Seeing the slow motion of closing the gate, proved ineffective to Smoke. He made the earth sliding gates thinner, making them slightly lighter.

This time, with six of the OrkElves pushing and pulling, it took less than ten seconds for them to close the curved sliding gate.

After finishing the gates, a notification window popped up.

+ Established a new Settlement

After creating a habitable environment for the residents of this area, you have created a new settlement.

> Please name this place.
> Please name a settlement leader.

Note:
You can name yourself as the leader or appoint it to somebody else.

Unsure of what to name it, he walked over to Colere and Esper. “What do you think of the name OrkElf Haven for this place? Do the two of you like it?”

“That’s just what some of the children are calling it,” explained Esper. “But it’s too childish in my opinion. Not even Souer would call this place that.”

After hearing Esper, Smoke knew what to name the settlement. He maximized the window and entered Souer Settlement. As for the settlement leader he appointed it to Colere and Esper.

+ Established Souer Settlement

You have created a great place for 300 OrkElves to start their lives. All of them now have high regards toward you.

+ Intimacy with Souer Settlers has risen to 85
+ Intimacy with Souer Settler Leaders has risen to 90



At once, all of the other OrkElves knelt down in front of the three of them, and yelled out in unison. “We swear fealty to you both, Colere and Esper.”

The two OrkElves were shocked by the sudden development.

“Alright, why don’t you tell everyone to start naming this place Souer Settlement from now on,” said Smoke to the two of them.

As the two new settlement leaders were about to spread the word, Smoke called them back. “Oh, and please distribute the supplies that we brought from the city. Those are for all of you here to share.”

“Thank you so much, Faux, thank you!” cried out Esper and hurriedly began unpacking Colere’s cart.

Smoke then looked up to the sky and saw that the afternoon sun was about to set.

‘I feel like I just cooked lunch and now it’s already time to make dinner,’ he thought to himself, amused.

However, before he began preparing the food, he went outside the doughnut-like structure, and called someone.

“Hello, Sierra? You’re not going to believe what I found in Sawtorn,” began Smoke as he told her of the OrkElves and his initial findings of Zectas’ Southern Continent.

* * * * * *

The cold water spring at the heart of Souer Settlement gave out a red glow as the dawn’s sun rays made contact with it.

Smoke had just logged back in Zectas after leaving it for only eight hours. He needed this precious hours to get in his scheduled power nap in the real world.

Regaining his senses, he saw that most of the OrkElves were still asleep. They were tired from last night’s celebration of their new settlement. Only a few were awake, busy looking into the items Smoke had bought for them.

Amidst the gathered OrkElves, Smoke spotted Colere and Esper. They quickly came to where he was as soon as they saw him.

“Welcome back, Faux,” greeted a smiling Esper. “So, where do you want us to guide you, next?”

Smoke rose a large rectangular table from the ground, and took out a map of the Sawtorn Continent from his bag. He laid it out for the two of them to see.

“I want you to point out the other OrkElf Settlements you were telling me earlier,” began Smoke. “I plan to pay them a visit.”

As expected, Smoke saw their faces light up at his news.

“Thank you so much for doing this,” said Esper. “Who knew there were Sonstwelters such as yourself.”

“Exactly!” happily added Colere. “Most of the OrkElves who venture in the city were only offered Jobs as hired Mercenaries by the Sonstwelters.”

“Really?” asked a surprise Smoke. “I didn’t see any other OrkElves when we were purchasing our supplies.”

“That’s probably because we stayed in the market district,” replied Colere. “Only Merchant Sonstwelters commonly stay there, and they’re usually too cheap to even hire an OrkElf.”

“Yeah, I think so too,” added Esper. “Most of the hired OrkElves stay with their Sonstwelter bosses in the entertainment district or near the arena. I think there is going to be a special event being held in the stadium soon.”

Smoke made sure to make a mental note of this newly acquired information.

“That sounds really interesting, but let’s get back to marking those OrkElf Settlements in the map for now,” said Smoke.

After Colere and Espere updated his map, a series of Map Location windows popped up. He closed all of them, as he would not be using any of them yet.

“Thanks for this,” said Smoke. “I’ll be heading out, now.”

“Huh? But don’t you want us to guide you anywhere else?” asked Esper.

Smoke shook his head. He then took out two jewels from his bag and gave one to both of them. “I know we said three-hundred zecs a day, but I hope you won’t mind if I paid you both in jewels.”

Then, a notification window popped up.

+ Verbal Contract Completed

> You have paid Colere Ecarte for his services as a guide
> You have paid Esper Ecarte for her services as a guide

+ 10 Fame
+ 200 Experience

Smoke smirked after he read the notification window.

“Well, I guess this it. I’ll see the two of you around,” said Smoke and left for Vona City. Restricted not to show his gliding ability, he had to walk out of the pomegranates.

As soon as he was out of the OrkElves’ sight, Smoke leapt up and glided away swiftly. He headed straight back to Vona in order to investigate the other parts of the city.

It took him less than an hour to spot the gateway city. Since he needed to keep up with appearances, Smoke decided to land and walk the remaining distance of one kilometer.

He landed deep in the forest of pomegranate trees, and thought that this was a perfect opportunity to hunt the spittle squirrels.

“Looks like we’ll have squirrels on the grill, Igniz,” said Smoke as he let out his symbiote from his hidden metallic chamber.

Smoke only needed one of his arrows to kill one, while Igniz would often require two shots with his fireballs if it was not a critical strike.

Together, the two of them hunted down three hundred spittle squirrels before reaching the city gates. He thought about cooking the squirrels before entering the city, but he feared that he might be spotted by passersby.

He had Igniz hide inside his orb-like chamber, and headed towards the city gates. As soon as he left the pomegranate forest, he felt the deadly Breathtaking Ballistae temporarily aim at him. The defensive sentry weapons reverted back to a neutral position as soon as they recognized him as a DarkElf, and not an Ork.

Back in the city, he immediately headed straight for Vona’s arena. There, he saw groups of three to six OrkElves obediently following a single Sonstwelter with a Job of a Mage, or of a similar variant.

“Do they look happy to you, Igniz?” Smoke whispered to his hidden symbiote. He didn’t need to see his dark ember sprite bobbing its head to know that he would have said yes.

‘At least they look healthy,’ observed Smoke while watching them follow their contracted masters.

“Tickets! Tickets! Get your tickets, here!” suddenly cried a lioness Lioumerean.

“What are those tickets for?” asked Smoke.

“Why, for the finals in the battle arena, of course,” replied the Lioumerean skeptically. “This will decide who will be Vona’s representative for Vitzytl Kingdom’s Magi Gagnant Tournament in the capital city of Votl. Don’t you know that?”

“Of course, I know about the tournament,” quickly replied Smoke. “I just wanted to make sure what kind of ticket I’m buying. I don’t want to end up suddenly watching some spittle squirrel competition, now, would I?”

The lioness Lioumerean’s gaze on him did not change. In fact, it became even more suspicious than before.

“So, how much?” asked Smoke as he fished for zecs inside his bag.

The scalper eyed him from head to foot. She hesitatingly signaled him two fingers. “Two thousand zecs, but I don’t think you can afford it.”

Due to his low Beggar ranking, his Earth Elementalist disguise appeared more tattered than he had hoped.

‘I guess looking like a beggar isn’t acceptable even in Vitzytl Kingdom,’ angrily thought Smoke to himself.

Aside from getting mad, he also felt like being robbed as the ticket was relatively expensive, considering that he could pay two guides at the price of three-hundred zecs a day.

“Here,” said a perturbed Smoke, handing her the exact amount. “Just because I look like this doesn’t mean I can’t pay.”

Having experienced the elitist discrimination on a daily basis, he had mostly gotten used to the stares, but today, he reached his limit with her.

‘I really need to get a rank up on my Beggar Job soon,’ he reminded himself strongly as he entered the arena.

* * * * * *

Walking into the large elliptical stadium, he estimated that it was slightly smaller than the one in Centzo, where he participated in the Swordsman to Knight Tournament. He saw a metallic plaque on the side of the wall.

Volution Arena

Seating Capacity: 80,000
Dimensions: 200 meters long, 180 meters wide, 60 meters tall

Then, he was called by one of the arena attendants, a beautiful brunette WoodElf. “Your ticket please, Sir.”

Smoke handed her the scalper’s ticket.

“Oh, you’re in section eighty-two. That would be ten doors to your left,” she pleasantly explained and returned the ticket to him.

He remembered how a stadium of this size required several entrances to avoid the crowd from, well from crowding in its pathways.

The arena had been almost filled, as only a few seats were free. When he spotted his chair, he found that he was in the high-end section of the arena. He could tell, from their clothes. Their robes alone must have cost fifty-thousand zecs.

Most of the people seating there were either Sonstwelters with the Jobs of Mage variations or Zectians belonging to aristocrats.

“Excuse me, excuse me,” said Smoke humbly, as he passed through them.

“Hey, hey, hey, general seating is way up there,” said a haughty Zectian nobleman. He pointed to the seats way up the top section of the stadium.

“But my seat is over there,” replied Smoke, showing him his ticket and pointing to the remaining seat available.

The nobleman guffed and exaggeratedly gave room for Smoke to pass, not allowing any part of their clothing to touch.

‘Maybe it isn’t so bad having a low Beggar Job. At least, I get to see such stupid reactions like this,’ thought Smoke to himself as he laughed inwardly.

Once seated, he glanced over to the people sitting next to him. To his left was an old Zectian HighElf, he appeared to be a High Wizard. To his right was a young Zectian WoodElf. Smoke surmised him to be a nobleman, he looked barely in his twenties.

The two of them kept on looking at each other and at Smoke. So, he thought he should just confront them. “Yes? Can I help you with something?” he asked, annoyed.

The old High Wizard smiled. “Well, I accidentally bought tickets that weren’t seated next to each other, and I was hoping if I could trade seats with you so I could sit next to my Lord.”

Smoke looked at the High Wizard and back to the young Lord. Both of them were looking at him with hopeful smiles.

“Oh, sure, sure. I thought it was something else,” replied Smoke sheepishly.

The High Wizard and Smoke changed places.

“Thank you so much for allowing me to correct my mistake, my name is Mouche,” said the High Wizard and offered his hand to Smoke.

“Faux,” replied Smoke and shook hands with the old man.

“And allow me to present, Lord Avilo Dawkins, potential heir to Vitzytl Kingdom,” said Mouche pointing to the young aristocrat.

“A pleasure to meet you, Faux. But please don’t pay any mind to the title. About half of the noblemen here are all potential heirs to the throne,” explained Avilo, and shook hands with Smoke as well.

“A pleasure, Lord Avilo,” replied a surprised Smoke. His answers were short as he still felt guilty for thinking that they were elitists, out to give him a hard time.

“Lord Avilo here is a great fan of Vona’s Prime Wizard, Ouragan,” said Mouche suddenly.

Smoke nodded politely, not knowing anything about Vona’s Prime Wizard.

Avilo interjected excitedly. “But we must not discredit Tsunamae as well. She was the only Sonstwelter to defeat everyone in the preliminaries, including Prime Wizard Ouragan’s first disciple, Brise.”

“Yeah, Brise was very powerful as well. They say he is only three levels below the Prime Wizard. So, this fight should be something to see,” added Avilo eagerly.

“And the winner of this will get to go to Votl?” asked Smoke, trying to appear knowledgeable about the tournament.

“Yes. It will be better watching the championships back at home,” replied Avilo.

“Lord Avilo is the ninth in line to rule over Vitzytl Kingdom,” added Mouche. “Of course there are also other Lords here attending. They’re here to scout on who to bet on for the championships.”

Smoke remembered the time when the other nobles in Chayotl Kingdom were said to have placed bets on himself during the Mounted Race event back in Coatl City.

“Of course, Lord Avilo does not participate in such an abhor practice,” added Mouche.

Avilo nodded energetically. “I just think it would dishonor such talented and powerful individuals to place bets on them.”

“That’s very noble of you,” commended Smoke.

Avilo smiled but kept staring at Smoke, until he finally spoke his mind. “Excuse me, Faux, but why do you have a mask?”

“My Lord, it is rude to ask such things,” interjected Mouche. “Please forgive Lord Avilo, he still lacks proper manners at times.”

Smoke smiled at the two of them. They treated them with such high regard that he felt like royalty himself.

“Oh, come now, Mouche. I was just wondering if it is a powerful artifact or if Faux has a scar on his face.”

“I have been cursed, and the mask helps me with it,” lied Smoke, partially.

“Oh, then you should head for Votl City too,” offered Avilo. “We have the best Purifiers in the Kingdom, and if that still doesn’t work you can try Thanotl Kingdom. They do have better Priests than us, and their—”

Avilo was suddenly cut off by an announcer’s voice booming throughout the arena.

“Duke Fiable, Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen of Vona City, I welcome you to the nine-hundred-ninety-ninth Magi Gagnant Tournament!” yelled the announcer. “Please direct your attention to our four giant screens on the opposite sides of your seats.”

Then, four large jumbo screens came out from the ground, and displayed a zoomed in vision of the large circular ring at the center of the arena.

The announcer’s voice boomed once more. “No more need to use lenses, binoculars or telescopes. All thanks to our sponsors of jumbo screens, the Light Wizards of Gauge. Things appear right in front of you with the guaranteed Gauge Vision. This message is approved by the Royal Wizard Council of Vitzytl Kingdom.”

A loud audible groan overcame the crowd as the announcer kept on with the commercials.

“Our finalists are known to have quick and direct spars, but in an event of a long drawn out battle, you might want to have something to snack on. Our mobile vendors of Dearest Deer are selling their tasty venison sandwiches. Please feel free to grab a bite,” added the announcer as he continued with the tournament sponsors.

“Get on with it already!” roared a lion Lioumerean in the general seating section above Smoke.

Disguised as Faux, it was difficult to turn around and looked up with his mask on, but Smoke could see that the crowd above had caused a rumpus.

“What savages, why are they even allowed to watch these prestigious events,” said the haughty aristocrat who asked for Smoke’s ticket.

“All of us have magic in us, Lord Hautain,” said Avilo. “Is it not only fair to those who have magic to be able to watch it?”

“Lord Avilo, your words do make sense. However, it does not quite follow the ways of Tlaltezinism. I do, however, thank you for educating me. In future, I will act more properly to that accord,” replied Hautain unwillingly, forcibly giving a bow to the younger aristocrat.

“And I do pray for your proper education as well, Lord Hautain,” countered Avilo with a smile.

Smoke then whispered to Mouche. “Let me guess, that Hautain is lower ranked than Lord Avilo, huh?”

The old High Wizard tried hard to suppress chuckling. “Yes. Lord Hautain is eightieth in line for the throne.”

Suddenly, the announcer’s voice got Smoke’s attention once more. “And now let us hear a few words from Vona’s Mayor. Please give a warm Vona welcome to his grace, Duke Fiable.”

The jumbovision screen zoomed in a young Elf seated in the most important Duke’s throne of Vona. His pale skin and white hair, much whiter than Smoke’s, gave him an angelic visage.

‘He must be a LightElf,’ surmised Smoke as he had only read about them in the forums, and belonged to the unplayable races like the Orks, Centaurs, and other restricted races.

“Citizens of Vona, I welcome you to our city’s finals for the representative of the 999th Magi Gagnant Tournament,” bellowed the youthful Duke. “We offer this battle to our god, Tlaltezin. We know that only the strong shall have the right and dominion of the weak.”

Fiable suddenly disappeared from his throne, and instantly reappeared in the ring. He suddenly took a knife out from his pocket and cut his left palm open with it. He then let out a few droplets of blood on the ring. “God, Tlaltezin, accept this sacrifice in your name.”

The ring then glowed red, and several engraved runes appeared on the sides of the circular stage.

Fiable vanished once more as suddenly as he materialized on the ring, and returned to his royal seat.

“There you have it, folks! Mayor of Vona City, Duke Fiable,” yelled out the announcer, and the audience cheered loudly.

‘Fiable looks strong, maybe as strong as Ultimo if not stronger,’ surmised Smoke.

The announcer’s voice boomed once again. “The rules of the finals are the same as the preliminaries. Winning qualifies by out of the ring, surrender of a competitor, or death.”

Smoke was slightly taken aback that death was considered fair game in what was supposed to be a sporting tournament.

“And now, for the moment we’ve all paid to see!” yelled out the announcer.

A puff of smoke suddenly appeared on the western side of the arena. The jumbovision screen focused on the emerging silhouette.

“The lady of the water, who flooded her competition in the preliminaries, the one, the only, Summoner Tsunamae!” yelled the announcer loudly, prolonging the name of the female Sonstwelter.

A DarkElf came out from the smoke, and stepped onto the stage. Her purple skin and white hair matched Smoke’s completely. Yet, her face looked exotic to Smoke. She donned an ocean-blue robe which stuck to her skin tightly, displaying her vivacious curves. Her upper body was slightly covered only by a short blue cape.

The announcer’s voice boomed. “Now, for a man who needs no introduction, our undefeated champion, the Prime Wizard of Vona, Ouragan.”

Smoke searched for a puff of smoke like Tsunamae’s, but no such theatrics came. Instead, the jumbovision screen zoomed up in the sky.

A figure came crashing down towards the arena. As he came closer to the ground, the individual became clearer, he was an old HighElf. He suddenly opened his cape, and landed softly in the opposite side of the ring from Tsunamae.

If Smoke had not seen it himself, he would have thought that Ouragan’s frail frame would fall down at any given time. The High Wizard wore a sky-blue robes, blue pointed hat, a black cape, and a small elder wand on his right hand.

The two of them stared at each other. Then, the announcer’s voice covered the arena. “Prime Wizard Ouragan, Tsunamae, when you hear the gong, let hell break lose!”

GONG

At once, Tsunamae summoned four humanoid-water-elementals, with the height of Ouragan, and surrounded the old HighElf.

Ouragan took out his wand, and waved it in a circular motion. At once a large cyclone protected him and hit the humanoid-water-elementals.

A cold chill overcame Smoke, as Ouragan’s counter-spell reached the area of their seats.

When Ouragan’s attack stopped, the humanoid-water-elementals remained where they stood. The screen zoomed in on Tsunamae’s face, and her smirk was seen clearly.

“Water Spikes, now!” she yelled.

Yet, her frozen humanoid-water-elementals did not respond.

Tsunamae pointed her palms over to them, and the bodies of the frozen elementals glowed with a bright blue.

However, her summons still did not move.

On the other side of the ring, Ouragan calmly pointed his wand at her. Then, her frozen humanoid-water-elementals’ hands became sharp blades, and turned to face her. Without any warning, they all charged towards their Summoner.

Tsunamae did a quick incantation and canceled her summons. The swirling waters inside made cracks on the frozen summons, and they crumbled on top of the ring before making contact with her.

Yet, Ouragan was already flying above her, and sent a powerful gust of wind aimed at her back. Tsunamae was sent tumbling across the ring. Her life bar displayed (210,000/250,000 HP), as she bounced on the floor. She almost fell out of the ring, but a gigantic water hand caught her. Her water giant, four-meters in height, placed her gently back on the ring.

In the midst of her toppling, Tsunamae managed to summon a giant-water-elemental.

‘That’s even bigger than the Gargantuan Goblins,’ observed Smoke.

Cold wind came rushing back around the arena once more, as a powerful cyclone enveloped Tsunamae’s summon. Yet, this time, her summon remained unfrozen.

Her water giant unleashed a rain of waterballs on Ouragan. The Prime Wizard promptly replied by creating a barrier of circulating wind in front of him. All of the water balls were repelled, and the ring below his barrier was flooded with water.

Suddenly, several water-whips came out from the puddle of water, and intertwined around the Prime Wizard’s body. The HighElf’s life bar displayed (895,000/900,000 HP).

Ouragan shook his head in disbelief, surprised by the sneak attack. With one flick of his wand, several swords made of air appeared around him. The air blades instantly severed the water-whips. After freeing Ouragan, the air blades went straight for Tsunamae.

This time, it was Tsunamae’s turn to create a water barrier. However, the air blades started spinning fast, creating small whirlpools in her barricade. After a few seconds, a wide gap appeared in the water barrier, and the other blades trying to breakthrough entered it.

SHINK SHINK SHINK SHINK

Several air blades pierced through her body. Her blood tainted the hard-to-see blades, making them clearer. They blades looked like crimson falchions, painted with Tsunamae’s blood.

Meanwhile, the giant-water-elemental’s attack became more fierce as well, and finally broke through Ouragan’s air barrier.

However, the old HighElf welcomed the waterballs with open arms. A flood of waterballs struck Ouragan, but one waterball could only inflict 200 damage points on him.

Whereas, several more air blades appeared around Tsunamae and continually skewered her.

Both of their attacks kept on. It had become a contest to see who would endure the longest, but Tsunamae’s life bar quickly went red, while Ouragan’s was still in the green.

The giant-water-elemental ceased its attack and it desperately ran towards its summoner. It covered Tsunamae from further air blade attacks, but it was too late. The DarkElf’s life bar had already been completely depleted.

Tsunamae’s giant-water-elemental disappeared out of existence simultaneously as her body.

“Woooooooooh!”

“Hooooooohaaaaa!”

“Ayiyiyiyiyiyi!”

The audience of the stadium erupted into cheers.

“Our winner, and still the undefeated representative of Vona City….Ouragan!” yelled out the stadium announcer.

Smoke then heard Avilo cheer loudly. “Wooooohoooo! I told you he could do it, Mouche, I told you. Didn’t I tell you?”

“That you did, my Lord,” cheerfully replied Mouche. “I do hope that he gets the title of honorary Magietrois this time, my Lord.”

Smoke’s pointed DarkElf ears quickly picked up on what the old High Wizard said. “What was that about Ouragan becoming an honorary Magietrois?”

“Oh, if you win the Magi Gagnant Tournament at least three times, you’ll be given the title of honorary Magietrois,” explained Mouche. “You know, since according to legend, it was one of the real Magietrois who created the tournament in the first place.”

“In fact, I heard that sometimes the Magietrois herself presents the award to the champion,” added Mouche.

“I see,” excitedly answered Smoke.

“Did you also know that it was said to be the Magietrois who made the Sawtorn Continent habitable?” said the old Steward

“Really? I heard about a story of how powerful Mages were supposedly the ones who created those pomegranate forests,” answered Smoke. “Were they actually the Magietrois?”

Mouche could no longer entertain his questions as Avilo kept pulling his arm.

“Excuse us, Faux, but we must go. Ouragan is a very busy man and I’d like to personally congratulate him before he leaves the arena,” said Avilo. “It was nice to meet you,” said the young aristocrat and pulled Mouche towards the exit.

“I was wondering if I could join you,” called out Smoke, but Mouche could only wave goodbye as Avilo was already sprinting towards the exit.

* * * * * *

Smoke left the arena with a pleased grin. Finally, he had a clue about the Magietrois.

‘I wonder how I can get to know more about the Magi Gagnant Tournament? I guess I’ll be heading for the library next,’ decided Smoke and asked around for its location.

He punched himself in the head for not visiting the library sooner.

‘Even though it was great; meeting Esper, Colere, and the rest of the OrkElves, I still should have gotten more books to read,’ he sternly lectured himself.

In search of the library, he spotted a smiling Gnome. Smoke was not sure what it was, but the Gnome seem odd to him.

“Good day,” said Smoke to the Gnome as he walked over to him. “My name is Faux, I was hoping you can tell me where the library is?”

While talking to the Gnome, Smoke realized why he looked different, he was the tallest Gnome he had ever met. He almost reached Smoke’s shoulder.

“Oh, you must be wondering why I am tall,” he replied. “I am a Gnolf.”

“A Gnolf, huh?” replied Smoke, curiously nodding his head.

Suddenly, an OrkElf came running by, and handed the Gnolf a bag of what sounded like zecs.

“Same time next week, Jünger, and please tell mom to stop worrying about me,” hurriedly explained the OrkElf and sprinted away.

The OrkElf then joined a group of other OrkElves who were following a Sonstwelter Mage.

“What was that about?” unconsciously asked Smoke out loud.

“That was my older brother, Eigen,” answered the Gnolf. “He just joined the service of some Sonstwelter named Zufällig.”

The Gnolf shrugged his shoulders. “He insists on working, even though my father is doing well on his business. In fact, my father told me that he just bought an item from a new arrival at the docks just yesterday, which he sold for almost 200,000 zecs,” lengthily explained Jünger. “Although, technically, my father is his step-father, but still. It isn’t like he is being neglected.”

“That sounds very interesting, but what about the library?” asked Smoke, refocusing the Gnolf on his question.

“Oh, yeah. It’s just past the market district. A tall red-bricked-building, can’t miss it,” replied the Gnolf.

“Alright, thanks,” said Smoke and headed for the market district.

‘Hm. It’s getting dark,’ observed Smoke as he saw the skyline turn auburn.

‘I should head over to the same appraisal shop and get another gem exchanged,’ he thought to himself. He planned to buy more supplies and visit the other OrkElf Settlements marked by Esper and Colere.

As he headed for the market district, he decided to check on his hidden partner.

“Are you okay?” Smoke whispered to his chest, and peeked inside Igniz’s secret chamber.

Igniz sleepily nodded. His glow was a dull purple.

‘Guess he must have been sleeping,’ surmised a smiling Smoke.

On the way to the market district, he had to pass by the entertainment district. There, he spotted plenty of DarkElf Sonstwelters with at least two OrkElves contracted into their service.

Walking near one of them, Smoke overheard a DarkElf’s conversation to his OrkElves. “How much would it cost if I change your name to Sharur?”

“Sharur? Why in the world would I want to change my name,” indignantly asked the OrkElf. “Wachs is a great name. My adopted father gave it to me.”

Smoke was glad he had his earth-mask on, otherwise the Sonstwelter could have clearly seen him smirking.

‘I guess the story about other Sonstwelters wanting to be me was true after all,’ he proudly thought to himself.

Then, he spotted a young aristocrat boy, about nine years old, wandering the streets.

“Excuse me, excuse me, can you show me where the arena is?” The young boy randomly asked passersby.

His fearful, lost expression tore a hole in Smoke’s heart. The other Zectian passersby did nothing to help him at all.

“Hey, are you lost?” asked Smoke.

“Thank you! Finally, someone has answered me,” cried out the young aristocrat and hugged Smoke tightly.

“I was separated from my steward when I was watching the finals,” explained the teary eyed boy. “My name is Jack Dawkins.”

“Dawkins, huh? Want me to take you back to the arena or can you make it there by—” Smoke was suddenly interrupted when a large tiger Lioumerean bumped into him from behind.

“Get out of the way! This isn’t some coffee shop, where you sit and talk all day!” angrily screamed the Lioumerean.

Smoke was angry as well, and was about to have a word with the Lioumerean. However, he saw Jack fearfully step to the side of the street after he quickly released his hug from Smoke.

“I’m sorry about that, Sir, the kid was just scared,” apologized Smoke.

“I don’t care about your sob story! Just don’t do it in the middle of the road,” yelled the Lioumerean, and walked away from Smoke and Jack.

“Don’t worry about it, Jack,” said Smoke calmly. “That was just some jerk. So, do you want me to take you to the arena?”

Jack forcibly shook his head. “Just tell me where the general direction of the arena is, and I’ll take it from there.”

“Why, that’s very brave of you, Jack,” said Smoke proudly. “Alright, it’s this way,” he said, taking Jack to a street that would directly go to the arena. “Just walk straight, and you can’t miss it.”

“Thanks, Mister,” replied a smiling Jack and ran down the street.

“What a brave kid,” said Smoke out loud. “I wonder if Donny would cry if he got lost?”

Smoke hurriedly quickened his pace as he headed for the Appraisal Shop.

“Good day, Pousser,” greeted Smoke after he entered the Gnome’s shop.

“Oh, Faux, was it?” excitedly welcomed the old Appraiser. “Have you come to change another gem? I’ll buy it for the same price as yesterday, 110,000 zecs.”

“You’re not trying to pull a fast one on me now, are you?” asked Smoke.

“No? I don’t know what you’re talking about? Who have you been talking to?” guiltily asked the Gnome.

“Yesterday was at 120,000 zecs,” reminded Smoke calmly. “So, I’d like that same price.”

“Oh, sorry, sorry. That was an honest mistake,” quickly added Pousser. “Alright, alright, 120,00 zecs it is. So, how many gems this time?”

“I’m thinking maybe four,” said Smoke as he searched for his bag of gems in his inventory window. “Hm. That’s odd. I can’t seem to find it. Excuse me, Pousser, I think I misplaced it somewhere.”

“Take your time, Faux,” answered a smiling Gnome.

Smoke used the search function of his inventory window.

– Bag of Prosjak’s Gems not found

‘No it can’t be,’ thought a worried Smoke. An irksome feeling of being violated suddenly overcame him. ‘I’ve been robbed.’

“I hope you haven’t been mugged,” stated Pousser. “The Thieves of Vona are well known to be very slick. They have so many modus operandi—”

Smoke left the Gnome’s shop, running.

‘It must have been that tiger Lioumerean bumping into me,’ thought Smoke angrily while sprinting in between the busy crowd of the market district. ‘When I see him, he is going to wish he really had nine    lives!’

He desperately searched everywhere. Sadly, his Cunning of the Dire Fox did not have the capability to pin-point a target’s race.

Then, amidst the crowd, he spotted a familiar figure. It was Jack Dawkins, the young aristocrat boy, who he helped find his way back to the Arena.

‘No! How could I have been so naive?’ he irritably reprimanded himself.

He carefully made his way to where Jack was, but before he could grab him. The boy sprinted to the opposite direction and dove into a passing crowd of Zectians.

Smoke hurriedly gave chase, he would have wanted to use his numerous abilities to increase his speed, but worried about exposing himself.

‘Looks like I’ll have to do this the hard way,’ he sourly realized.

He gritted his teeth and gave chase to the young boy on foot.

 

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