Author: John Nest
A Prize in the End
Red flowers which looked like trumpets lined the famous mountain range. Their sweet scent added to the grandeur of these highlands. Overlooking the vale from above, the beauty of the serene mountains that bordered Veneficatl Valley came at a price. One wrong move and it could spell death for anyone who traveled on its perilous steep roads.
Yet, Sierra’s smiling face conveyed the sense of belonging instead of fear. As she breathed in the view from above, it reminded her of the time when she and her mother would take treks up the mountain.
Looking back to observe her army following her, she smiled at them. She thought that they also shared her sentiments.
‘I knew taking this route was a great idea,’ she thought to herself, thinking that her men would build fond memories of the tall mountains.
Currently, thousands of mounted Druids, Acolytes, and Mercenaries were huddled together on it now, as they hurried to cross it.
To protect themselves from the cold, everyone of Sierra’s army clutched on to their fur-cloaks tightly. The chilly winds blew hard against the shivering travelers on this precipitous pathway, and did its best to hinder their advance.
“Brr. Why do we have to be here? Look at my skin! It’s turning blue,” complained Ardu, riding on top of his own ruby bear. His breath was clearly seen through the cold air, “I was getting used to the warm weather in the Kitsune Forests too.”
The young man, who could fully Transmogrify into a brown Werebear asked the female ruby rider beside him. “Do you even know where we’re headed?”
“No clue. All I heard was that we were going to meet up with Mamelon’s group,” replied Vrai, while she strongly rubbed her shoulders to warm them up.
The two youthful Zectian leaders followed some distance after the red-haired HighElf. They were positioned in the middle of her ten-thousand strong army. They could not see her clearly through the crowd, but her ruby bear helped them spot her.
As a symbol of leadership, it was only Sierra, Phen, Rear, Ardu, and Vrai who were given the ruby bear mounts.
Suddenly, two other ruby bear riders were riding against the flow of the army, and one of them quietly called out their attention.
“Shh!” said Rear, with one finger covering her mouth. “They say that the red mountains dislike noisy travelers. They don’t need to hear your complaints.”
Sierra’s Werewolf Lieutenants, Phen and Rear were headed for the tail of their army. They were instructed to oversee a safe passage through the red ridges.
“If you’re cold, just Transmogrify a portion of your arms,” said Rear, and pointed to Phen’s arm which displayed a thick gray Werewolf fur.
“Um. We still can’t do partial Transmogrifications,” sheepishly answered Ardu. “But don’t worry, we’re not skimping out on our daily exercises,” he quickly added.
“Alright,” said Rear with a disappointed tone. “But I don’t want to hear anymore complaints about this mission. The two of you should know better than to question Sierra’s command.”
Ardu fell silent and shamefully lowered his head.
“I wonder just what kind of mission this is,” blurted out Vrai. She turned to Phen and Rear, who merely shrugged at her. “I mean, just what kind of mission would require our ten-thousand strong army and Mamelon’s manpower of five-thousand?”
Phen and Rear did not respond and went straight to the tail of their formation. Sierra’s army silently continued their travel through the red mountains for the next three hours, until they reached the plains of Veneficatl Valley.
Sierra spread out her arms, and signaled her army of Druids and Mercenaries to fan themselves to her sides. At once, her lieutenants led the front and commanded their own divisions. A total of five groups were formed.
“We’ll set up camp here,” loudly ordered Sierra for everybody to hear. “Vrai and Ardu, you two are in charge of our food. Phen and Rear, secure the grounds. Mamelon should arrive sometime before noon.”
“Let’s go, Rear Scout Team!” ordered Rear, and took her platoon of 2,500 Mercenaries and 70 Druids to the eastern and northern side of their basecamp.
Whereas, Phen silently signaled his own group of 2,500 Mercenaries and 30 Druids to the southern and western area. He had lesser Druids in his team, as only those that could understand his silent commands worked well with him.
Ardu and Vrai immediately began delegating their assigned work. Half of their Mercenaries were tasked to set up walls, traps, and early warning devices, while the rest were divided into two more groups. One were tasked to put up tents and the others were assigned to cook a meal that could fill more than ten-thousand people.
As they worked on their assignments, they nibbled on bison jerkies to sate their hunger.
Meanwhile, Sierra was staring into a map of the valley. Her gazed drifted to the rising sun, where a supposed cave filled with Darius’ promise awaited them.
At eleven in the morning, Mamelon and her group of more than five-thousand people arrived from the west. They had come from the opposite side of the red mountain ranges.
Sierra stood in front of their basecamp to welcome them.
“Sorry, we took so long,” called out Mamelon from on top of her bronze jackal. “We ran into some trouble along the way.” She said strongly and grumpily looked at Virer and Courant, the Flame Knight and Electro Knight, who rode directly behind her.
“I told you, Cheri had me questing for fairy trumpets!” reasoned out Virer. He stuck out red flowers which went well with his crimson full plate armor. “That’s why I had to collect over three dozens of those red flowers growing on the mountainside.”
“And Aime asked me to get her a pair of copper goat horns, indigenous to the red mountains,” added Courant. He displayed two yellowish-horns which blended magnificently with his bronze armor. “Who would have guessed that the copper goats would cause a rockslide?”
Courant shrugged, raising the horns over his head.
The two horns were suddenly hit by aqueous spikes, and knocked out of Courant’s hands.
“What the— I had to go to a lot of trouble to get that!” exclaimed the Electro Knight, dismounting to pick up the horns.
“Alright that’s enough, Guys.” replied a smiling Sierra, diffusing the tension between Mamelon’s second-in-commands. “Anyway, you’re just in time for an early lunch. Ardu and Vrai may be lacking on their Transmogrify training, but they’ve greatly leveled up their cooking!”
“I told you, Two, not to get involved with those Zectians,” reprimanded Mamelon.
“Hey! We don’t tell you to stop fawning over Ilad, do we?” pointed out Virer. “Besides, doing quests for Cheri really pumps up our Intimacy, and I really need those numbers to be high. You know, in order for me to—”
“Too much information, Virer!” said Mamelon, stopping her friend from explaining further.
Sierra laughed. She missed being with other Sonstwelters. Sure, Phen, Rear, even Ardu and Vrai were also fun, but something was missing when she was with other Sonstwelters.
As they headed to where the food was, Mamelon called out to Sierra.
“So, our lowest ranked Mercenary is now at level 102,” began the Aqua Knight. “But I have to tell you something, that I feel should be said face to face.”
Sierra’s eyebrow crossed. “Go on,” she said, intrigued.
“My men have increased their levels, but we suffered a terrible tragedy. Because of it, I only have 4,325 Mercenaries left.”
“What? How could lose so many men? What happened?” asked Sierra.
“We were ambushed by Duke Burmistrz’s men,” somberly said Mamelon. “We were suppose to be in a safe area, and were hunting dirus wolves to capture, but Macher and his Cavalry Knights suddenly came out of nowhere and attacked us.”
Sierra tightly squeezed her fists at the mention of Macher’s name.
“He had about 3,000 Cavalry Knights with him, all of them riding dirus wolves,” said Mamelon. “That’s why we met them there, because they were also hunting for more mounts.”
“How long ago?” asked Sierra.
“About three weeks now,” said Mamelon.
“He’s already grown his private army by that much, huh?” said Sierra. “We can assume that his numbers will only grow even more.”
“Sierra, there’s one more thing,” said Mamelon. “When Macher came to attack us, the reason many of the Avendre were unable to escape was because Sagen and his guild joined up with Macher.”
“Sagen? That name sounds so familiar,” said Sierra. “Who is that again?”
“He was the guy that went against Ilad on the Swordsman to Knight Tournament,” answered a peeved Mamelon. “He even tried to eliminate us during the Mounted Race. But something must have happened to him, because he never got to finish that race.”
Sierra grinned. She remembered how she and Smoke’s private army ambushed them before they could ambush Smoke.
“Really? I guess he never learned his lesson,” said Sierra. Her knuckles cracked as she tightened her fist.
“Yeah, but he got a lot stronger,” said Mamelon, disturbed.
She paused, as she let out a deep sigh.
“Luckily for us, most of us had already gathered mounts for the Avendre Mercenaries,” further explained Mamelon. “Most of the Mercenaries rode by threes, but the bronze jackals and aardwolves could easily carry their weight.”
Mamelon paused before going on. “And the main reason we escaped, was because of those who were left behind. The Avendre Mercenaries’ sacrificed themselves and made sure to hold off Macher and his men.”
Sierra fell silent, pissed at the fact of Macher’s treachery and Sagen’s return.
“But don’t worry,” added Mamelon. “We’ve learned our lesson. Macher and his men won’t get another chance like that again.”
“That’s good,” said Sierra, forcing a smile. “Good job, on keeping the casualties low.”
Sierra then turned to Mamelon’s surviving Avendre Mercenaries. “After seeing their comrades sacrificed themselves, these hardened men should be really helpful in this quest,” said Sierra.
“Yeah, what exactly is this quest, anyway?” asked Mamelon.
“Well, Smoke asked Darius on how we could improve ourselves for the coming war,” began Sierra. “He told him that there were certain relics that could prove helpful to us.”
Mamelon nodded as she followed Sierra’s lead and sat down on the prepared table for them.
“But Darius told me that acquiring the relic alone isn’t the only prize,” said Sierra. “He said that when we do clear the dungeon, the second reward will appear on its own.”
“Um, one thing I don’t get is why we’re just doing this now?” asked Mamelon with a confused look. “Why didn’t you and Smoke do this before he left?”
“Let’s just say that clearing this dungeon wasn’t possible for us until now,” explained Sierra. “I also don’t know the exact details except for the location of the relic.”
“And… where is it?” asked Courant.
“Right over there,” said Sierra, pointing to the east. “It’s about two kilometers away.”
“Then, why did you build the base so far away?” asked Virer.
“It’s a precautionary measure,” answered Mamelon in Sierra’s place. She then turned to Sierra. “Is the dungeon really that dangerous?”
“I have no idea,” replied Sierra, and shook her head. “But even with my new Job and our collectively increased levels, Darius said that we might only have a 30% chance of completing it.”
* * * * * *
Knowing how hard the battle ahead was, Sierra decided to leave five-hundred Mercenaries in their basecamp. These were the ones who were still lacking on improving their offensive capabilities. As such, she decided for them to shift their specialty.
She told them to focus on First Aid and Healing Potion creation. She also left ten Acolytes with them to supervise their progress into becoming Medical Mercenaries.
After they considered the terrain inside the cave, Sierra suggested that they all leave their mounts behind.
Finalizing the final adjustments, Sierra, Mamelon, and their respective armies were stationed outside the cave’s entrance.
“So, our Mercs will come in after your druids, right?” Mamelon asked Sierra.
“Right, they’ll join in after we’ve confirm—” began Sierra, but was interrupted by one of her Druid scouts.
“Gargantuan Goblins! Gargantuan Goblins!” cried out the Scout.
Six monsters with heights of three-meters chased after him. These rough black skinned goblins were the final transformation of the gobble goblins.
“Avendre, form the scattered boulders formation!” briskly ordered Sierra.
At once, Sierra’s Mercenaries formed groups of ten. Loud clanky sounds were heard, as they lagged their long metallic-spears and black tower-shields into a tight formation. Then, their shields interlocked with one another, forming a rectangular metallic-box with their long spears protruding. Their bulky equipment made them slow. Yet, after two months of repetitive exercises, it took them less than three seconds to get in formation. Each group were approximately ten-meters from the next one.
With purpose, the Druids began casting their Thorns ability on all of the Mercenaries. A flash of white thorns momentarily appeared which covered their boulder-like formation. Next, they pointed their wooden-ferules towards the Gargantuan Goblins and cursed them with the Contrition status. These gigantic monsters would receive increased damage for the next five minutes.
Whereas, Sierra began to cast Archon’s Blessing on herself. She was quick to respond, but she was still curious to see Gargantuan Goblins here in the Veneficatl. Especially inside the cave that Darius recommended.
Her thoughts were refocused on the battle at hand, as the two fastest Gargantuan Goblins smashed their fists into the huddled Avendre. Despite this, the goblins’ monstrous strength, the Avendres’ shields held firm. Only the life bars of the goblins were shown as they took the return damage.
Then, the Avendre facing the two monsters extended their long spears even farther. They attacked the goblins close to them, and pierced their rough skin.
“That’s quite impressive,” said Mamelon, complementing the clear growth of Sierra’s men. “But I trained my men to take the initiative,” proudly added the Aqua Knight. “Engage them with Wedged River!”
Together with the Elemental Knights, Mamelon’s Avendre Mercenaries charged the Gargantuan Goblins. They were equipped with two-handed great swords and swung them as if they were made of paper.
The four Gargantuan Goblins were each swarmed by a thousand of Mamelon’s Mercenaries. Using a wedged line formation, each one of the Avendre struck their great swords at the monster’s limbs. Yet, after delivering the blow, they continued to run past the goblin, which allowed the person behind them to execute their own attack.
After taking four simultaneous attacks, the targeted Gargantuan Goblin could not recover in time to launch its counterattack. All the monster could do was take on a defensive pose, as another set of blades sliced through its rough skin.
The Avendre who finished their attacks quickly scrambled to the back of the wedge formation. There, they were healed by the Shamans, in case they were injured during their strike while waiting for their turn to repeat the same process again. Like a rushing river, which smashed anything that blocked its path.
In less than fifteen-minutes, Sierra and Mamelon’s men killed all six Gargantuan Goblins.
“Do you remember how much we struggled to fight against them before?” Mamelon said to Sierra.
“I do, but what bothers me is why these monsters are here,” she replied.
Sierra then turned to her Werewolf Lieutenants. “Phen, Rear, Transmogrify and enter the cave. I need you to scout it, but don’t go farther than five-hundred-meters into it.”
Phen nodded. Straightaway, he transformed himself into a gray Werewolf.
“Understood,” replied Rear and followed suit, transforming herself into a black Werewolf.
These two Werewolves had grown larger than their former selves. Now, they could almost stand toe to toe with Ardu and Vrai’s Werebear forms.
While Phen and Rear left for the caves, the injury reports came in. No one was seriously hurt, but their healers did their rounds anyway.
Five minutes passed before Phen and Rear returned. Sierra called for Mamelon, so they could hear the scouting reports together.
Then, the two Werewolves returned to their Druid forms.
“The main entrance branches out into nine different passageways,” began Rear. “We tried entering one of them, but encountered no monsters after five-hundred-meters.”
“How big are the passageways?” asked Sierra.
“About three-meters wide and four-meters tall,” replied Rear. “They were fairly large tunnels.”
“Are there any sources of light?” asked Mamelon.
“Now that you mention it, there was none,” said Rear. “But it didn’t really bother us since we could see in the dark when we’re transformed,” she explained.
“We’ll need torches,” said Mamelon. “We can have the Flame Knights light up their lances, but that consumes a lot of mana.”
“No, wait. I can have my Druids use their staves,” said Sierra, and took her ferule. She raised it above her head, as its tip illuminated with a bright light.
“So, we’ll divide our men, then?” asked Mamelon.
“Correct, but how many do you trust to take the lead?” asked Sierra.
“They’re a bunch of numbskulls, but I trust Virer and Courant with my life,” replied Mamelon.
“With Myself, You, Courant, Virer, Phen, Rear, Ardu, and Vrai that leaves us with one more person to explore the tunnels,” said Sierra. “Mamelon, don’t you have anyone else from your side?”
The voluptuous Aqua Knight massaged her temples with her fingers. “Well, there is Earat and Louche, but I wouldn’t trust them to lead an expedition by themselves. The last time they went on one, they got cornered by aardwolves.”
“Guess I better call Hazard,” said Sierra. “You said he was ready, right?” she turned to Phen.
The male Druid silently nodded in response.
“Please call him here,” ordered Sierra.
“Who’s Hazard?” asked Mamelon, confused.
“He’s an Avendre Mercenary, who has some history with Smoke,” replied Sierra. “He was stubborn and wanted to prove how wrong Smoke was, but he turned around after Smoke saved him from being killed by a tree ent.”
Sierra smirked. “Now, he’s proven to be quite dependable. Also, this should be a perfect opportunity for him to step up.”
A strapping young Zectian with black hair walked up together with Phen. Hazard had significantly grown in the last few months both physically and mentally. Like his cousin Jeter Peon, who died during their defense of Centzo City, Hazard was now an Avendre Commander.
“General Sierra, you called for me?” asked Hazard.
“Yes, I’d like you to lead an entire division by yourself.”
“An entire division of Avendre Mercenaries?” confirmed Hazard.
Sierra shook her head. “No, there will be Druids and Acolytes under you as well.”
Seconds later, Sierra gathered Mamelon, Virer, Courant, Phen, Rear, Ardu, Vrai, and Hazard to discuss how they will storm the cave.
After a full hour of discussion and brainstorming, Sierra and her comrades had came to a consensus.
“Alright, does anyone have anything else to bring up before we enter the dungeon?” asked Sierra.
Both Courant and Virer’s hands went straight up the air.
“Um. If you don’t mind, can we delay the siege for tomorrow?” asked Courant. “Or about twelve hours at least.”
Virer strongly nodded his head in agreement.
“Yeah, yeah, same here,” said Virer. “Twelve hours from now would be perfect.”
“What is it now?” asked Mamelon, annoyed.
Courant and Virer pulled both Sierra and Mamelon away from the Zectians.
“You see, we have to do exams today,” explained Courant. “And the two of us really need to take it if we want to maintain this college gig.”
‘So, they’re still in college,’ surmised Sierra.
Mamelon let out a deep sigh before she turned to Virer and Courant. “Fine, let’s make it five in the morning. But the two of you better make it back on time.”
Biting her lower lip, Sierra was not pleased with the idea of changing the schedule. Tomorrow was Smoke’s tournament. She had planned on visiting him at his house before fighting Sawtorn’s top Mages.
“Sierra, are you okay with that?” Mamelon asked her, snapping Sierra back to her senses. “Sorry if I overstepped, but it should also give our Zectians a good night’s rest before venturing in.”
“That’s fine,” replied Sierra. She realized that Smoke would have easily done the same.
‘Besides, I could just watch a rerun of it from his POV,’ realized Sierra, as Smoke had invited her to join him on his next video edit.
“Thanks for understanding guys,” said Courant.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be here on time,” assured Virer.
The two Elemental Knights bowed down and logged out for the day.
“So, are you a college student too?” Sierra asked Mamelon.
“Oh, no. I’m already working,” replied Mamelon.
“Then, it’s just Courant and Virer who are still students?” asked Sierra.
“No, those two just recently became college instructors,” replied Mamelon.
Sierra’s mouth opened wide in disbelief.
“I know, right? I wouldn’t believe it myself if I didn’t know them in real life,” said Mamelon. “Although, they rarely go to their lectures. They were given a final warning from their superiors for not attending their own classes.”
* * * * * *
With her right hand on her illuminated ferule, Sierra ran her free hand across the slimy cracked surface of the walls. She could feel dents in the moss-lining which covered the entire tunnel. Even though they were only walking for half a kilometer, they still had not encountered any enemies. Yet, despite the lack of struggle, she still found herself short of breath.
A slight breeze would move in and out of the tunnels, but it was seldom. All of Sierra’s members encountered the same problem as her, limited by the thin air inside the damp tunnels.
As their long spears, restricted their movement in the tight passageway. The Avendre Mercenaries were equipped with tower-shields and their specialized broad swords. Although much shorter, the added feature of these swords proved to be promising.
When they moved farther in, a notification window popped up.
|– Entered Inner Verleitung
– Monsters who appear in this dungeon are aggressive.
“Leaders, status report,” ordered Sierra over the open voice conversation between them, as she waited to assess the road ahead.
“Mamelon here. We’re about three-hundred meters into our tunnel, but we haven’t encountered any hostiles.”
“Same here,” reported Virer. “But my men and I are all having trouble breathing. I had the Druids and Shamans check for potential poisonous gas, but they didn’t detect any.”
“I’ve scattered the Druids for a maximum coverage of the light,” replied Vrai. “But other than that I’m in the same boat as Virer and Mamelon.”
Sierra waited for the rest of the leaders to give out their report, but no one else replied. She understood if Phen wouldn’t call in, but Rear would definitely give an update.
“Courant, Ardu, Rear, Hazard?” called out Sierra over the conference call. “Are you guys okay?”
“Kind of busy at the moment,” replied Hazard over the line. “My side is experiencing a mob of green slimes, and they’re being produced by black slimes.”
The Avendre Commander paused, as they heard him scream out commands. ” Sorry about that. Our poison resistance could handle the green pests, but a third of my men have been inflicted by the black slime’s Poison. They’re even stronger than the slime monsters from Mandragora Forest.”
“We’re facing skeleton summoners on our end,” replied a gasping Courant. “They’re summoning lesser skeleton warriors. But it’s not a problem as we’ve already occupied most of the tunnel.”
“My men are under glacier attacks from six great water elementals,” said Rear. “The defensive boulder formation of the Avendre are holding, but these monsters are also summoning lesser water elementals as we speak. We’re having a hard time reaching them, as we’re being blocked by these lesser water elementals.”
‘Phen must be encountering some trouble as well,’ thought Sierra.
As she was about to ask more information from them, mud golems seeped out from the cracks of the tunnel. At a height of less than two-meters, these monsters were the smallest golems she had ever encountered.
“We’re under attack!” exclaimed Sierra. “Shamans, stay at the center. Druids, prioritize on support. Use overgrowth to disable the golems. Avendre, we’re all counting on you for the offense!”
Honing her senses to use her Animal Instinct ability, she detected that all of her members were surrounded. She counted at least a thousand mud golems.
Sierra smashed her ferule into the nearest mud golem’s skull. She expected to see it break, but her staff was absorbed into the monster’s head instead of damaging it.
While struggling to free herself, she casted overgrowth on the mud golems near her. Roots sprang out from the ground, breaking the tunnel’s floor. The overgrowth forced their way into the golems’ legs, preventing them to move in on Sierra’s members.
“Let go of my staff!” cried out Sierra, placing both hands on her ferule. She thought about Transmogrifying into a Werebear, but decided not to. The Mercenaries needed to step up and fight in their stead.
As more of her fellow Druids’ ferules were stuck inside the mud golems’ bodies, the damp tunnel began to darken.
Wanting to brighten up the place, Sierra concentrated more mana into her ferule.
CRACK CRACK CRACK
Then, the mud golem’s face began to harden, and showed wide gaps on his head. Light began to show from between the openings.
With one final pull, Sierra freed her ferule from the mud golem. The Avendre Mercenaries behind her simultaneously plunged their broad swords into the earth-monster, draining its life bar to zero.
“Druids, maximize the lights of your ferules!” ordered Sierra.
For five seconds, their tunnel became as bright as day. Then, all of the mud golems’ bodies began to dry up, and their movement became stinted.
The Avendre lashed out their broad swords with precise attacks on their assailants, and shattered the dried up monsters to pieces.
“Hoo haa!” cried out the Avendre in a triumphant cheer.
However, their victory was short lived. Another batch of mud golems immediately seeped out from the cracks in the tunnel.
Knowing the monsters’ weakness, the Druids immediately let out another beam of light. The Avendre launched another round of slashes on the dried up golems, while the Shamans traveled about and cured the slightly injured members.
Once again, they let out another shout of preemptive conquest, but once more their hurrah quickly faded. As soon as they dispatched the mud golems, another wave of them would appear.
Suddenly, a voice cracked over Sierra’s open conference window.
“Sierra, we’ve killed at least four waves of these lesser water elementals in our tunnel. But it looks like there’s no end to them. Unless we can reach those big monsters summoning,” reported Rear. “What are your orders? Should we Transmogrify and deal with them?”
“Same here,” chimed in Hazard. “It’s just an endless wave of monster after another.”
One by one, the other leaders all gave out a similar update.
Sierra did not want to rely on their Transmogrified forms. The main purpose of this Quest was to get the relic, but the other one was for their Mercenaries to prove themselves. She stared farther down into her passageway. Squinting her eyes, she noticed a faint red and blue lights moving at the end of it.
“Can anyone else see the red and blue lights at the end of their tunnels?” she asked over the conference.
“Yes!” bellowed her fellow leaders in confirmation.
“Alright, leave your men behind. Let them continue fighting the respawning swarms,” ordered Sierra. “If we leave these pests alone and push forward, we could be mobbed and be blocked in.”
Everyone of the tunnel leaders gave out their affirmative responses.
“Take a maximum of two healers with you, and maybe five to ten Mercenaries,” she quickly added.
Sierra then called one of the Avendre Commanders near her and gave him his new mission.
Following her own command, Sierra dashed out and left her division to fend off the mobbing mud golems. She took only one Druid, a Shaman, and five Avendre with her.
Smashing the mud golems to the side with her ferule, Sierra and her selected companions ignored the monsters as they raced onward.
Yet, after passing the seven-hundred meter marker, she instantly noticed their absence. The mud golems ceased to come out of the tunnels.
“Everyone, run faster!” encourage Sierra, as she led them towards the red and blue lights.
The tunnel exited to an immense cavern, with a sole stupendous creature at its center. She reflexively extended her arms and ferule, stopping her comrades from moving forward.
The monster towered over four meters. Its face was covered by a root-like beard, and its hands and legs were similar to that of a rotten trunk. Its skin was that of a drenched bark, dripping with sap. Its deep-socketed red eyes glowed eerily, the same red lights that Sierra spotted from the far off distance earlier. On its head were a pair of stag moose antlers, which protruded out from the side.
Right beside the monster, was a shining blue sword, glistening with overflowing power. Yet, a light-blue barrier enclosed upon it.
‘That must be the relic,’ guessed Sierra, as she focused her eyes on the weapon.
Slowly, the chunky monster turned around to face the other Vigilantez who arrived at the scene. Only Mamelon, Virer, and Courant had reached the extensive cavern.
“You, Four, have done well to reach me,” suddenly said the heavyset monster, enunciating each word clearly.
‘It’s Intelligent,’ surmised Sierra. She was already worried that her Overgrowth ability would not work on the monster with roots for a beard, but her concern doubled knowing it could speak.
“Was it you who gave the order to keep my subordinates occupied?” the monster of the cavern turned to ask Mamelon. “No! It was not you,” it said, as it answered its own question.
However, before it could say anything else, Virer unleashed a flurry of fire-lances at the monster. Its life bar and name were revealed, Leshak (1,499,000/1,500,000 HP).
The Flame Knight’s fiery attack fizzled against Leshak’s drenched bark-like skin.
“Feisty, aren’t we,” said Leshak. “But no, you’re not the one as well,” it said. A wet root suddenly came out from the ground, sending Virer flying to the cavern wall.
A hard sound of Virer splatting on the wall echoed throughout the cavernous chamber. Leshak aimed four sharp roots at the downed Flame Knight, but Sierra hurriedly used her own Overgrowth ability and set up her own wall of roots.
“Yes!” exclaimed Leshak, turning only its face around and stared at Sierra. “You’re the one I’m after.”
Sierra cringed at the sight of Leshak’s twisted head all the way to its back, but she felt her hair stand on end when she saw the thick brown-fur cape covering its behind. Several skeletons protruded out of it.
“But I’ll save you for last,” Leshak said to Sierra.
Suddenly, running towards Mamelon, Leshak caught the Aqua Knight off guard. It grabbed her with its massive root-like hands and plunged her to the ground.
Half of Mamelon’s body disappeared as Leshak squashed her with its arms.
Sierra illuminated her ferule to get a better view of where Mamelon was, as she did not want to accidentally hit her friend.
On the other hand, Virer unleashed another round of his fire-lances at Leshak’s back.
The cavern monster responded by letting out a thick fog, blocking their view of itself and Mamelon.
“Virer, stop! You might hit Mamelon,” cried out Courant, who was patiently waiting for an opening.
The Flame Knight held back his attack, but still pointed his flaming lance at the smog.
Then, Mamelon emerged out of it.
“Mamelon, are you alright?” asked Virer, as the Flame Knight rushed to her side. The Shamans who were with him, quickly healed her.
The Aqua Knight silently nodded. She tried to speak up, but seconds later, another figure came out from the mist.
Again, it was Mamelon, completely wearing the same equipment as the one who had stepped out earlier.
“Wait! Who is the real Mamelon?” asked Virer, backing away from the Mamelon who stood next to him. With trembling hands, he pointed his flaming lance at her.
The Mamelon next to Virer opened her mouth and tried to speak up, but no sound came out. She strongly pointed to herself, as if trying to signify that she was the real Mamelon.
However, the second Mamelon did the exact thing. She turned to Sierra and Courant raising her hands, as if showing that she was on their side.
“Mamelon, you need to speak up!” exclaimed Sierra. “Tell us who’s really you!”
But none of the Mamelons could comply. They continued with their pantomime. Both trying hard to convince them that they were the real one.
The second Mamelon slowly walked over to Courant and lifted her armor’s full-faced mask. Her angelic face and blond hair were revealed for everyone to see.
The first Mamelon hurriedly did the same and showed her face to Virer. Both of the Mamelons had the same features.
“What kind of monster can completely copy someone?” asked Virer out loud. “Even Mamelon’s body proportions are right!”
“It must have used some kind of Silence curse on Mamelon, preventing her from talking,” said Courant from across the cavern.
“I agree,” said Sierra, slowly moving in closer to the Mamelon next to the Electro Knight. Her men were poised to attack as they followed behind.
Then, the second Mamelon who was now standing next to Courant, suddenly punched him in the face. The monster pummeled Courant to the ground, draining his life bar to 70%.
Before Sierra and her comrades could react, the disguised Leshak created another mist. Hiding both it and the Electro Knight from Sierra’s view.
Thinking on her feet, Sierra signaled Mamelon and Virer to surround the mist. A total of fifteen Avendre Mercenaries, five Druids, and six Shamans were ready to engage in battle.
As they expected, two Electro Knights with the same life bars stepped out from the fog.
“Attack them both!” ordered Sierra.
One of the Courants raised his arms and took on a defensive stance. He desperately shook his head, as he tried to tell them that he was not Leshak, but not a peep came out.
On the other hand, the other Courant reacted by swinging his arm at the nearest Avendre. Fortunately, the Mercenary hurriedly jumped backwards, barely escaping Leshak’s clutches.
“There! That’s Leshak!” she shouted, pointing at the aggressive Electro Knight. “Avendre, ranged attacks!”
The Mercenaries threw their broad swords at Leshak, revealing that their weapons’ handles were attached to long, sturdy ropes. Their swords embedded into the monster disguised as Courant, and it slowly reverted back to its own hideous body.
Sierra then turned to her fellow Druids. “Increase the light on your ferules! Dry up Leshak’s saps.”
While the Druids followed their instructions, Sierra used her Contrition ability on Leshak, which made the monster susceptible to more damage. She then buffed Virer with Archon’s Blessing, doubling the damage of his next attack.
“Virer, wait for my signal,” said Sierra.
While waiting for Virer’s attack, Mamelon and Courant lunged their elemental lances at the entangled Leshak and kept attacking from a safe distance.
The Mercenaries did little damage to the gigantic tree-like monster, but they did manage to restrict its movement.
Leshak tried to grab one of the Avendre, but was quickly pulled back on the opposite direction by the Mercenaries’ rope-broad-sword.
Trapped, Leshak let out another fog, but this time it quickly faded. Instead of seeing a monster skewered by broadswords and bounded by ropes, they saw a bleeding Mamelon in its place.
“Don’t let it go, Men! That’s not me!” yelled the real Mamelon.
“You know what’s really scary about this place?” asked a bounded-up Leshak while in Mamelon’s form. “I’ll show you anyway, even if you didn’t ask!”
“Underlings to me!” yelled the transforming monster.
Sierra, and her comrades vigilantly watched the tunnels’ exit. Seconds turned into a full minute, but still no one came out.
“They must be stuck or something,” said Leshak. “Or maybe, they didn’t hear me?
“Most of them are hard of hearing,” defensively said Leshak. “Let me try this one more,” added the monster quickly. “Underlings, to me!”
Then, they heard dozens of footsteps running out from all of the passageways.
“Bwakakakaka! Here they come now!” proclaimed Leshak.
A gasping Hazard was the first one to come out.
“The Poison slimes suddenly started charging,” began Hazard. “Luckily the Druids and the Shamans Healing abilities have kept the monsters at— What’s that thing?” he stopped mid-sentence as he pointed at Leshak.
Shortly after, Vrai, Ardu, Phen, and Rear appeared out of their own tunnels.
“You!” angrily shouted Leshak, pointing his root-like fingers at Sierra. “You and your men just got lucky! If you only ordered a full on attack, you would have been swarmed by—.”
Sierra did not allow the monster to finish, as she called out to Virer. “Do it now!”
Virer leapt up and unleashed the largest fire-lance he could muster. It was twice his body size and plummeted straight towards the entangled Leshak.
“Arrgh!” screamed Leshak in pain. The monster’s tree saps had dried out, turning it to a flammable substance.
Tugging hard on their ropes, the Avendre Mercenaries quickly pulled out their broad swords.
“Druids, use Starfire!” ordered Sierra, as she pointed her own ferule at the plant-like beast. The light emanating on top of her staff glowed even brighter. Then, a series of bright white-lights fired out from her ferule.
Leshak’s scream resonated throughout the cavern. Desperate, it let out another fog, but Sierra and her men quickly backed away.
Only Leshak’s flaming body was slightly seen through the smog.
“The monster can copy anyone it touches,” warned Mamelon. “Avendre create a barricade while we continue our attacks.”
Although it was not visible, Leshak still had a massive life bar.
Numerous starfires and elemental lances flew through the air as they targeted the flaming silhouette.
“Keep it up, Guys!” encouraged Mamelon.
After ten minutes of continuous ranged attacks, the flames inside the smog died out. Yet, they still continued their onslaught, as all of them knew they were still far from killing the monster.
“Mamelon, is there an Aero Knight on your side of the cavern?” called out Sierra, without once stopping her starfire attacks.
“Yeah, Jaseur arrived a couple of minutes ago,” replied Mamelon. “He came togeher with Vrai.”
“Jaseur, clear the smog!” ordered Sierra.
A strong spiral wind attack pierced through the smog, exposing a clear line of sight between them.
Peering into the opening, Sierra saw Leshak’s lifeless body, but a troubling feeling instantly overcame her.
Sierra called the Aero Knight. “Jaseur, one more time!”
“Of course, I was just adjusting the distance of my wind-lance,” replied Jaseur.
WISS WISS WISS WISS WISS
Several wind-lances pierced through the smog, and broke the visual obstacle apart. After it was cleared, the hollow shell of the giant with stag moose antlers and roots for a beard stood still in its place.
Slowly, the gathered Vigilantez stopped their ranged attacks.
Then, they heard Hazard shout for joy. “We did it! We did it! We’ve cleared the dungeon.”
Sierra shook her head. Hazard had grown to be obedient, but his impulsive nature was still a problem. She cautiously walked towards Leshak’s body in order to scrutinize it.
As the Zectians began to cheer with Hazard, Sierra realized that this shell was indeed not alive. However, she also noticed one crucial missing piece. There was no notification window of them killing the monster.
“Everyone, Leshak is still alive, this is just an empty shell!” shouted Sierra, as she quickly scanned through her men.
Mamelon then released a water-lance up in the air. “All of you attack with your abilities,” she said. “I’ve noticed that Leshak isn’t able to copy that.”
At once, all of the Druids, Shamans, and Elemental Knights filled the cavern ceiling with their active abilities.
“Avendre stand down and lower your swords,” said Sierra.
As they only had no special ability to show their true identity, the Avendre Mercenaries lowered their weapons.
“Avendre, state your name and the units you belong to,” said Sierra, thinking that the silenced Avendre would confirm that one of them was Leshak.
“Commander Hazard, I belong to General Sierra’s Unit,” replied Hazard, as he led the series of Mercenaries calling out their names and units.
It took two minutes for all of the Avendre to call out their name, and all of them were able to do so. During this time, no attacks were done to Sierra and her men.
“Where’s Leshak?” Mamelon asked Sierra.
“I don’t know, but we better get the relic and get out of here,” said Sierra. She looked down on one of the passageways, she saw that the men who they left behind were still fighting for their lives against the never ending respawning mob. “Before our members run out of mana and stamina,” she quickly added, fearful for the welfare of their men.
Sierra walked over to the blue-sphere blocking the relic and touched it.
|– You have been Teleported into a one on one battle against Leshak!|
* * * * * *
Looking around, Sierra found herself floating inside a blue bubble. She could freely move towards any direction. Her illuminated ferule poised to unleash a flurry of starfires at a moment’s notice.
“Relax, relax,” said Leshak. The monster’s voice came from above. Yet, the tree-like monster had changed its shape. It had transformed itself into a man, but its stag moose antlers remained protruding out of its head.
Sierra did not reply and flew straight towards the now smaller Leshak, charging with her ferule pointed at the monster.
An invisible forcefield suddenly stopped Sierra’s advance.
“I told you that won’t work,” said Leshak. “This place let’s us battle our Leadership ability, and maybe slightly increases the power of my underlings.”
“Of course, with these odds, I don’t think that I’ll have any trouble defeating you,” added Leshak.
Sierra took a neutral position and studied Leshak’s expression.
“As you know, there are nine tunnels all leading to the relic,” began Leshak. “The winner is the side who has more forces in all ten sections of this dungeon within the next hour.”
“You’re wondering why I told you the mechanics?” asked Leshak. “That’s how confident I am that you won’t beat me!” he said mockingly.
A map of the tunnel suddenly appeared in front of her. There were several dots of red and green scattered on it, with color coordinated percentages in their respective areas. She recognized the green to be her allies, as there were a few of them at the cavern of the relic.
Another window popped up, as it displayed the summary of the various sections.
|> Verleitung Sections
Tunnel  => GRN [45%] RED [55%]
Time Left: 59M:50S
“Now, I know what you might be thinking,” said Leshak. “Right now we’re about even in the tunnels, and you have the lead in the relic chamber.”
Leshak paused and sniggered. “But that’s all about to change… Underlings, flood the entire cavern!”
At once, the number of red colored dots on Sierra’s map doubled. Half of them remained to fight the green dots in their respective tunnels, while the rest of them rushed towards the relic chamber.
Sierra then spoke into the open conference window.
“Everyone, listen to me,” began Sierra. “We’ve got to move fast.”
“What happened? What’s going on? Where are you?” asked a worried Mamelon. “You vanished when you touched the blue sphere.”
“I’m stuck in some sort of bubble with Leshak, but don’t worry, I’m safe. It can’t attack me,” replied Sierra. “But you guys are about to be mobbed. Block all the tunnel exits. A lot of monsters are heading your way.”
Listening intently to their reply, Sierra heard them scramble to follow her command.
“Next, you need to tell the people in my tunnel, Mamelon’s, Virer’s, and Phen’s to run towards the relic chamber. Forget about fighting the monsters. As for the rest of the tunnels, tell them to keep on fighting.”
“Alright, we’ll report back when we’ve accomplished that,” replied Mamelon.
Seconds later, she saw a few green dots scatter from the relic chamber towards the designated passageways she mentioned.
Meanwhile, the remaining green dots stationed themselves on the exit of the tunnels. She could see several red dots vanish as they clashed against the green dots in the relic chamber.
Ten minutes passed, and still there was no chatter in the open conference window. Sierra found herself biting the tips of her nails, as she watched the green dots slow progress towards their destination.
“Anyone there? Have you secured the relic chamber?” asked Sierra. “This is torture,” she accidentally said to the conference window, while she anxiously waited for an answer.
“Only the men from your tunnel have yet to make it pass the seven-hundred-fifty marker,” answered Mamelon. “I’m sending in more Druids for fire cover now.”
|> Verleitung Sections
Tunnel  => GRN [0%] RED [100%]
Time Left: 39M:40S
Watching the map, Sierra saw several green dots flock towards her tunnel. She checked on the other tunnels that she asked to keep on fighting. They were slowly being outnumbered.
The only section left that showed them in the lead was the relic chamber.
Sierra let out a deep breath, as she feared that her plan might have backfired. Then, she heard a pleasant update.
“We’ve secured the relic chamber, but I don’t know how long we can hold them,” said Mamelon. “Also, the tunnels that are still fighting are about to be overrun.”
Sierra grinned, as there were still thirty-minutes left on the timer. “Guys, our counterattack starts here!”
“Mamelon, please have your men help out Ardu’s tunnel,” said Sierra quickly.
She paused and examined the map again, as she double checked the percentages. “Virer, you’re up next. Have your men assist Vrai’s passageway.”
“Next, Phen, you go and help Hazzard’s members,” ordered Sierra. “And make sure that our Druids use Conversion on those black slimes.”
“Rear, you and your men can hold those water elementals by yourselves,” encouraged Sierra. “But you need to find a way to Convert those greater water elementals to our fold.”
“Now, I need someone to make sure that those skeleton summoners in Courant’s section are converted,” said Sierra.
“I’ll do it,” offered Vrai. “I’ll lead a group of Druids and take care of that. I’m sure Virer can handle my tunnel by himself.”
“Alright! Everyone, move!” commanded Sierra, and she watched the green dots mobilize on her map. All she could do was clench her fist and wish them well.
True to her word, Vrai was the first one to infiltrate deep into her assigned tunnel. Sierra saw a few red dots turn into green, confirming that Vrai had indeed converted the skeleton summoners.
A few seconds later, the greater slimes inside Rear’s section were converted as well. Slowly, more green dots appeared on Sierra’s targeted tunnels.
Several Minutes past, and Sierra’s grin grew wider.
|> Verleitung Sections
Tunnel  => GRN [0%] RED [100%]
Time Left: 1M:10S
“What’s going on?!” screamed Leshak from across the bubble. “What did you do?”
“You said this was a battle of our Leadership ability,” began Sierra. “But you only gave out one command, thinking that you had already won.”
Five tunnels plus the relic chamber were lit up with green dots. Sierra stared at the timer and smiled as the last seconds ticked by.
A notification window then popped up soon after.
|> Verleitung Dungeon Conquest
+ You and your allies have occupied 6/10 sections of Verleitung Dungeon
+ You have won the right to possess the relic blade: Reglable
After reading the notification window, Sierra noticed the blue bubble closing in on both her and Leshak.
“Hey! What’s going on?” asked Sierra out loud.
The rate of the shrinking bubble rapidly increased.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Sierra, as she fell out of the bubble and dropped beside the blue sphere which held the relic blade.
“Where’s Leshak?” immediately asked Sierra. “Did he appear after me?”
As soon as Sierra finished her question, the blue sphere blocking the relic lifted up in the air. It hovered in the center of the chamber.
Slowly, Leshak’s silhouette became visible through the blue sphere.
The loud sounds of broken shards from the falling sphere made them all run to the sides of the chamber. Innumerable fragments scattered all over the dungeon floor.
Then, a notification window popped up.
|+ You have defeated the Dungeon Guardian Leshak!
+ You have slain the Dungeon Guardian Leshak!
+ You and your men gained 1,500,000 experience points each!
After the final shard of the blue sphere fell, Sierra went over to the relic blade – Reglable. She instantly stopped moving when she saw it. It was nothing more than an ornate handle of a sword, lined with sapphires.
‘Is this the first half of the relic?’ she wondered.
With one swift motion, she picked up the sapphire blade. Her shoulders tensed, as she kept glancing around the chamber, waiting for some sort of trap to activate. Thankfully, nothing happened.
Only Sierra’s fellow leaders walked up to her, as everybody else were still busy fighting against the remaining mob inside the plugged up tunnels.
A sacred relic forged by Chalchiue. It is one of the five aquatic relics made by the great goddess of the waters. The length of its blade is said equal all the waters of Zectas.
*Tidal Transport (Active)
A great smile came over Sierra’s face. This relic had several possibilities, it almost felt boundless.
‘I guess Darius was right as usual. This really is a worthy prize,’ thought Sierra.
“Mamelon, can you come here for a minute,” she said and called the busty Aqua Knight over with her hand.
“What is it?” asked Mamelon.
“Remember what Smoke said before?” said Sierra.
“That… we make sure to stay alive?” guessed Mamelon. “Oh! Especially our assigned Zectians.”
“No, not that,” replied Sierra as she lightly laughed. “He told you that you deserve a prize for all your hard work, and I also share this opinion.”
“What are you talkin—” began Mamelon, but she fell silent when Sierra suddenly handed her the relic blade, Reglable.
“This entire Quest was for you,” began Sierra. “I hope you continue to lead our fellow Sonstwelters well, and help us grow our Zectians.”
“I don’t know what to say,” uttered an astonished Mamelon. Her eyes were fixated on the sapphire hilt, as she continued to read the information on her new sacred relic.
‘She may not be able to use this now, but I’ll make sure she’ll be able to use it before our war with Burmistrz,’ thought Sierra with conviction.
Then, Sierra caught Rear waving to her, trying hard to grab her attention.
“Yes?” she said.
“Um, Sierra, you should see this,” replied Rear and gave her Leshak’s heavy brown-fur cape.
She grimaced when she saw the bones stuck onto the cape. “Let me see that,” she said. Her hands moved with blitzing speed as she removed the lodged bones.
Then, Sierra inspected the fur cape.
Made from the back of the Dungeon Guardian Leshak. They say this is the source of all its deceitfulness.
+ 900 Defense
“Looks like I’ll have to work on my prize as well,” said Sierra out loud, thinking of all its practical uses.
With a smirk, she tightened her hold on Leshak’s Mantle.
Sierra then turned to her gathered friends. “Alright, we got what we came for. Let’s use the five tunnels we’ve secured as our exit, and make sure to take the summoning monsters with you.”
Posthaste, the Vigilantez and their converted monsters bolted for the passageways.
As they were running to escape Verleitung Dungeon, Sierra suddenly received a call from Smoke.
“Sorry, can’t really talk right now,” she answered, as she sprinted for the exit.
“Oh, bad time, huh?” said Smoke. “I was just reading up on Ouragan’s notes, double checking something for the tournament.”
“What? You haven’t won yet?” joked Sierra.
“I know, right?” replied Smoke. “Anyway, I’ll let you get back to what you were doing.”
Sierra paused, before she answered. “Alright, I’m sure you’ll do great in the tournament. Break your opponent’s’ legs.”
“Will do,” said Smoke, and ended his abrupt call.
Sierra’s eyebrows crossed. She wanted to tell him about their recent development in Wysteria, but this was not the right time to tell him that the bastard Sagen had joined Macher and Duke Burmistrz.